I haven’t had a summer off since 2001. That was the summer we moved to DC from Texas in the month of June with no prospect for jobs, no apartment and no money. I’d left behind the hourly pay that I earned at a small-scale publishing desk job and some moonlighting at my favorite job ever: greeter and folder at the Gap.
But it was DC, a land of opportunity. We figured we’d have jobs in no time.
With a parental co-signature, we ended up renting in an idyllic garden apartment complex that felt a little like Melrose Place (I’m dating myself, I know) because so many people we knew lived in or around it. It had this huge glamorous pool that was far more enticing than job searching. So days slipped into weeks, slipped into months, and before you knew it, we had idly passed nearly four months with nary a job on the docket. But, man, did we have rockin’ tans and “regular” status at a bar up the street. Oh, and about $10,000 in credit debt. But we didn’t care. We were young and wild and free.
Then September 11 happened. And we seemingly grew up in an instant. The sound of the plane hitting the Pentagon was so loud we thought it was garbage trucks hurling dumpsters around in the alley behind us. (It wasn’t garbage day.) In the weeks that followed, young people fled the city – this “land of opportunity” was suddenly a very scary place. Lucky for us, some entry-level jobs opened up and our professional lives began to take shape.
I worked in a desk job for the next 13 summers – stealing away to the lake or the beach for a week here, a long weekend there – squeezing as much as I could out of my “10 paid leave days.” I shuffled along on the metro with all the other ghostly pale office zombies in their heavy winter cardigans to combat the inhumane, ice-cold corporate air conditioning. “See that thermostat on your wall? It’s just there to make you feel like you have some control. It isn’t even wired,” a facilities manager once told me.
As demands on me, and my time, increased in tandem with my titles and salary, I found myself unable to get outside during the day to savor the sunlight. Unable to scoot out the door early to take a picnic to a shady spot by the river. Unable to meet friends for drinks on a crowded, sun-kissed patio. In truth: unable to have a mind-body connection to summer.
Sometimes it’d be August 15th so fast, I felt like I was losing my mind. I found myself wholeheartedly resenting and resisting amber leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, college game day. It gave me terrible anxiety and almost a sense of grief to think that the long, hot days were over, the cold was around the corner and I, yet again, had somehow missed it altogether.
As a working mom, having kids helped summer come back into focus. Not only do you have an excuse to walk out the door by 5:15, you get to experience all the sights and sounds and smells of summer through their wondrous beings. Bright flowers and lush greenery. Shiny, busy bugs. The melody of the ice cream truck. Splashing at the community pool. Sprinklers in fresh-cut yards. Burgers on the grill.
But still…I was tethered to my phone. I had late nights in front of my laptop. I tossed sleeplessly before morning meetings. It was tough to feel recharged by summer when I was so drained by stress, caffeine, deadlines.
But now….this summer…I’m not working. A few hours here and there, but I have both kids at home. And Adrian’s job is flexible so he’s been around a lot more than expected. When we’re at home, they go to play camps in the mornings and we have adventures in the afternoon. We make popsicles and sneak glasses of Kool-Aid. We paint outside on the easel. We go to the sprayground. We grill out with friends. We sneak in workouts when the kids are playing Angry Birds. We take long naps and watch movies on rainy days. We let the boys ride bikes out front without watching them like hawks. We hit the pool. We visit the playground. We tour the monuments. We huddle together reading chapter books before bed and stay up late to find out what happens next. This week, we’re headed to the county fair.
We’ve also hit the road a bit. We spent Memorial Day in Western New York. We spent a day at Kings Dominion. We went to the lake with friends for almost 10 days. The boys went to their grandma’s for two full weeks so we could relax and travel to Kentucky for a music festival. And that was just the first half of summer. We’re back to camp now, then a trip to visit more grandparents and, just before Labor Day, we’ll head to the beach.
These days, our tiny house doesn’t seem so small. The fast-pace of the city all around us seems a little slower. The sky a little bluer. My breath a little deeper. This life, a little lighter. This summer, a real summer. A summer to savor. Finally.
I know that I am lucky. If I am smart, I will learn from this experience – this blissful frozen moment in time where nothing matters more than ease and joy. I’ll choose my future work wisely. I will be cautious about who and what I commit to. And I will put self-care and family first. Easier said than done, I know, but this is a summer the likes of which I will not soon forget.
image source (pool): EquityApartments