Saturday, April 29, 2006

Confession: I do not like summer vacation.

Or rather, I do not like summer vacations of sleeping in, traveling, hanging at the beach, doing whatever I please whenever I please. I never have. Before I became a teacher, I seemed to have known this. My favorite summers have been the ones when I have voluntarily thrown myself into intensive, energetic, highly structured, and sleep-depriving programs that in turn give me something of great physical, relational, or intellectual worth in the exchange. As soon as I was old enough to make my own plans, I made big plans for summer vacations.

For five summers in high school and college, I worked at summer camp. It is still one of my best memories, even though the point is to run the campers ragged with so much activity that each one is guaranteed a good time and so that they are too tired to try any nonsense in the middle of the night. The campers were elated but exhausted by the end of seven days, and so was I, but a brand new group of kids came four hours after the old ones fell into their cars to be taken home. It shocks me now that at such a young age, I was in charge of groups of children who were sometimes too young to tie their own shoes. Summer camp is where I became a morning writer. I needed some time to myself, away from the kids and the other staff members, and early mornings were the only chance to get away, leave the campers in bed unattended (my current teacher brain is shreiking at me right now), and sit down with my words. Summer camp is one of the most formative experiences of my life, and when June rolls around each year, I crave it. I smell pine trees and chlorine and Tater Tots just off the images that float into my head. It was intensely structured with almost no down time, and I kept going back for more.

Going to massage school was a summer thing, something entertaining to do between my bachelor's and master's programs. Some people may have chosen a summer abroad, but having grown up somewhere else, I wanted a different something all consuming, something that would fill my brain and be engaging, something that would bring out another part of myself. So massage school. A live-in, six day a week, mentally challenging and physically taxing intensive training program. I loved it. I didn't feel the need to have a break from studying. I just wanted to study something different.

Since becoming a teacher, I have taken it easy in the summer. There was the summer we moved and were legitimately busy painting and unpacking, but otherwise, July and August wander slowly around, seeing a Dodger game here, going to the Shakespeare festival there, attending a three-day conference, and then working on their tans at the beach. I always think about giving them structure, waking at a certain time each morning to write, going to the gym at the same time, then having certain days for the library, days for cards with friends, and other days for trips to Santa Anything (Barbara, Monica, Ynez). There are two problems with that: 1) Compare any combination of those activities with the intense structure of my summers past, and they seem despicably lazy in comparison, and 2) I am married to someone who is less structured than I am, but whose company I still want in the summer.

This summer, I am not going to be hanging out with July and August doing whatever we want. And I cannot emphasize enough how good this is. The summer writing program I interviewed for during spring break sent a letter of acceptance this week, and now I do not have to check myself into a behavioral medicine hospital for suicidal thoughts this summer. Because another summer of doing what I want was going to take me over the edge. This program is five weeks of meeting with other educators to write, talk about writing, and explore ways to be better writers and empower our students to be better writers. d is going, too, so we can carpool, stop at the beach on the way home each day, and still see our friends, hit the gym, play in Santa Barbara after the meetings, and have just enough weeks completely off to do whatever we want without feeling like life has no meaning anymore. I am excited, and very grateful. Ha ha! Summer plans again!


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