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Reflections on My First Summer Off in Forever

Updated: 5 days ago



I love summer. I’ve always loved summer. When I was a kid, on the first day of summer, and for most of the days after that, my friends and I would take long bike-rides, play catch until our arms hurt, and stay out after dark to catch fireflies while being half-devoured by mosquitoes. Until I was seven, we lived across the street from our community pool. Across.The.Street. I was bummed when we moved about three miles away, but still, getting to go swim several days a week made the tedious yard work that my father assigned us worth it.


I’ve always hated my birthday, which falls at the beginning of August’s fourth week. While the autumnal equinox doesn’t pass until a month later, blowing out my candles always signaled the end of summer, as well as guaranteed that most of my presents were school clothes. As I’ve gotten older, I have found a few things about summer that annoy me more than my birthday. Insects are at the top of the list, followed closely by social media acquaintances who, right around the Fourth of July, start posting how they miss wrapping themselves in a sweater on cool nights or counting down the days til Christmas. I want to tell them to stick their head in a chest freezer and let the rest of us enjoy the sun’s warmth for a couple more months.


To make a long story short, I haven’t had a summer off in twenty-four years.

When I was an adolescent, I read a short story by science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who coincidentally has the same birthday as me, called “All Summer in a Day.” It’s about a girl named Margot who moves from Earth to a settlement on Venus, where it rains nearly perpetually and the sun only comes out for one hour every seven years. Margot is the only kid in her class who remembers seeing the sun, so, as the time when its emergence approaches, she describes it for them. The other kids become jealous and lock her in a closet, forgetting her there for the hour that the sun shines on Venus. They let her out as the first drops of rain start to fall. So Ohio winters aren’t quite that heinous, but I still kind of feel like this at times during the winter.


Of course I became a teacher (and then teacher educator), so my birthday continues to signal summer’s unofficial death knell. However, one of the “perks” of being a professional educator is having summer’s “off”. I use the quotes because, if we’re talking about K-12 teachers, a) they don’t really get three full months off (closer to ten weeks), and b) many do significant work over the summer to prepare for the next school year, including planning, research, collaboration, and professional development. Instructors at colleges and universities, where I’ve taught for the past quarter century, sometimes teach over the summer, largely by choice and sometimes for additional compensation. To make a long story short, I haven’t had a summer off in twenty-four years.


I considered starting a rec team of dudes over fifty, perhaps called The Sunbury Inflammation (kind of like the Miami Heat), but I thought better of it.

The work isn’t too grueling (planning, grading, e-mails, etc.), and it has helped to pay the bills. I’ve still been able to take trips/vacations, often staying up late in hotel rooms as the rest of my family slept. Lots of people have more difficult jobs and never get summers off, so I’ve always had the perspective that teaching over the summer was a First World problem. My father liked to tell the story of his uncle, a miner whose leg was sliced off by a mine car and who had to then tie his severed blood vessels together so that he wouldn’t bleed out before help arrived. Legend has it that, incredibly, he didn’t even get an infection. The story was believable enough to keep me from bitching about grading papers in July . . . most of the time.


But this summer is different. The stars have aligned in just the right way and, save for some year-round departmental duties, have given me the summer off. I’ve relished it for months, unsure of what I was going to do with so much time on my hands. So how have I spent it? Most of it ingloriously. I took care of a few household projects that I've put on hold for several months. I’ve taken more family bike rides and walks with my dog. We got season passes to Cedar Points, and it’s been fun to go on all the rides with our sons. I’ve also enjoyed shooting basketball in my driveway, pretending I’m sixteen again and that I don’t have to take ibuprofen to reduce the pain in my legs when I’m done. I considered starting a rec team of dudes over fifty, perhaps called The Sunbury Inflammation (kind of like the Miami Heat), but I thought better of it.


I really felt like the entire coastline was friend-zoning me, until yesterday morning.

So my family decided to cap off the summer with a trip to the beach. I’ve always loved the ocean too and was really looking forward to the trip, but our visit was more painful than expected. Within my first two hours on the beach, I was stung by jellyfish three different times (and I’m assuming separate jellyfish, though I’m not ruling out a serial perpetrator). But even more painful than this, as I was checking out of the tourist-frequented grocery store, the cashier kindly gave me the senior citizens discount. She did this automatically, without ever asking my age. Although I immediately shaved off my salt-and-pepper stubble the moment I got back to my hotel room, the damage had been done. To compensate, I ran several miles in the middle of a heat advisory (temperature-humidity index around 103), just to make sure I didn’t have one foot in the grave.


I really felt like the entire coastline was friend-zoning me, until yesterday morning. For my wife’s birthday, we took an ocean tour to look for dolphins. Despite the fact that the tour operators told us that they hadn’t seen one all week, we saw dolphins . . . several dolphins, including a pup. It was very cool, watching them gracefully rolling in the waves just a few yards from the boat. I doubt that cows hold the same fascination with coastal dwellers when they travel inland.


“Look at how they just lay there, under the shade of that tree,” I can almost hear them say.


So we have a few more days here at the beach, then we’ll head home and my wife will start back to work on Monday morning. We’ll have a couple more weeks of quasi-summer, maybe one more trip up to Sandusky, and then we’ll all be back in school. I have no idea whether or not I’ll get next summer off. But I hope so.


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