Remember when you were a kid during summer? Spending days gorging on popsicles and ice cream and penny candy (no, I’m not that old, my town did have a store with penny candy) and soda when your parents weren’t looking, running around like a crazy person on the sugar high for a while, then crashing like a whiny pile of mush, only to repeat the cycle until the candy ran out or Mom and Dad found the stash? My sister was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 7 and I was 9, so our days probably weren’t as crazy as in some households, but we had “free days.” My sister’s doctor gave her a certain number of free days a year when she could eat anything she wanted in whatever quantity, which helped make the diet management throughout the year a little more bearable – you always had a free day to look forward to.
College was like that – the highs of fun sorority events, the lows of the drama, the free days (leave that one to your imagination). Lots of things in life are like that, now that I think about it as a grown up. I’m an academic on a nine-month contract, so April and early May are an emotional and stressful rollercoaster ride of
- sugar highs (seeing the ladies of Kappa Zeta dressed up for formal and Order of the Triangle, finishing up classes, wrapping up projects and committees, celebrating end of the year awards and recognizing deserving colleagues, seeing your seniors off to their futures);
- blood sugar lows (grading, attending long end-of-year meetings, grading, Standards Council meetings, grading, finishing out budgets, more grading); and
- free days (namely the mental health day I inevitably need to relax or am forced to take when the tension headache takes ownership of my body).
Beyond April and May, summers in general have never been easy for me. I know, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, but academics really never get summers “off.” We have to do all the research and writing we couldn’t do while teaching. It’s a very weird thing to go from more than 100 college students and a chapter of 166 sorority women needing your constant attention to almost nothing in just a week. I like the rhythm, the expectations. I know when my schedule will get crazy and when I’ll have a lull.
As a kid, I would get bored easily when someone wasn’t telling me what to do, or what to read, or what to work on. In college I filled summers by working at the local water park in Guest Relations, rather than as a life guard. (I burn like a French fry within 20 minutes of direct sunlight – thank you English and Irish ancestors.) It was tedious work but mostly about social time with other people my age to fill the gap left in my heart while missing my Sigma Kappa sisters (and digging in the lost and found for the crazy things people lost at the park – find me at Convention – I’ll tell you the awesomest thing a life guard ever pulled out of the speed slide filter). In grad school, I taught summer classes.
But for a Type A overachiever, I am paradoxically incapable of self-managing large chunks of free time – like summer. I start off every summer with a To Do list three feet long that usually includes ridiculous goals like “write three articles,” “plan four new research studies,” “totally reinvent all my classes,” “plot way to save Elon from possible alien invasion.” A good-hearted colleague talks me down from the crazy, but the list is still usually more than I can ever do, which is good and bad – good because I have options, and bad because I have options. The past few summers have looked something like this:
- sugar highs (long lunches with alumnae sisters I don’t get to lunch with during the academic year, hours reading useless romance novels to clear my head, productive weeks at writing workshops and research conferences with amazing colleagues, actually writing two of the three articles I said I’d write);
- blood sugar lows (hours of useless TV or shopping because I’m so overwhelmed with the options on my list that I don’t do anything productive); and
- free days (a spa day here, a beach day with the husband there, maybe even a day in the mountains digging raw garnets right out of the ground at a little mine I know).
So my plan for this summer is to try to focus on maintaining the sugar high for as long as possible but also giving myself a break and recognizing that the lows are just my brain’s way of saying “hey, you need a little break, and that’s OK.” Whatever your highs are – lunching with friends, playing with your children, taking on a cool new project at work – I hope you have a fantastic summer full of more highs and free days than lows.