Happy Labor Day Weekend! Here's Why Summer Sucks for Grownups
Watching my niece and nephew flail, twirl and splash around in a pool is adorable. When I was a kid, I was like them: I would dog-paddle and jump on and off floats. I would play bastardized versions of Marco Polo with friends. I’d dive poorly and do splash-worthy cannonballs to see how far I could get the water to go. Back when I was their age, I would have rather lost two to four fingers to hypothermia than willingly gotten out of a body of water.
Now I get in a pool and I’m confused: I am cold and I am wet and I have no idea what the point of this is. Reading on a pool float? My Irish genes have made it impossible for me to be in the sun without cooking under a thick layer of paraben-free sunscreen until I turn nail-polish pink and can feel myself radiating heat more efficiently than any ethanol engine could. Laps? If I wanted to exercise I wouldn’t be relaxing in a pool!
Maybe it’s having been raised in the pool-proof boroughs of New York City that drained the joy out of the season. Or maybe it’s all those academic camps I went to as I got older because I was terrified of living without air-conditioning. Or maybe it’s a sad truth: the summers in between being children and having them aren’t all that fun.
I am aware this is a deeply privileged problem: Oh poor me, I have access to clean water, enough to fit a large animal, and am soooo bored. But, honestly, have you been on a ferris wheel as an adult? That thing is as boring to ride as it is impossible to get off of. I’m sure the feat of engineering was thrilling at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, but now you are shuttled into large cars with sides and ceilings, moving around in a circle that gives you a view of things as diverse as the fairground parking lot and the trash bins, all while hoping you are not part of a magazine-story-to-be that starts with “as the metal began to break, so did the hearts of the onlookers.” (And that’s not to mention that bringing tiny family members to a carnival ensures they will leave with a 25-cent goldfish who will end up costing their parents $140 in fish equipment before the fish’s inevitable early demise.)
I haven’t lost my sense of wonder or excitement about the world, but there was something magical about summer as a child: the promise of endless mischief that would never fly in winter because you were trapped indoors with adults. Part of this loss of warm-weather joy develops because adults stop getting summers off. People say things like, "Hasn’t this summer been beautiful?" and you think it looked nice through the slit of your cubicle wall.
But the other part most of us miss out on as we age is the thrill of the uncommon or new that you get to have as a child in summer, when you ride your first rollercoaster or learn to ride a bike or eat ice cream out of a cone. Instead, you are just a wet, cold person in a pool waiting for someone to tell you how to have fun.
I have seen the reverse happen to adult friends with children. They either get enamored of the season again because they can watch their own children play soccer for the first time or swim for the first time or play with whatever outdoor device children with helicopter parents are buying. Or these overworked, underslept people are just so excited to ship their children off to someone else who will feed them, bandage their boo-boos and make their beds that they get as giddy as six-year-olds about their time-limited freedom.
But in the interim years, there is nothing especially special about these months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. You get to wear white; you might work somewhere that lets you off early every other Friday; and all of the movies star Mark Wahlberg. None of that is thrilling. I am waiting instead for summer senility – to forget that being a child meant being in awe of cherry blossoms because they meant you would be free of school soon, and to think Light in August might have just been a time-specific diet book.