Until this summer, my kids went to school year-round. They never had a “summer vacation”. And, additionally, neither did their parents. This has severely messed me up.
I work for myself, largely from home. This means that during the school year, I am up at 5:30, out at 7 and to the office by 8. Typically I work through lunch and the day ends around 3 or 4 to get everyone home, do the dinner and homework thing, and collapse into beds around 9. The days are condensed and concentrated, much as they are when working at a full-time job.
I always thought that the main difference between freelance and a full-time job (besides the healthcare, retirement, benefits, paid vacation… boy, this sucks when I think about it), was that you were mainly paid to be in a particular place from 9 to 5. Thinking back to when I was working full-time, often much of the day was spent talking, meeting, even goofing off. Sure, there were times we were solid busy, and even working very late, but the vast majority of time was spent just being in a particular place, little more. We used to joke that our timesheets did not have a job code for “tomfoolery”.
But that seems amplified this summer for me. Kids are home for the most part, with me, and hours of the day, typically spent driving somewhere, are unnecessary. Errands are lighter, and overall the time spent “doing stuff” is much less than during the school year. For me, this makes me uneasy.
Uneasy because much of the day feels “wasted”. Sure, I could fold that laundry over there, but shouldn’t I be here at my desk? I mean, I am here at my desk, working, but it feels like there is a lot more “air” in the day. And the fact is, that’s because there is. There are articles about this phenomenon, from a number of angles, which some call the “summer slump”. And it impacts students as well, obviously. I’ve heard teachers tell me that, once school starts, it takes until October to get kids back to where they were academically when they left school in June. That means, depending on when the school year lands, every year of school is really only about 8 months long at best.
But the summer weather does seem to have an impact. Personally, I think the longer days make them literally “feel” longer, which means that 16 hours of sunlight makes you perceive you need to be doing something at all times. The heat does it to me, too. I am way more productive, focused and impactful when it isn’t so dern hot. As Marie Konnikova writes for the New Yorker:
Summer weather—especially the muggy kind—may also reduce both our attention and our energy levels. In one study, high humidity lowered concentration and increased sleepiness among participants. The weather also hurt their ability to think critically: the hotter it got, the less likely they were to question what they were told.
Well that’s Arkansas in a nutshell. Muggy? Yesterday it was 86% humidity and 96°. Ick. Makes me want to do absolutely nothing. And nighttime is a nightmare. Head to bed around 10 or 11? I’m up until 2 just sitting there, reading, watching, doing anything to make my brain just shut off already. During the school year, that problem is heavily mitigated. Simultaneously, those “big projects” that “I’ve been meaning to do”, they are still there, as well. Summer days are longer, but the malaise of the heat seems to still allow time to just slip by, perhaps even faster.
However, I’ve found myself trying to make inroads on things I have been “meaning to” more. I’ve started researching work, reaching out to people and making contacts. I’ve started writing here and other places more. I’ve started drawing a bit more, something I’ve wanted to “get back to” for a long time. I’ve even started, preliminarily, working on a second language. Good luck with that.
What I find I didn’t do was really appreciate the time I had, home, with the kids. I mean, I enjoy having them around, but the annoyance factor has hidden the joy, at times. Kids need (or think they need) something every 5 minutes. From “I’m hungry”, to “Dad, did you know that cats are furry”, interruptions come in all shapes and sizes. But seeing as this is the first summer hope, with the kids out of school, the whole time, it has taken some time and concentration to try to enjoy it.
And now, the school year starts again. The boys return to school in less than a week, and I imagine work will feel “busy” again shortly thereafter. And, I know, it won’t be long before I am pining for some “downtime”. But, in the end, I think the one thing I learned this summer is that I really don’t want it this way. Those Saturdays at the movies, or Christmas trip to see family… those are real vacation, because they are lovely, calm bookends to “normal life”.