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The Myth of the “Relaxing Summer”

the most relaxing summerFrom the basket across the room, the cover of my Real Simple magazine calls to me with its picture of an ice cream cone and a headline that makes me chuckle: “The Most Relaxing Summer.”

Why do I chuckle, you ask? Because considering the way my summer has gone, a “relaxing summer” is a hilarious proposition, and a total myth.

As we headed into May, my family and I spoke longingly of the summer months that were just around the corner, and all the fun and relaxing things we’d do together. We planned our week-long vacation with other family members in Arizona. We planned a Fourth of July weekend at Tahoe with friends. We planned pool trips, movies at the drive-in, visits to the sprinkler park, lazy hours spent reading books and logging their titles into the library website for the summer reading program that I thought we’d all participate heavily in. We planned a jaunt up to the beach at Tahoe, get-togethers with friends we hadn’t seen in months, a cooking class, play dates, evening bike rides, blockbuster movies, making s’mores over the grill, trips to the farmers’ market, picnics at the park during the many Artown events we planned to attend, and more more MORE! And all of it culminating in an idyllic, quiet weekend at home during which we would print out pictures of our fun and make a summer 2015 scrapbook of all our happy adventures.

In short, we booked ourselves into oblivion, ensuring that we had the exact opposite of a “relaxing summer.” We got so focused on accomplishing our bucket list and catching up with the people in our lives that we promised to get together with that we have scheduled ourselves into absolute exhaustion. And here we are, two weeks from the beginning of school (holy Christ, are we seriously only two weeks away????) and the thing I wanted us to do the most of, i.e. REST, is the thing we left off our list. Oh, and we only did about a third of that other crap (and believe me, I actually feel uncontrollable guilt about missing out on the other two-thirds).

I could blame the Washoe County School District, with its balanced calendar chopping summer down into a paltry two months. I could blame social media for making me feel that our family has to do ALL THE THINGS in order to suck the marrow out of summer, and compare our own toes to those of our friends, which are covered in sand or dipped in pools or sticking out of campfire tents.

overscheduled summerBut who I really blame is us. We had eight weeks, but in May it felt like this yawning expanse of free time. Now it feels like a speeding train. This same thing happened to us over winter break, that “long” three-weeker that seemed like forever and was so packed with put-off dinners and sleepovers and holiday parties and visits to the museum and Christmas performances and “can’t-miss” holiday happenings and whatnot that we literally had NO TIME to do the thing that these breaks are actually designed to do, which is to give us a freakin’ break. I couldn’t wait for school to start again so I could get a little rest.

I realize that right now I sound like a spoiled brat: “Oh, poor me, I have such a full social calendar!” It’s not that. We aren’t any more popular or special than anyone. It’s that maybe we don’t know how to stop overpromising things, saying yes to every invite and going along with every plan and feeling compelled to do all the activities designed by the community for Maximum Family Fun. As soon as summer comes, it’s always:
SUMMER BARBECUE!
BIRTHDAY PARTY!
POOL PARTY!
WEDDING!
BRIDAL/BABY SHOWER!

And everyone is like us, saving it all for those precious eight weeks.

It seems that we don’t know how to strike a balance between planned, activity fun and the subtle, beautiful fun of doing absolutely nothing. If there’s a free minute in this house, we have this odd compulsion to schedule the crap out of it. And yes, also, if there are a few empty hours available to us, I feel that we’re maybe being too lazy or unimaginative or wasteful of our time if we simply watch a movie or read a magazine. I’m desperate not to waste any minutes of this special time in my daughter’s life, forgetting that rest isn’t a waste, it’s a necessity.

I remember the glorious days of my own childhood summers. I don’t remember them feeling so busy. I remember hours spent filthy, riding bikes until sundown in the cul-de-sac with the neighbor kids, watching endless reruns of Gilligan’s Island or the continuous HBO loop of Poltergeist. By the end of summer I was bored stiff and ready to return, and I attended that first week bursting with energy. I fear that my daughter will go back in two weeks feeling exhausted—much the same way she left it in June. And that’s not good for any of us.

So I say, let’s call an end to the constant bucket-listing! Can it just be okay to say no to stuff or to miss out on the events and must-dos of summer or fall or the holidays? I am resolving to say “no” more often to other people and to say “yes” more often to myself, in order to leave a little time for nothing. And to ignore (or do my damndest to try to ignore) the feelings of guilt associated with it.

And maybe, just maybe, I can carve out an hour this week to finally read my damn magazine.

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About Jessica Santina

Jessica Santina
Jessica Santina’s love for writing started the summer when she was 11. She and her father created their own hand-bound book of poetry that they’d written together, which they called “Pop & Kid: Collected Writings.” It’s this love of the written word that fuels Jessica’s business today as a freelance writer, editor and university instructor, as well as spending countless hours sharing beloved books with four-year-old daughter, Olivia. When she has a few minutes to herself – a rare gem – Jessica loves to cook, read chick-lit novels, watch cooking shows, and take long, leisurely walks that allow her to come up with blog ideas. Check out her blog for words of wisdom on writing and more.

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