Do you ever find yourself reminiscing about your childhood summers?
I do. There’s a picture in my head of when I was 12. My friends and I were walking back to the soccer field on a summer’s day, licking vanilla cones bought at a McDonald’s by the highway. The ice cream was our simple treat for ourselves after hours of running around under the hot sun, our bodies covered in grass, dirt, and sweat.
I can’t remember the names or faces of the people I was with, but I can still remember the feeling of contentment and joy under that summer sun.
For many kids, summertime is a special time of year. It’s sweet and carefree. No school, no homework, and plenty of time to play outside with friends. Maybe I can liken those summers to vanilla ice cream: sweet and simple.
But most of my summers were (to borrow the quote from Forrest Gump) like boxes of chocolates—I never knew what to expect.
I remember being challenged by another kid to be his goalie the summer I was learning soccer. I was able to block all his shots at the expense of my whole body, taking hits to the stomach and arms. But that, and the ice cream treat at the end, made it all the more memorable.
I spent another summer as the only girl in a basketball clinic, learning how to dribble while wearing dribble goggles that acted as blinders. You could only see what was ahead of you so you learned to feel and dribble the ball without looking down.
I always felt supported by my kind and encouraging teammates and coaches, but it was still intimidating because not only was I learning to work with my teammates, but we also had an entire audience. The bleachers were always filled with parents, families, and guardians watching us train. Sometimes I’d feel some eyes on me, as if waiting for me to fail. I learned to block them out, as if I still had the blinders on when I played, eventually wowing the crowd when I would score points during games.
Some summers were spent taking review classes, acting, ballet, or whatever else my mother fancied at the moment. There were times when I wanted to pursue the same things I did the previous summer but couldn’t make the final call. These included the times when I wanted to go back to soccer training or enroll in the next level for basketball, not because I wanted to improve but because I wanted to nurture the friendships I made that summer.
Those times when I was at the mercy of adults and their decisions were always frustrating. But summer was fleeting, and my frustration surrounding it would disappear once I plunged into another activity. With each new summer, I would find myself more fully involved and present because I knew I would never have another summer like it. And just like that, each new summer would be over. By the time a new school year started, I had already moved on from the disappointment, replacing it with excitement to see my school friends.
As we grow older, though, the kind of summers we experience starts to change. On our path to gain a different sense of freedom, the carefree feelings of our youth somehow start to fade. Each summer that passes is lost to the years. And it becomes increasingly more fleeting as we juggle day jobs and responsibilities.
As an adult, I have had to confront the consequences of not having been allowed to decide for myself. When my parent’s practice of figuring out what to do with my free time finally became mine, I felt paralyzed by the possibilities of decisions I could make for the summer. I had so much fear. What if I decide not to do a summer internship and I don’t get a job after graduation? What if I do take a summer internship and still don’t get a job right after graduation? Is one decision better than the other? What results will this decision lead to? Which decision will lead to fewer regrets? Because deciding for myself wasn’t a much-practiced skill, decision-making became a burden of choice. Even when there weren’t many choices to start with.
Learning to own my decisions started with my last summer as an undergraduate. I once again realized how I’d never be able to experience this kind of summer when the next year starts. I found myself immersed in the experience. I learned to enjoy the long walks across campus to my next class. Even the math problems and language classes became enjoyable. It was one of those summers where I felt I was ever-present in just being and doing the smallest of tasks. These moments grew into little practices, like deciding to eat pasta for lunch and owning it rather than regretting I had chosen that instead of tacos.
Apart from those little practices, there’s also a couple of voices that have helped me stand firm with my choices. A friend’s “Don’t look back!” echoes in me on days when I feel tempted to ruminate on what-ifs. My therapist’s sage advice—“Always ask yourself what you want”—gets me through every particularly hard time. I learned to ask myself questions like: Do I want to do the summer internship? Who wants me to do the internship? If the answer was anyone but myself, then clearly it wasn’t what I wanted. “Remember,” my therapist had told me, “you should only do what you want to do.”
This summer, I found my answer. What’s best for each of us may look different and we may have yet to be experts at deciding what’s best for ourselves. There will be seasons in our lives when we won’t be making the best decisions. And that’s totally okay. Every fleeting season gives us a chance to learn.
As we go back to school and say goodbye to the fleeting season that was, let’s fully appreciate the present and keep learning to own our decisions. In doing so, maybe we can somehow relive the spirited summers of our youth—unafraid, excited, and confident. And ready to overcome whatever tests our resolve.