Finding One’s Bliss During Summer Blitz

By Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune gives her take on the “Not” so lazy, hazy days of summer…

Chicago Tribune

Some people grow basil in July. I grow guilt.

This is the point of the summer when I decide that everyone else is better at summer than I am: The Facebook friend who heads to a beach house in Michigan with her husband and kids on the last day of school and doesn’t return until Labor Day. The families who end every evening at the local pool. People who camp.

Mid-July is when it hits me that summer doesn’t feel different enough from the rest of the year, in that we’re still rushing from place to place at a rapid pace. (Camp! Work! Trampoline practice! Grocery store! Football practice!) Every year I swear it will be different, and every year it’s not different enough. My kids don’t even have time to utter that hallmark of childhood summers: “I’m bored.”

We were on vacation last week, which was lovely. We headed west for five days of what summer looks like in my imaginary world, the one where parents don’t work from June to September. We swam and played board games and cooked leisurely meals and played outside long after nightfall.

Somewhere along the way, a message lodged in my brain that says summer should look like that the whole way through. From my own childhood, maybe, when I rarely went to camp and I spent a lot of hours bored. From social media, I’m sure, where filtered-just-so posts paint a romanticized portrait of work-free bliss.

The reality is, most parents I know are doing summer roughly the same way I am. Squeezing the fun in here and there while keeping up the same pace, more or less, they keep the rest of the year. Bills don’t stop arriving between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

My kids don’t even have time to utter that hallmark of childhood summers: “I’m bored.”

It’s that illusion of choice that gets me, though. If some people have opted out of the daily rat race, I figure, surely I should be able to find a way to. Surely I want to find a way to. But do I really?

I found myself contemplating this internal tug of war the other day while I was picking my son up from Chicago Bears day camp.

He learned about this camp, where former professional football players coach and play with kids for five days, and he begged me to sign him up. We registered while there was still snow on the ground, and he’s been talking about it ever since.

Naturally, he hated the first day.

“I’m not going back,” he told me. “It’s not fun.”

I didn’t blame him, really. The first day was in the 90s, with the sun beating down on the kids’ little bodies and heating up the asphalt and AstroTurf at the nearby high school field that doubles as their campground. The coaches were tough, and the first day appeared to be mostly monotonous drills.

Still, I needed him to stick it out. I had prepaid a fair bit of money, and I had to go to work the rest of the week. His sister was happily ensconced in gymnastics camp three blocks away, my husband was traveling and my schedule was set down to the minute.

No wiggle room.

(What sort of mom has no wiggle room in the summer? Just let the kid rest already! These are things that pop in my head.)

I convinced him to go back a second day. I told him that I bet the coaches were trying to weed out the players who couldn’t handle the tough stuff, just as my college professors tried to scare the slackers into dropping during the first few days of classes. Probably the kids who come back Tuesday get to start having real fun, I told him. Probably the coaches used some of these same tactics when they were winning Super Bowls.

And I bought him a toy that he’s been begging for.

(What sort of mom bribes her kid to go to summer camp?)

Anyway, he went. And it did get more fun. I showed up 10 minutes early to retrieve him one day, just in time to see him score a touchdown that tied the game. His teammates rushed him and surrounded him in a sweaty pile of high-fives and chest bumps and back slaps. He beamed. He literally skipped off the field.

Maybe summer commitments aren’t the worst thing, I thought.

The freedom to come and go as we please and answer to no one and set our own pace has definite appeal, and benefits, but maybe a little drudgery does too, I thought.

When I’m clear-eyed and honest about summer, I don’t want ours to look all that different than it does. I enjoy my work, and I don’t want to stop doing it for three months.
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(One month, maybe. But those bills.) My kids look forward to camps, where they make new friends and learn new skills and discover whole new sides of themselves.

And we savor those vacation days.

I’m going to try to look at summer like a microcosm for the rest of life. There’s no wrong way to do it, because there’s no right way to do it. You do what you’re capable of, within your family’s budget and bandwidth, and you collect moments of bliss and learning where you can find them.

I found one on a football field. Wonders never cease.

Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune

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