Op/Ed

Faith Gong: Goodbye Summer, Welcome Fall!

I need to come clean: Although I’ve written on this topic in a variety of ways before, I’ve always beat around the bush, obscured my true feelings, tried to be polite. But I think it’s time to be honest, to come right out and say it:

I don’t like summer.

Having made such a blunt statement of fact, I feel the need to walk it back immediately, to be more diplomatic: Summer’s not my favorite season, but it has many excellent features.

But I won’t do it; I’m going to let my opinion stand strong and clear. The truth is that even though I’ll have to start packing school lunches, rousting kids out of bed before it’s light, and spending all afternoon driving between sports practices and music lessons, I rejoice whenever we round the corner to Labor Day.

My problem with summer is that it begins with high expectations and ends with deflation.

At the start of each summer, I imagine our children romping outside and our family enjoying all the glorious outdoor options Vermont has to offer, from hiking to lakes to food festivals. I am excited about whatever out-of-state travel we have planned — vacations! I dream of my fertile garden, overflowing with a bounteous harvest. Of course it won’t all be fun, sun, and flowers: I’ll make sure that my children do weekly math, just to keep up. Maybe I’ll even teach them to cook nutrient-dense meals or to clean their own bathroom!

By summer’s end — every single summer — my golden dream lies in a sad heap. We made a good start with outdoor outings, but it’s just so darn hot (increasingly so, in recent Vermont summers). I’m reminded that travel, especially with five children — and especially with a two-year-old — is exhausting and depleting. My garden, which started so neat and organized, has become a tangle of whatever hardy crops could withstand the weeds, bugs, and increasing neglect. And my children seem inclined to spend most of their days indoors on screens, without a math worksheet in sight. I begin to dread the question, “What are we doing today?” because, frankly, I am running out of answers.

I have removed myself almost entirely from social media, and thank goodness, because whenever I look at Facebook over the summer all I see is a guilt-inducing montage of my friends’ beaming faces while on vacation, on hikes, by the water, over the grill, or holding their prize cucumbers and baskets of berries. Everyone else, it seems, knows how to live their best life during summer.

But I need structure to thrive. I need school days with firm start and end times and clearly outlined goals. I need “no TV or video games except on weekends” rules. And so, it seems, does my family.

Other people practice spring cleaning to sweep out the detritus of winter. Me? I never saw the point: Why labor for a spotless house when my children will be tracking in grass clippings all summer? Instead, I’m inspired by fall cleaning, preparing our house for the darkening months ahead when we’ll all snuggle up by the woodstove every evening.

Give me a Vermont autumn! Give me structure and schedules and new books to read. Give me the excuse to hunker down at home for a while. Give me golden light and brilliant patchwork foliage and crisp, cool air that invigorates rather than depletes. Give me pumpkin patches and apple orchards, and the non-guilt-inducing task of “putting the garden to bed.”

I am counting down the days until Labor Day.

Still, I’ll admit that summer has its value; this year in particular, summer helped to reignite my appreciation for Vermont.

Due to a combination of circumstance and poor planning, this summer I will have traveled away from home five times — a record for me. When I returned from those travels, all of which I enjoyed in particular ways, I saw Vermont with fresh eyes. I felt so grateful for the natural beauty that surrounds me each day: The green fields, the abundance of trees, the curve of the mountains on the horizon. I sighed with relief at the lack of congestion: Even Vermont summer tourism can’t compare with the hustle and crowding of a regular day in many other places, with their multi-lane highways and endless lines of people. And as I reconnected with my community, I marveled at the gift of being able to live in a single small town for over a decade; for the realization that I have known most of my children’s friends — some of them now entering high school — since they were babies and toddlers.

We moved to Vermont 11 summers ago, and I love it still.

This past Sunday, our family had the sort of day that cements my love of Vermont. We’d checked out the discount pass for the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain (known in our house as “The Lake Aquarium”) from Ilsley Public Library. ECHO had a special exhibit on Mythic Creatures that some of my children wanted to see, so we drove the hour to Burlington (not a traffic jam in sight) and arrived at ECHO a couple of hours before closing. Parking was no problem, the museum was not crowded, and because it’s a small museum two hours was more than enough time for my children to see everything.

In addition to the special exhibit, ECHO has done some reconfiguring since the last time I was there: The top floor now features a variety of hands-on activities, mostly devoted to wind and water. While our two-year-old was content to play in the children’s area the entire time, with its water tables and slides, my older children — even my teens — found plenty to be enthusiastic about.

When ECHO closed, we walked across the street to The Skinny Pancake for dinner. We ate outside on the patio, disturbed only by a couple of yellowjackets (‘tis the season). After a dinner that satisfied all the taste preferences in our family, we walked along the path by Lake Champlain for a short time. We sat in the swings placed at regular intervals by the lakeshore, and my children played a game of hide-and-seek on the greenway (in which our two-year-old, still not quite grasping the game, would stand behind the person counting and then when asked, “Where’s Levi?” would point and declare, “In the trees!”). We even ran into some friends from our own town out enjoying the evening in Burlington as well.

As we walked back to our car, my eldest daughter (and biggest flight risk from Vermont) said, “Burlington has such good energy. I could live here.”

On the drive home, we stopped at Vermont Cookie Love in Ferrisburgh for ice cream and cookies and observed a spectacular sunset over the Adirondacks. All seven of us agreed that it had been a perfect Vermont afternoon.

Of course, it occurs to me that this was a perfect Vermont summer afternoon, and I’ve just declared that I don’t like summer.

Perhaps what I really like is the promise of a new beginning, the change of seasons. And thankfully, Vermont has more than enough seasons to keep me hopeful year-round.

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her “free time,” she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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