The living is easy, isn't it? Carefree summers screech to a halt at adulthood

July 11, 1993|By Donna Kato | Donna Kato,Knight-Ridder News Service

Whoever said some things never change wasn't talking about summer.

Somewhere between that last great summer we all remember and now, we've become serious, responsible and grumpy.

Instead of enjoying the wonderfully enveloping feel of the first really steamy day, we complain about the heat. If we're not jealous of the three months off that kids get, we're fretting about what to do with those little whiners while school's out.

And when was the last time we let our bare feet feel the exhilaration of going from hot asphalt to the cool, green grass? Since when have we stayed blissfully in the sun all day without worrying about skin cancer? Or stuck our faces in an old baseball mitt to breathe the scent of ball-diamond dirt and oiled leather?

As much as we don't want to admit it, summer is no longer that delightful, livin'-is-easy time of year. Not that we don't want it to be. Every spring, we believe in that delicious illusion. And every August, we realize we've been duped once again.

The truth is, not only does summer stink -- especially for grown-ups -- but we're all in a grand state of denial about the fact that we have turned into a nation of summer grinches.

We desperately try to believe that summer is signaled by a certain, sweet mood. Triggered memories. Daydreams. We tell ourselves we'll naturally feel like celebrating when summer descends gently upon us . . .

Then we snap back -- to our bills and brats, our work and worries, speaking fondly only of the summers of our youth, but grumbling about the long, stagnant stretch of summertime blues ahead.

"Summers as we love them end when we become responsible adults," declares John Bullaro, a professor in the Department of Leisure Studies and Recreation at California State University, Northridge. "When you have a mortgage, a job and kids of your own, summer is nothing more than the heating up of the atmosphere."

No long vacation

The obvious reason summers aren't as pleasurable anymore is we don't have a long, lazy vacation, the way we did as kids. And when we do take time off, we're compelled to do something, go somewhere -- then speed up the fun and cram in the activities in a few days' time. "Vacation bites" is what Mr. Bullaro calls them.

"People can't really have the emotionally pleasing summer experience they used to have," he says, adding that societal changes also contribute to our depressing summers. "It's hard to let that feeling of innocence take over when your mind is consciously and unconsciously being assaulted by so many negatives -- crime, the homeless, traffic, economic pressures. You can't blame us for wanting to look back and be nostalgic for a time when we didn't have so much to cope with."

That yearning usually is for the summers we enjoyed as children.

"As a kid, summer seems to last forever, and everything -- even a little weekend barbecue -- was such a big deal," says Lainie Kooima, who recently moved from a small town in Idaho to San Diego, lured by the beaches and sunshine of Southern California.

Time off to 'play'

Ms. Kooima, 36, a one-time nurse and physical trainer for college athletes, works for a health-management company that allows her to go to work early so she can leave by 4 in the afternoon to go outside and "play." Often, she'll rush home to change, then bike, hike or swim.

"I think it's important to revert back to that kid mentality once in a while," she says. "For some reason, it's acceptable behavior in adults during the summer."

High school evokes the fondest summer memories for Gordon Everett, who rarely has daydreaming time these days as nurse manager of the emergency services at Valley Medical Center in San Jose.

"I spent a lot of time going near the water as a California boy, and my best summer was the summer I turned 16," says Mr. Everett. "That's when I got my own wheels and could go to the beach any time I wanted."

From sunup to sundown, he would be at Huntington Beach in Southern California with his knee board, he says, surfing and sunbathing.

No more.

For the past 13 years, Mr. Gordon has worked in the area of the trauma center of the hospital handling accident victims and people involved in incidents involving guns, knives, cars, boats and tools.

While most of us harbor no envy for such jobs during the summer -- or any other time of year -- there are people we envy for having lifestyles and work schedules that allow for a splendidly slothful summer.

Teachers, for instance.

Oh, no, says Karen Arimoto-Peterson, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Woodside (Calif.) Elementary School. In fact, this summer she'll be working harder than usual because of an April fire that destroyed her classroom.

"Teachers don't take three months off like the kids," she corrects. "They have to prepare for the coming year, and most of them take classes" to move up on the salary scale.

OK. If not teachers, surely a professional basketball player has the summer off. The regular season ends the last week of April.

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