On Tuesday, when careful readers will recall that Kina made a surprise visit to the Bronx Zoo, I woke up early and felt a little thrill that I would be going to the zoo on my first day of summer vacation. I could take my time getting ready, put on some shorts, toss some cheddar bunnies in the backpack, and hop on the train for a jaunt with the hippos. It took me all of three blissful seconds to recall that I was not Kina, that I last had a school break in 1996, and that I would not, on any random Tuesday, be going to the zoo.
After I graduated from college (during which, even on semester breaks, I would work for the summer), I felt for several years the phantom limb of the school calendar hanging off the side of my body. September would come, and I would work. Mid-December, the work continued. The cherry blossoms emerged and fell, and still there was work. When your formative years put tight creases at the edges of summer, it’s hard not to trip over them year after year. I think a lot of the early bitterness and resentment that comes with adulthood is built on the lost formlessness of summertime—replaced by The Hustle.
Eventually, though, the creases smoothed out, and I came to accept reluctantly that one works whenever one can (the alternative being more difficult logistically from a rent and food standpoint), and the vast expanse of summer abandon withered off to three little holiday nubs of Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. This is fine, or was, until my child graduated from Kindergarten, and I woke up on the first day of her summer break thinking I had two months of unbridled liberty and fun visits to the zoo and aquarium—and then had to go to work with that droning on in my head all day.
This is, against the backdrop of 2022, a trivial injustice, but it is an injustice nonetheless. I would take a single contiguous month, like the French, I think, or the Swedes. Give me August! There is no natural law of continuous labor that defines the lives of cooperative social mammals. Five day workweeks are a well-reasoned invention of modern industry (which is to suggest that four day workweeks might also be reasonable, but I digress)! We have clearly tumbled to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs in America in the last few weeks (and years), so I’m willing to wait on the Adult Summer Vacation until after we’ve clawed some climate work into existence and restored the right to abortions and protected the right to vote and nationalized healthcare and fixed affordable housing and made life right and equitable in America for Black, brown, and Native folks.
But yes, after that, I would like a summer break.
Even so, imagine if we got that break today! What could we as citizens accomplish in service of that critical list of goals above if we just had the summer off? In my mystical list of Things I Can Do, the far-off verbs of Vote, Protest, Run, Fund, Aid, Speak, Amplify feel like reasonable ways to spend a couple uninterrupted months every year. What if we all had that? What if we as citizens were supported by our society to spend a little time focusing on making society better? What if we could keep our homes and feed our families and stay healthy and take just a handful of weeks all at once and work towards the common good?
I always said that I do my best thinking on vacation. Maybe we put the summer break first.
We can even go to the zoo.