By Holly Hester
It happens every year. I'm at some end-of-the-school-year party and someone will ask me, "So, what are you doing this summer?"
I smile and try to sound excited about the fact that we have nothing planned, and we're just going to relax and take it easy, but secretly I'm thinking, "OMG, what am I going to do with them all summer? I'm suddenly in charge again? All day? No set place to go? No time to be anywhere? The Fun Plans begin and end with me?" Noooo!
And the question of "What are you doing this summer?" doesn't end. It will go on and on until the end of summer when the question changes to, "What did you do this summer?" Sometimes I feel like this question is just a way of making conversation and other times it seems very pointed--like summer has become a competition. Once again it's the Organized Moms against the Disorganized Moms and the category is Summer. I imagine the Organized Moms hanging huge calendars with cute little drawings of suns and sand castles on them, each day assigned with outings: "Beach Day!" "Music Festival!" "Off to Tuscany!"
And here I am walking on the porch past a clump of rain boots that I still need to put away.
But what summer actually is--a break--isn't a very American idea. Busy is the only thing that means anything in America: busy means success, busy means happy, busy means money. So when you ask average Americans how they are, most often people will say, "Oh, I've been so busy!" While this may be true, we also know it's the answer that gets the best response.
Other countries celebrate the joy of a slower pace, one that puts family and happiness above work. I remember reading an article about an American family that moved to Sweden. One night the dad stayed at work to catch up on a few things, and his boss caught him and actually got angry: "What are you doing here? You should be home with your family!" Can you imagine that happening here? And think of all the countries that actually take a huge break in the middle of every day to eat and rest? Businesses close down, families have lunch together, and people take naps under trees, waking up only briefly to sing (or at least that's what I imagine). In Italy there's a phrase, dolce far niente, which roughly translates to "the sweetness of doing nothing"--now there's a country that has its priorities straight.
But I'm American, not Italian. So when summer comes, I need to remind myself that, as sweet as it is, it's almost impossible to just instantly switch into "doing nothing" mode. And that's okay. Perfection isn't the key. The goal is to have no goal.
I thought it might help me to put up a calendar of my own that just has little hand-drawn pictures of me lying down with a glass of wine in my hand...but really, that would take too much effort. And besides, there's a Popsicle in the freezer with my name on it. Literally, the kids wrote names on all the Popsicles so there could be no stealing.
Dolce far niente...
Holly Hester lives in Sebastopol and writes about life on her blog, Riot Ranch. Find her book, Escape from Ugly Mom Island!, on Amazon.