The Summer Wife

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina
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This is my 13th summer break: summer is this weird, odd, delightful and terrifying experience. It is the season of reckoning, when all the “I’ll get this done during break” realities come into conflict with “just relax” or as my brain says, “JUST RELAX.” The summer solstice feels like a slow slide into the next school year.

This is summer.

And each summer I proclaim my ground, and die on that hill, “I shall NOT do all the domestic chores!” to the three men in my home. We’ve had summers of varying financial solvency, our sons have grown from late elementary school to being in and out of college (both are at home, and that is totally cool), and their summer schedules have shifted. Meaning, they were long out of diapers and toddlerhood by the time I became a teacher. So the business of being a parent during summer break transitioned from ‘how am I going to entertain my own children?” to their independence as young men. But the domestic expectations, and deep, resentful disappointments, are magnified x1000 during the summer break. (My mom meltdown over the dishes that were left out, on the counter, again, with an empty dishwasher, is just now coming to its half-life radioactive boil.)

This may not be so much about the physical space of summer, but the mental space. Maybe I need to give myself credit for being a “professional summer breaker.” I know how to do summer, right? Make it feel warm, accomplished, relaxed and satisfying? So when summer comes to an end for the school teacher in me (and in the Pacific Northwest that is the end of August, with training days, etc. in the third of it, and the start of school in the fourth of it), I’ll say to myself, “time to get back to work: everything is taken care of, and now to focus again on students.” That’s the goal, right? But why does it always feel forced? That the Jekyll/Hyde duality of my life is fractured?

Each summer bears the heavy fruit of ‘be creative.’ Turn it on, lose track of days and schedules. But this ongoing idea that, (said internally in a falsetto Pinocchio voice, “I’m a REAL writer!”) repeats itself trying to stamp out the Little Imposter Girl demon-in-residence. (However, in the past day someone I hold in great regard asked me to do some writing, and I am beyond excited. Stay tuned. So shut up, Little Imposter Girl! We’ve got work to do!)

All of our situations and households are different, and each of us goes into summer break with varying expectations. And managing those expectations of ourselves and others seems to become the real task. I read many posts from teachers asking or sharing their “side hustles” and my heart hurts–none of us should have to get a summer job to earn money. I am curious: if you have another vocation that you love to do, and “get” to do, (not “have” to) what are those things?

Think about the activities that bring us joy: it might be cooking, hiking, gardening, reading, mead-making (my husband’s skill — his apple mead is delicious and worthy of entrance to Valhalla). Do you do those things, or does your family put spoken or unspoken assumptions and responsibilities on you because you’re on break? Do you ever feel a little resentful or relieved? Relieved that you have the time, or resentful that your time is seen as open-ended and free? If you have small children, how do you negotiate the balance of care and responsibility with your partner? And single parenting must bring about other challenges that are not my place to speak about.

I’m the “Summer Wife” now. It’s when I feel kinder, quieter, more nurturing to myself, my spouse and sons. But it also belies a small kernel of resentment, too. What I wish — really wish — is I could feel this way all year long. This summer steers me toward working on my emotional balance. For all of us: have a guilt-free, resentment-free, and satisfying summer, however that looks to you and yours. And take as many dang photos of your toes in sand that you want.