I really do like summer.
But I also like to complain about it. It is so hyped up and wrought with expectation (like a beer commercial) that it is easy to pick on.
Summer is the season built for kids. When you were young and you stepped outside on June 21, you didn't have to conjure up a way to enjoy yourself. Summer was a giant playground built for you, and you could stay on the monkey bars and play until school started.
But adults have to plan their summers and the pressure to run around like Annette Funicello on a sun- kissed beach or sail like a Kennedy is too much for some of us. We feel like we have to do something significant, like drive to Nova Scotia to scarf down lobsters or sip exotic drinks at a seaside tavern on the Aegean Sea. There's a manic pursuit to devour the summer like a slice of coconut cream pie and then lie in the hammock that you've never hung up between your trees.
"What are your summer plans?" someone asked me, as if we were standing between two mansions in Newport. ("Oh, a little polo," I should have said. "Maybe a sailboat trip to the Vineyard.")
The real answer is that I don't have my act together yet.
There is something to be said about opening your windows and reading a good book on your bed with a glass of iced tea, rather than suffering through the traffic jams on 1-95 in Maine, hot in pursuit of fried clams with tartar sauce.
I have tired summer memories that have stayed with me: waiting two hours to be seated at a lobster joint in Maine amongst a throng of loud, plastic bib-wearing diners and a man in a lobster suit; losing the top to my bathing suit while swimming at the Jersey Shore (I was only 10, so whose day did I make?); three hours at the Peace Bridge with two screaming kids in the backseat in need of a diaper change in 86-degree weather and no air conditioning, and sinking the family boat when I failed to put the drain plug back in properly. (But it was rusty!)
There have been Labor Days that I would have rather bought canned corn than shuck another ear. And there were days I wanted to roll my kids up in their beach towels and stow them in the hatchback rather than argue over who got the Barney towel. Sometimes by August, the long days of summer get old and I want to slip into fall with a warm sweater and wool socks because I am just ready.
One summer when I worked outside of the house and my kids were older, I vowed to do one summery thing a day in an effort to hold onto it and experience it fully. It wasn't an ambitious list like Martha Stewart's, who was planning to retile her swimming pool with a dumpster full of old cut up credit cards. No. I was thinking more in the lines of taking a walk every day, or making sun tea in giant jars with cut up lemons, or going to an outdoor concert or two with a bag full of good food and plans to drink a cold beer.
And I remember that it was a lovely summer that didn't involve cottage rentals or trips to the seashore or commandeering a boat. I'd found a way to love it without the emotional cost of trying to own it.
People have summer reading lists and summer eating lists and summer trip lists and summer concert lists and I'm more inclined to list the things I don't want to do. I want to wander into summer with simple plans and get lost in it, stumbling into pints of ripe cherries and old country roads and impromptu gatherings on my neighbor's porch when the breeze picks up in the afternoon.
Maybe summer should be a season that unravels and surprises and less the map that leads us to our tired expectations.
Let there be no rules!
Except tie the strings to your bathing suit tight.
And don't forget the drain plug in your boat.