For me, the word summertime conjures idyllic images: playing in the park, picnic blankets spread out beneath trees and an endless sprawl of perfect days punctuated by trips to the beach and ice cream. The days lengthen, filled with a genial stupor as the nights are filled with the sound of cicadas. These impressions spring from a conglomerate of old books, classic movies and a childlike sense that any period declared school-free had to be the best part of the year.
As I’ve grown up the realities of life set in regarding summer: it’s hot and sticky here in Greensboro. Air conditioning bills spike and life doesn’t slow down. Hot days remain as hectic as ever, and on top of those banal tasks yet I feel the pressure to enjoy myself! Maybe sip some lemonade under a gingham umbrella?
Not to be, it seems. I juggle summer school (something my younger self would have considered a travesty), two jobs and volunteering.
In many ways I love the pace, but oddly feel a nudge of guilt when I catch myself not participating in summer fun, as though I’m a half-enthusiastic participant in a party: tired and smiling manically at everyone I run into. The need to confess that I haven’t gone swimming in three years weighs on me every time I see a beach towel or an advertisement for a pool membership.
When I do have fun, it never seems to be in the way I planned. Mostly I feel the everyday sort of happiness that I too often take for granted. Fellow students, you’re familiar with this: a nice cup of coffee, the satisfaction of a clear schedule in the afternoon and those amazing days when you can stay in pajamas without worry.
Summer gets built into something more than a seasonal change for people in college. It is simultaneously a time of opportunity, as well as a chance to unwind from the long-held stresses of the school year. Those chances to unwind may be scarcer than I first imagined, hearing from people I’ve spoken with since spring semester ended who have responded with a short laugh and say ‘I’m not doing anything fun’ when asked about their summer plans.
The attempt to live up to the golden standard of how we ‘should be’ can drive a person up the wall faster than any deadline or workload, especially is we are trying to conform to how we ‘should be’ happy.
This stress is part of a familiar pattern for me, and one that usually results in grim resignation halfway through June that I must simply be intended for a life of work and grey skies, ending in a suitably dramatic montage of all the opportunities to carpe diem that I worried my way through. As always, I am my own worst enemy.
Luckily for my sanity this summer, an epiphany occurred: enjoying free time and relaxing don’t have to occur in a way that would seem fitting for “The Andy Griffith Show”.
Taking the time to have an iced coffee and watch a movie is not a dereliction of summertime duties. It’s strange that I expected to suddenly enjoy spending time in the sun and learning to play volleyball! I am laughably uncoordinated and burn faster than anyone I know, I just felt like I was supposed to once the days got hotter.
Before anyone gets the picture that I’ve been dismissing summer out of hand, allow me to say that the season is growing on me. As someone who has been accused of being uptight, I have it on good authority that cutting yourself enough slack to let the little things go makes for a happier and healthier person! The first time I took a deep breath this summer was the moment I stopped worrying about having enough fun.
So please, enjoy your summer – busy, or dull. It may not be everything that the movies promised when you were eight, just a great opportunity to finally take that long-needed nap.