Sarah R. Callender

Airquotes

In Body Stuff, Parenting on July 10, 2011 at 8:35 pm

I am one of the only people I know who doesn’t love summertime. Which is a little embarrassing. But then, so are my night sweats and my chin whisker and my affinity for doing pretend British accents, and I haven’t exactly been shy about sharing those details of my very glamorous life.

Or . . . maybe you don’t love summertime either, and we just have never had the I Dread Summertime conversation. If that’s the case, then please, let’s have that conversation because I know it would make me feel better, less alone, less like some F to the R to the EAK of nature.

In the mean time, outing myself as a summer-hater is risky because being a summer-hater in Seattle is akin to being a communist during the McCarthy era. Being a summer-hater in Seattle is like being that guy who, at the Vida Vegan conference, admits that a BLT without the B is really depressing. Being a summer-hater in Seattle is like being that gal at the writers conference who stands up and says, “It only took me eight days to write my novel, and already, I have three agents who want to represent me and five publishers who want to buy my book. Being an author is easy! And so fun!”

I do see why summer-haters aren’t welcome in these here parts.

For starters, summertime in Seattle is the only reason (most) people live in Seattle. OK, Summertime and coffee. If you are able to walk .3 miles in pretty much any direction, you can run right into a tall split shot, three-pump Americano in a grande cup with room for cream. Or whatever your drink of choice happens to be. Seattle’s a city where addiction is easy AND convenient. I put that in the Pro Seattle column.

Seattle also has bodies of water in pretty much every direction. And mountains to the east and to the west and beautiful clusters of islands where Orcas frolic and bald eagles soar like it ain’t no big thing to be a bald eagle.

I think Seattleites also probably love the idea that it’s OK to wear fleece to the symphony, jeans to the opera, and these weird shoes out to dinner:

But I’m just going to digress for a brief moment and say that it’s not OK to wear these shoes out to dinner. Fine if you’re going to wear grubbies to the symphony or to the opera. Fine if you want to wear these shoes when you are kayaking to the grocery store or searching the tide pools at Golden Gardens. I’ll slap you silly, however, if I see you wearing these shoes at Crush or Le Pichet or even Red Robin. It’s not OK to think it’s OK to wear those shoes. It’s really not. I don’t care how comfy they are, how much your toes enjoy having their own little toe-compartment.

But yes, if you ask Seattleites why they stay in Seattle, most will include “the summertime” in their top ten list. There’s very little humidity, the average temp hovers right around 75 degrees, and the sky is so suddenly blue that you feel like you’re in a kid’s Crayola-ed, blue-skyed drawing.

People are outdoors again, riding their bikes and working in their gardens. Flying kites. Eating al fresco. The sun is finally warm. Everyone is friendly and chatty and happy.

Everyone except me. The idea of summer feels like a punch in the gut.

It goes without saying that Seattle is not to blame. Nor does my dread involve my concern about the sun’s damaging rays. I just know that for the past eight summers, I have entered the summer cheery and chipper, but celebrated Labor Day in a cloudy, scratchy funk.

In spite of the sun finally doing its job, in spite of me getting to exercise a bit more, in spite of a more relaxed schedule, in spite of the opportunity to take a break from Everyday Math and Reading Logs and packing school lunches, in spite of the fact that I take my Zoloft communion wafer every morning without fail, summer ends with me feeling like I’ve been injected with a massive dose of BLAH. Like I’ve pounded a grande quad-shot of I FEEL SO HEAVY AND WEARY. Like I should be wearing a t-shirt that says, Really? This is supposed to be fun?

And I feel pretty terrible about that. I like to think of myself as a hopeful, optimistic person who’s got a really amazing life. So why do I hate the summer?

I DON’T KNOW!

At least I didn’t know until earlier this week. Somehow though, I stumbled across a blog called Beyond Blue written by a lovely and honest woman named Therese Borchard. Therese is a mom and a writer and yes, she struggles with depression.

It is she, my new friend Therese, who helped me understand why even the mention of summer leaves me with rising anxiety and dread. Her post, 6 Tips to Help Summer Depression normalized all of my weirdness about summertime and helped me realize that I am not so alone after all. And really, isn’t that part of what living our individual lives is all about: finding others who make us feel less alone?

Therese, in this post, starts her post with this:

The kids are out of school. Your neighbors are whistling on their way to work, greeting you with an enthusiasm peculiar to warm weather. And if you hear one more person ask you about your summer vacation plans, you will throw a US map and atlas at them.

You don’t mean to be grumpy. But darn it, you are miserable in the oppressive heat, your kids are home for 90 consecutive days, and you are don’t have the stamina to pretend you are giddy that summer has arrived.

Sound familiar?

You’re not alone. After publishing a piece recently about the trigger of Memorial Day for me — reminding me that most of my relapses have happened in the summer months — I’ve heard from so many readers that fear this time of year for the same reason: summer depression.

Of course, I went on to read her post, and the reasons behind my unpopular feelings about summer became totally clear:

The summer, at least to me and my lemon of a brain, is terrifying because it is unpredictable and unstructured. And for those of us who are blessed with brains that don’t deal well with large amounts of unplanned, unstructured time, especially chunks of time where small children are needing attention and care, that creates (in me) a feeling of quizzyness and schumphitude. Utter dreadification.

But why? Life is unpredictable. That’s what keeps things interesting, right?

Yes. Right.

Except that reading Therese’s blog post made me recall a study my therapist once shared with me. In this study groups of rats were shocked, some at predictable times where they had some control over the duration of the shock, others at unpredictable times where they had no control over the duration of the shock. The latter group, after a time, showed high anxiety and/or depression. Many rats simply schlumped in their cages, demonstrating utter despondency, passivity, and helplessness.

I think that’s what happens to me too.

While more easy-going people (i.e. not I) appreciate the change in the summer routine, that absence of structure makes me feel anxious and depressed. If you add young kids to an already unpredictable schedule, that’s a doozey of a combo where one’s schedule is both unpredictable and just beyond one’s  control. Unpredictability + lack of control = anxiety and depression.

It’s elementary, my dear Watson!

Of course, I am WELL aware that my woe-is-I version of unpredictability and unstructuredness is an ice cream sundae compared to that of others whose days are filled with suicide bombers or despotic leaders or alcoholic husbands. With that tandem of lack of control and unpredictability, I’d be in a world of hurt.

But my flea-sized version of unpredictability is real to me. So I am trying to structure my summer with the hope that I can be in Rat Group A, the group that’s shocked on schedule, like having Tea and Crumpets and a Wee Electric Shock every day at 4:00. Promptly at 4:00, please.

So I am trying to structure my day with all sorts of things that are fun for both me and the kids so that the shocks, perhaps, are more predictable than not. Yahtzee, for example. Yahtzee’s nice and predictable. As are Math workbooks. Violin practice. Twice weekly trips to the library.

Yes, it may sound a little uptight, but frankly, I don’t want to lose my sugar this summer. It’s less than fun to lose one’s sugar, especially when everyone I know and admire is tra-la-la-ing their way through August, happy as bivalves.

In addition to using the Tiger Mother’s Guide to Summer Violin, Math and Literature, I allow myself to go on vacuuming sprees a few times a week during which I allow my Miele Red Star to inhale whatever flotsam and jetsam has been left behind by the small people who call me Mom. Vacuuming up one’s kids’ crapola is deeply satisfying in that vindictive, I’ll-show-you-who’s-boss sort of way. As you may know.

Along with militant daily structure and my trusty sidekick Miele, I also have a trusty mantra, boring and cliché and trite, BUT effective:

I, Sarah Reed Callender, am appreciating these fleeting moments of my kids’ childhood.

Because it’s true what all those other, older parents have said: the kids do grow up so fast. And, for the first time ever, I feel a glimmer of sadness about that reality. That’s a good sign, that glimmer of sadness. Hooray!  I guess I am like most moms after all; I’m just a bit of a late bloomer.

I am also trying hard to remember to laugh, which is getting easier now that Buddy and Sweetie have started to become funny. Buddy, for his part, has discovered the art of doing airquotes in his speaking. Sure, 50% of the time he does the airquotes on the wrong word. Like this:

Mom? I think we should go to “the park.”

Hm. “The park?” As if that recreational area with three slides and monkey bars and a wading pool and three big fields and a path to ride your bike and a merry-go-round AND that massive climbing structure isn’t actually a park?

But I just laugh. OK, I say. As long as you let me put “sunscreen” on your face before we go.

The other 50% of the time, though, Buddy’s dead-on with his airquotes:

Bye, Dad. Have fun “working” at Starbucks.

Hey Mom, since Dad’s out of town, what’s for “dinner”?

Dad, what book are you going to discuss at your all-dads “book group”?

I remind myself to laugh when I hear Sweetie in the shower, belting out songs from church, only she’s singing “This Little Light of Mine” and “Peace Like a River” in that nasally Bob Dylanish voice.

I remind myself to laugh when I go into Sweetie’s bedroom in the morning to wake her up, only she’s fake-sleeping and she scares the carp out of me by bursting from under her covers, yelling, “MA-MAAAAA!” in a gravelly Jimmy Durante voice.

Ha-cha-cha-cha!

To be honest, the first time she did the Jimmy Durante thing, it was a “bad” shock–i.e. one of the unpredictable ones. Now though, the shock of my daughter channeling Jimmy Durante has become a predictable shock. So I can laugh.

Summer may always be my least favorite of the four seasons. But darnnit, THIS summer, I am determined to laugh and schedule and mantra myself right into Labor Day, airquoting my way though July and August, laughing so that I can remind myself to feel as “happy” as possible, lulled by the croon of Sweetie Dylan, knowing that fall’s nip–that tart fwwiisst in the air that turns cheeks and leaves red-rosy– is “just” around the corner. Thank goodness.

Now. Where’s my vacuum? I think it’s time to do some “cleaning”  . . . right after I thank “Someone” for leading me headlong into Therese’s blog.

  1. Yes, I know what you mean about the whirlpool of unstructured time. Boy howdy, do I know that. Thanks for the info on the rats. Hmm. Yup. A teeny electric shock right around the same time every day is much preferable to the unexpected shock just when you are settling down with beverage and book, or whatever. Great post!

  2. Truth be told I too slightly dislike summer too, but for quite the opposite reason. I dread the thought of unveiling my intoned, flesh flag looking arms in a tank top. As much as I try to channel my inner Jillian Micheals arms, the Roseanne Barr arms always win out!

  3. When I see those shoes, I often think, “I’m moving back to Jersey.” I swear nobody has them in Jersey.

    • Amen to that, Elissa. I suppose every city has a flaw or two. Can you imagine Jersey girls walking around the mall in those shoes? It just doesn’t jive.

  4. i dread the bloating of the humidity, the lethargy that accompanies it, not to mention the ComEd bill for the air conditioning!

    • Yes! The lethargy! And, after thirteen years in Seattle, even 78 degrees it too hot. (Hardly anyone has air conditioning . . . so we just get crabby and sweaty.)

  5. It’s the little kid thing. I remember those days. Suddenly, that time that used to belong exclusievely to you, must be handed over to someone else. And those someone elses don’t get that you need 3 hours of uninterupted time to think, and write. Actually, they laugh at the very notion because they have better plans for that time.

    • Yes! I know, I know . . . some day I’ll really miss it. Yesterday my daughter (age 6.5) made me play “Snakey vs. Hakey,” a made-up game that involved a wooden snake, a hula hoop, one cat, and a bunch of little pieces of paper that said my name. It also involved jumping. I could only play for about three minutes before I needed a wine break. Thanks for the empathy!

  6. Oh Sarah. I just had a little cry reading this. I don’t suffer the summer depression, although my life has been unstructured hell for 4 years now, so maybe I’ve just got a lovely all-season variety that will settle into something more seasonal once my small people are being structured the rest of the year. I’m a copy-cat like that and this sounds pretty reasonable to me.

    But the ache to be normal, to be okay, that ache is my own so often. I am so glad you found a kindred spirit in Therese to make your own normal a little more normal. And I do hope that your very-awesome-and-maybe-I’ll-try-too plan to laugh and linger in the best parts succeeds in inoculating you against the Labour Day WTF. And if it should happen to not be a complete cure, may you have the good wisdom to come back here and read your own wisdom back to yourself and be encouraged that at least you’re not so far off the deep end that you’re wearing Toe-Shoes to Trader Joe’s…

    • Oh, I love this, Alison. You, however, may be one of the good and normal moms who loves summer. If that’s the case, I’ll still love you because I’ll tell myself, “Yes, Alison loves being a Mom more than I do, but at least she doesn’t wear toe-shoes to Trader Joe’s. (I just checked, and was thrilled to see that, in fact, there ARE TJ’s stores in your parts. Have you tried their Mandarin Orange Chicken? What about the dark chocolate pistachio toffee? And, I never leave without at least four cartons of the organic Vanana yogurt.

      Thanks so much for your dear and fab post. xo.

  7. Thanks for so aptly discussing the wrongness of those “shoes.” And now I shall go vaccuum my rathole of a house that has been victimized by this unstructured summer time! (Love this post, Sarah!)

    • I KNOW! That’s part of my problem too . . . I’m not a neat person by trade, so I do NOT need small people messing things up all the time. Thanks, Katy, for reading. Happy unstructured summer to you!

  8. Sounds like summer “camp” might be a good idea. Send the little ones off each morning, just like during the school year, and voila! a little time to yourself, to lasso your routine and make it trot. While winter is my very favorite season (I am a skier after all) I like summer too. Summer is my husband’s favorite time of year, because he still thinks it’s summer vacation. Being in the ski industry all these years, it sort of is. But along with that comes all this pressure. As if life only happens in the summer and we have to squeeze every last ounce of every sunlit moment into a cistern that will sustain us through the winter months.

  9. Thanks for your honesty, Sarah, and I totally agree with Ann S. I don’t know how moms manage summer without help (like summer camp), quite frankly. I bet there are many moms who feel much better two days after Labor Day, when school starts up again in our area. Anyway, go Tiger Mom. My own Little Monster did math every day on our road trip. We were the Math Mobile, and it was not always pretty. But I have to believe it will be worth it come next school year.

    • Every time I make my kids do their “summer work” I think of you, J.D.. In fact, I think WWJDD?

      LM’s gonna be in AP Calculus by sixth grade. I’m sure Seattle Schools will be able to accommodate his needs. :)

  10. Sarah, yet again I feel like we are riding the same mommy/writer wave, from our slightly-odd love of vacuum cleaners (mine’s a Dyson), to our “unshockable” love of predictability. I think I just schedule my time automatically, without even thinking too much about it. That switch must be stuck in my brain.

    I like summer, but I also keep a pretty solid routine. I tend to fall apart more in the fall and spring — two other “favorite” seasons — when the schedule gets so ramped up that I can’t follow it. Losing the pace, that sense of control, sends me reeling. I’ll have to check out Therese’s blog and see if she can give me any tips.

    In the summer, we tend to do some academic activities in the morning, and then my kids have quiet time every afternoon — it’s time on their own, to play, dream, read, color, whatever, while mom writes. We do this all year long (I homeschool and my kids are 4 and 7), so that part of our day stays consistent even in the summer. Stuff in some piano practice, games, library trips, lake trips, games, bike rides, games, camp for the eldest child and you’ve got a day that would make any Daily Planner proud. Here’s hoping the vacuum, violin, and math can carry you through. Cheers, lisa.

  11. Thanks so much, Lisa. I really do marvel at you who home school. So impressive. Perhaps I could send my kids your way? They could probably do some nice piano/violin duets with your cuties. Plus, mine are accustomed to maniacal vacuuming, in the case that you need to go that route. Happy summer to you!

  12. [...] haters, and laughing my bathing suit right off. I loved the blog post by Sarah Callender called “Inside-Out Underpants.” After a litany of reason why everyone in Seattle looks forward to summer, she [...]

  13. The last and only time I saw someone wearing those shoes was in Germany. He was wearing a muscle shirt and 1980′s circa dolphin running shorts ensemble. I still haven’t quite recovered… loved this post.

  14. And I thought I hated summer because it’s just unbelievably god-awful hot in Florida in the summer (and in south Georgia, where I grew up). Personally, I love winter. And autumn’s not too bad either.

    I admit though, since I’ve had kids in my life, I’ve started looking forward to the last week in August in a whole new way. We actually spend about the same amount of time together during the summer as during the school year (full time worker outside the home), but the structure of school can be a big relief after wandering from one camp to another all summer long.

    Good luck with your plans to structurize summer!

  15. Oh Sarah, you make me laugh. And cry. I love you. I love your kids. I hate those shoes though.

  16. How nice to be led to another Seattle blogger. I love Beyond Blue too! My shameful admission: I love the rain. Love it.

    And while my taste in feminine shoes has drastically declined since moving to the Northwest, I draw the line at monkey feet.

  17. [...] haters, and laughing my bathing suit right off. I loved the blog post by Sarah Callender called “Inside-Out Underpants.” After a litany of reason why everyone in Seattle looks forward to summer, she [...]

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