David Sax’s most recent book is The Soul of an Entrepreneur: Work and Life Beyond the Startup Myth.
September is the month of fresh beginnings, light sweaters, reawakened ambitions and school. It is a month that I typically embrace, but this year the bitterness outweighs its sweetness, because it truly means that I have to say goodbye to the most glorious, strange and perfect summer I have ever had.
My epic summer was by design. Let me take you back to early June. I am done with it all. Done with juggling work and the round-the-clock effort of keeping my children physically distant, somewhat educated, fed and entertained. Done with swapping work slots with my wife and worrying about getting home from the park in time for some pointless phone call. Done with the daily battles of that farce called “virtual schooling” that frequently ends in tears and shouting matches (“Just write one more damn sentence and we can go play!”). Done with Zoom. Done with people asking me to Zoom for no reason. Done with the news and the misery and viral curve charts. Done with trying to binge watch shows that make me more anxious. Done with my children gorging on Netflix crap for hours more than reasonable. Done with talking incessantly about the pandemic. Done with a spring so wet and miserable, it snowed on Mother’s Day! I was done with it all.
What I wanted, more than anything, was summer, pure and unfiltered. To live outdoors as much as possible, and let my kids have as much fun as their little bodies could handle. To drink it up and lay there intoxicated in its freedom and decadence. To truly surrender to the season.
So on that fateful June day, a week or so before my daughter’s “school year” officially ended, I made the best decision of my life. I would dedicate every day, from then until the fall, to summer. I would not do any work, unless absolutely necessary. I would not sit inside and stare at a screen when the sun was shining, and I would forbid them from doing the same. I would take them outside to play all day. We would explore. We would swim. We would frolick, or whatever it is people do in summer in Victorian novels. We would cherish this strange, beautiful time to its max and regret nothing.
I was in a privileged place to do this, which I humbly acknowledge. Privileged to live in a place that has kept the pandemic in check. Privileged to have saved enough money to afford making not one cent for two straight months. Privileged to work for myself. Privileged to live somewhere with plenty of parks and beaches to go to, and to have parents with cottages where we could spend weeks without cost.
Most people are not that fortunate. But everywhere I looked, everyone also seemed to be making the most of this summer. It helped that the season arrived in a searing blaze of sunshine and pretty much remained that way until the end of August. The heat burned away the gloom of a pandemic spring, as people poured into the streets, parks, trails and other outdoor spaces to enjoy themselves. Picnics flourished. Kites soared. Ice cream shops were lined up down sidewalks. Bikes and paddleboards sold out. Puppies multiplied like rabbits. Families and friends took notice of every spare blade of grass, claimed a slice and enjoyed the outdoors as a form of rebirth. After months of indoor solitude, we were finally free!
We did not squander that freedom. Tapping into my vast work experience as a summer camp counsellor (the last actual job I had), every day was packed with outdoor activities, snacks, laughs and enough random free time to keep it informal. In Toronto, we biked until our legs ached, drove to far-off beaches in the suburbs to swim, tested out random parks and playgrounds in every corner of the city, got takeout from Syrian, Singaporean, Sri Lankan and Thai restaurants for picnics, hung out in the back alley with neighbours, pet countless puppies, and ran around our local park with such intensity and wild abandon, we didn’t even care if the playground was closed. The world was our playground. At the cottage, we hiked, biked, swam, learned tennis, built a tree house and just jumped in and out of the lake in a constant rhythm. We took road trips to hike and swim in rivers. I learned to wake surf. My kids saw a comet and a meteor shower. We ate ice cream every single day, without exception. We peed in the water far more than we did in toilets.
We got a summer that lived up to its name. Two months where our socks and pants stayed in the closet. Two months of sunburns and bug bites and swimsuit rashes. A season where the car reeked of sunscreen and had sand in every crevice, where we showered once a week and lived largely on hot dogs and quesadillas. “Why is there a white shape of a swimsuit on my butt?” my daughter shrieked the other day, looking at her tan line in the mirror. I smiled with tremendous pride. Here was the mark of a summer well spent, seared into her flesh.
Like that tan, summer has faded. Fall officially arrives in a few days, the cold winds are blowing from the lake and the world is bearing down, like a hurricane up the coast. We spend more time each day discussing school, stressing about case loads, masks, recessions and a million other unknowns that define this year. Work has returned, in e-mails and calls, and in the thoughts I wake up to with both worry and excitement each night. I recently put on pants for the first time. I suppose a shirt is next.
I knew summer couldn’t last forever. That’s the whole point, after all. But I am going to milk it just a bit longer … one more swim, one more hike, one more ice cream … until my fingers are too chilled to hold the cone, and I admit, finally, that it truly is time to say goodbye to the best summer ever.
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