Thoughts on the End of August

It’ll come as no surprise to people who know me personally that I can be … let’s call it cranky. Which is why those who know me are often tempted to tell me to just relax, just enjoy your time with your boys, just get into the relaxed rhythm of summer. Be like everyone else! Love summer more than any other time!

But I don’t enjoy summer vacation quite that much, because my summers don’t often have that elusive “relaxed rhythm.” I don’t know if I can pin it on one particular phenomenon: Is it because I can’t afford to take large swaths of time off, or have blowout vacations? Is it because what I remember as a long, fun summer in my childhood (sprinklers, pools, flashlight tag, the beach, playing board games on the porch on rainy days, riding bikes through the woods that connected the dead end street to the local park) doesn’t exist anymore, or at least, not here, where street noise is made by landscaping crews rather than gangs of summer-free barefoot kids?

Whatever the reasons, I have turned into not much of a summer person, and it pains me a little bit. I don’t have to be reminded that the time goes by in a flash, that five minutes ago my kids were playing with a garden hose and some buckets out on the deck to say cool:


Whereas now, as I write, I think they’re in the basement playing a Wii game. Yesterday, it feels like, I was coaxing them to put their faces in the water, and today, I can glance up from my beach chair and see that my older son is half a beach away practicing his front crawl, while my younger kid is on the opposite end of the sand, digging up snails with his friend.

I know that. But it doesn’t help me enjoy rather than wish these long and unproductive days away.

But as I was mulling this August-end post, I started to think of it less as an apology for my attitude about summer, and more of a manifesto: What’s wrong with wanting fall to begin, with wanting school to start, with preferring schedules and a sense of purpose over fallow time? There are, I believe, far fewer people who enjoy every minute of an unstructured summer than any of us might think. We enjoy some of it, sure, but we bemoan the rest, quietly and apologetically. You’re not supposed to admit that lazy mornings aren’t all they’re cracked up to be when you have work to do and the kids claim boredom and get in stupid fights with each other.

Many people have told me that they feel energetic in the summer time. I don’t; I am energized by the crisp new possibilities that, to me, are emblematic of the autumn. I like cooler weather and easier-sleeping nights. I like fresh notebooks and sharp pencils.

There are some cold, hard facts to consider: summer vacation is a wonderful thing, to be sure, but 12 weeks of it is too many for any but a small subset of people. I have a friend with three kids and a three-day-a-week job. She juggles two different day camps (for older kids plus a toddler) for as long as the most reasonably-priced camps are available, and then spends the last couple of weeks of summer drawing up complicated plans for who goes where, when and who can take time off. That’s not fun; that’s a drag. I am freelance and can technically do whatever I want, such as, say, take August off. But as any freelancer knows, you can’t do that without a lot of planning and a big financial hit, so it’s all scrambling, all the time. Meanwhile, my kids run out of things to do (I mentioned the part about the landscaping crews being the modern-day stand-in for the roaming groups of neighborhood kids I spent my summers with back in the stay-at-home mom days, right?) and enthusiasm and – dare I say it – brain cells. Dreading school, I have to believe, is blown all out of proportion when their last contact with school was so long ago.

Leisure is nice, is what I’m saying, but it’s also an illusion, unless you can buy yourself a ton of it, and most of us can’t do that.

So here’s to fall! Here’s to notebooks that have yet to be written in and workbooks whose covers are still attached and unwrinkled, and to new sneakers and soccer games and buses rumbling through the neighborhood.

Hello, September. And August? don’t let the door hit you on the way out.