Squeezing in some summer fun

Most years, I try to preserve time in August for relaxation and rejuvenation. I opt to start working with students right after Spring Term ends so that we’re wrapping up by the last week of July or first week of August. We don’t sign the kids up for camps or other activities. We take our family vacation. I spend time with the kids. We go to the State Fair (although not this year, with the lack of masking / vaccination requirements). I often end up doing some work, but I try to limit this to a few hours a day if I can.

As the kids get older, this prolonged August break gets harder to pull off. The Resident 9th Grader plays a fall sport, and we learned that practices start early-to-mid-August for these. (School starts after Labor Day in our district.) The Resident 5th Grader had 2 weeks of “band camp” this year to prepare for 5th grade band with a new-to-him instrument. School orientations and assessments dominate the latter half of August. Next summer, the Resident 9th Grader will likely be working. Squeezing in a vacation amidst all these moving parts starts to resemble a Tetris game.

"Welcome Parents Class of 2025" slide projected on an auditorium screen.
Not quite sure I’m ready for this.

I also waffle as to whether I’m better off front-loading my prolonged break in June and working into August, which seems to better match the reality of our schedules. On the one hand, I like having a break heading into the new academic year. On the other hand, if I’m already burned out at the end of Spring Term, summer feels like a slog.

Regardless, this summer we stuck with the August Break schedule, even though it meant the Resident 9th Grader missed some sports practices. And despite the pandemic, I managed to take two short, fun trips.

Trip #1 was a family vacation to a mountain biking mecca in our state, a transformed former mining area. My partner is a HUGE cyclist, and has never met a bike he didn’t like. A few years ago, he got me a mountain bike. I’d done some mountain biking since then but never felt really comfortable on the bike or the trails. This summer, I saw an ad for a local women’s mountain biking class and signed up. BEST DECISION EVER. I learned so much and, more importantly, gained a ton of confidence in my abilities. So I was excited to try out my new skills on our trip.

We rented an acquaintance’s airbnb. Our kids were not really into the biking aspect of the trip, so my partner and I rode in the mornings, and we all swam in various local lakes in the afternoons. (Some of which are former quarries, so they are deep, clear, and cool.) We played lots of board and card games, read a lot, and sampled the local coffee and ice cream.

The classes made a HUGE difference in my mountain biking. I felt braver. I embraced speed rather than panic braking. I took more calculated risks and embraced failure (and also succeeded more times than I expected). Biking was a lot more fun! And, much to my surprise, I am now seriously considering getting a fat bike so that I can continue riding the trails in the winter.

Red dirt mountain bike trail in the woods.
Whee!

Trip #2 came straight off my 21 for 2021 list. The Resident 9th Grader and I escaped to Chicago for a few days. We planned this trip before the pandemic took a turn for the worse, so we were both a bit wary about the plane trip in particular, even though we are both fully vaccinated. But I’d accumulated enough miles to put us both in first class on both flights, and we also double-masked on the plane and in the airport. So it was a bit unnerving, but mostly ok. Chicago has a city-wide mask mandate in place, which made us feel safe-ish when we visited museums and stores. We did mostly takeout, with some outdoor dining. And we spent a lot of time outdoors, even though it was hot and humid for much of the trip.

I lived in the Chicago area in grad school, so it was hard not to Do All The Things!, but I kept our plans mostly in check: one scheduled adventure per day to leave time for relaxation and spontaneity. We visited the Art Institute and the Field Museum. We took an architecture boat tour. We visited some of my old grad school haunts and the Northwestern campus. We went thrifting. We rode the ferris wheel at Navy Pier. We swam in Lake Michigan. We rode the L and walked for miles. And we saw a really cool art installation.

View of Chicago Skyline from the mouth of the Chicago River.
I’ve missed this skyline.

Mostly, though, we just enjoyed spending together. Middle school is rough in the best of times, and, as it turns out, particularly rough during a pandemic, and high school brings a host of new challenges and adventures. So it was nice to have the time and space to hang out in silence together, to share experiences, and to talk without interruption about the mundane and the important.

August was mostly frenetic and involved a surprising amount of driving people around, but these two short getaways provided a much-needed reset going into what is sure to be another challenging year. While I didn’t take as many day adventures as I’d like, I’m grateful for the time off I managed.

Did you take some time off this summer? Do you front load, back load, or spread out your breaks? I’d love to hear how you think about taking time off in the summer.


What I’m reading: A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload, by Cal Newport.

What I’m listening to: Back in the day (way back in the day), when I was finding my way as a new mom, I discovered the Manic Mommies podcast. They retired in 2014, but un-retired during the pandemic. I discovered the reboot just before they re-retired, and I’m now working my way through the pandemic episodes. Listening to the unfolding pandemic through the episodes and re-living the last year and a half through their eyes is an interesting and sometimes surreal experience, but always laugh-out-loud funny.