I had never been a summer enthusiast. I never liked the visible steam rising from cracked, concrete sidewalks. I hated the near-instantaneous formation of an uncomfortable, sticky layer of sweat on my skin whenever I stepped outside. I hated the scatter of light brown freckles that started forming across my cheeks in the heat— an expected consequence of my aversion to sunscreen. However, my distaste for summer stemmed far beyond the unpleasant weather. More than all else, I hated the guilt that arose from being unproductive during the months of school vacation.
Throughout the school year, I had a well-established routine, with most weeks adhering to the same cycle of biology tests, history essays, and French homework, followed by my extracurricular activities. My familiar structure offered a strange sense of comfort, and I eagerly looked forward to the only breaks and long weekends in between. However, during the summer, I had roughly three months of unpredictability and freedom. This uncertainty and lack of structure unnerved me. My mother, who considered a three-month break from school to be excessive, always urged me to take summer courses to explore my interests and occupy the endless void of time during the summer.
August of 2020 was spent in Greenwich, Connecticut, in a large house on an even larger hill. In a bid to justify the unproductiveness associated with my break from school, I enrolled in an online AP History course at Johns Hopkins University. This course proved to be an exceedingly time-consuming endeavor, demanding almost half of my day, every day. Completing this coursework was a more arduous task than my school’s curriculum; my mornings were occupied with writing essays, reading innumerable articles, and making millions of flashcards. I finished my assignment, closed my laptop, and stretched my stiff limbs, a sense of contentment and satisfaction washing over the guilt that had been weighing me down. I had worked hard and earned my ability to enjoy summer. There was no more reason for me to feel guilty for not being productive.
The green grass on the hill became my playground as I raced down it with my brother. I bounced on the enormous outdoor trampoline. I spent time in the pool, jumping off the diving board, sipping tea underwater, and suppressing the irrational fear that a shark would enter from the bottom vent, punctuated simultaneously by my ears popping every time I swam down to the deep end. Evenings were spent catching fireflies, indulging in movie nights with large bags of buttery popcorn, greasy fingers on nice furniture, and squealing and screaming that could only be done without neighbors.
However, in August of 2021, I found myself wallowing in guilt and self-pity due to my lack of productivity. Enrolling in a ten-week essay writing course, I had been "productive" during the earlier months of summer. Despite my hard work, it was fulfilling to see my writing improve week by week, the critique from my instructor morphing into praise. The abrupt end to this course led me to plummet, no longer able to maintain the constant level of productivity that had become an unhealthy standard. The obnoxiously lush trees and my family’s infuriating ability to enjoy the summer seemed to mock me, everything around me constantly serving as a reminder of the guilt I was obligated to feel because of my unproductiveness.
I wanted to cry as I sat alone, the weight of unproductiveness hung heavy on my shoulders, suffocating any sense of joy or relaxation. I didn’t want to feel like this. But in that moment of anxiety, I had an epiphany. I had been overlooking the value of unproductiveness as a crucial component for my overall well-being: Being unproductive was productive. I knew I needed to change my mindset.
August of 2022 was spent in East Hampton in a quintessential brown-shingled house. Unlike past summers, I allowed myself to embrace the idea of relaxation and not feel guilty about taking time off. Unburdened by the guilt of not constantly being productive, I enjoyed my singular month of relaxation. Having adopted a new outlook on balancing productivity and leisure, I planned my summer accordingly, ensuring an equal amount of both.
While I dedicated June and July to pursuing my interests, which I couldn't do during school, I allowed myself to unwind and mentally disconnect in August. I stayed up till the early hours of the morning, enjoying the night until the rising sun peeked through the closed blinds, casting long shadows on the wooden panels of the floor and my comforter. I woke up late to the bright sun pouring into my room without any inhibition, the blinds failing to block its blinding ray and the rich smell of freshly brewed coffee. I spent my days lounging in the hammock with a book in hand, taking refreshing dips in the pool to beat the heat, and playing tennis in the cooler evenings. To this day, my mind wanders back to that memorable summer, reminiscing.
Now, as the days grow longer and the temperatures rise, I anticipate the arrival of summer. I look forward to the cool mornings, watching the sun peek over the horizon, and birds chirping away hidden behind the lush green foliage in the Hamptons. I look forward to early walks in the neighborhood, and like clockwork, seeing the doormen and their hoses, spraying down the sidewalks: an attempt to combat the scorching Manhattan weather. I look forward to walking past air-conditioned buildings with their doors open in the hot, humid, heat, hoping to feel the relief of the ephemeral cold breeze on my skin. But most of all, I look forward to the leisure and self-indulgence of summer.
About the Author:
Erika Hata is a 9th grade student at the Dwight School. Although she currently lives in New York City, she has also lived in Japan and Hawaii. She is bilingual, speaking both Japanese and English fluently. In her free time, she enjoys reading mystery novels, sketching, watching movies, spending time with her family and friends, and pursuing her passions of filmmaking and history.