Monday, September 5, 2011

Having a Summer

Labor Day marks the "official" end of summer, and thus it's time to ask whether one has made the most of the season of heat, beach and long, supposedly lazy days.

When I first moved to the U.S. and people started asking me whether I was having a nice summer, or, in late August or early September, whether I had had a nice summer, I was puzzled by the question. How do you have a summer? And why was I supposed to have a summer as opposed to any other season? I was a working adult, and often didn't even take a vacation in the summer, so why would summer be any different? Why weren't people asking, come November, whether I'd had a nice fall?

These days I ask the question myself, especially as my kids return to school and I connect with other parents. And that's also how I initially came to understand it: Summer is still associated with massive amounts of free time that apparently many Americans have over their almost three month break from school over the summer. So even if you're not in school or college or university anymore, you're still supposed to have a summer.

Before I even understood the question in its cultural context (and please enlighten me further!), I understood it as a check-in to see whether you were capable of taking advantage of the nice weather, whether you were able to live in the moment and savor the season of late daylight. So I made a list for myself of all the things that signify summer for me and that I want to make sure I don't forget about. Checking off many of them would ensure I'd had a good summer:
  • Make lemonade
  • Ride a boat on Lake Michigan
  • Go to 57th Street Beach
  • Go blueberry picking
  • Visit farmers' market
  • Make popsicles
  • Eat fresh corn on the cob
  • Grill our own hamburgers
  • Lie down flat in the grass and look up at the sky
  • Bicycle along the lakefront
That list is still on the fridge, yellowed and a big dog-eared, and my daughter is slightly bemused by it, as popsicles are, for example, something for little kids. And yet, what says summer like a home-made popsicle?


  1. We didn't make homemade popsicles this year. And this was the first summer in along time that we didn't go on a vacation. Oh well. I guess not every summer can be great. We did get a lot of projects done around the house and that was a good thing.

  2. Years ago, when kids went back to school after being off for 2-3 months, teachers had them write an essay titled "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" It got to the point that kids groaned over this repeated assignment, but I have a feeling the teachers got to read some amusing papers.

  3. This is a great list. I hope you were able to cross many, if not, most of them off over the summer.

  4. It never occurred to me that a) that question does not get asked about the other seasons or b) this was strictly an American thing. Interesting! Especially since I woke up this morning thinking "oh no, summer is over and I only went out to the pool once." Luckily, I'm in Southern California and it's not too late. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. I, too, was stopped by the thought that we don't ask that of other seasons. Yes, that's the best part of meeting people from so many different places. They make me see my world from a new perspective.

  6. That's a good list!

    When I first moved to the US, I found each of the seasons was so much more pronounced than it is here in Australia. So "having a summer" was a lot more of a deal because it was so clearly bookmarked by spring and fall (not to mention winter). I loved that even in a city as built out as New York, I could watch each season come and go with absolute clarity. I still miss it.

  7. Oh I absolutely LOVED this post- it rang so true, for me who grew up in Singapore where there are no seasons (other than monsoon season :)) ... so when I came to the States I was equally baffled at the fascination with summer- (found myself gravitating towards FALL since it was a season I had never experienced)....your post has turned on a million bulbs in my brain- I want to make MY list :)...maybe ONE for each season :)

  8. I never thought about the cultural context! I guess were all used to that three month vacation....and I have also always associated the end of the school year and the start of a new one as a "new year." to me, it's a time of change and that's when I usually make my resolution.

    My great change this summer? Graduating college, starting a new job, and getting into blogging!

  9. I had never thought about the question, "How was your summer?," until I read this. Thanks for making me consider it and come up with my own answer. You can read it on
    Ann Oxrieder