Farewell, Summer 2021. The summer that was almost, really, relatively pretty good.
Looking back on the happiest summer ever, and looking forward to the next one.
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I was looking back at my Instagram feed the other night, which is something I like to do because it’s where I now keep my memories. (I kind of love this about Instagram, to be honest, even though one of the most clicked-on articles I’ve ever written is about “Instagram envy,” upward comparison, and how apps got us all to buy the same crochet swimsuit).
I know that supposedly our lives are all fake on Instagram, but I do tend to post something when I feel happy and want to remember it, so my feed is a nice little reminder of the good times. My recent IG nostalgia session reminded me how happy I was in Summer 2019.
Summer 2019 was one of the happiest times in my life.
It’s not just that I think about it now and am like, “Oh, looking back, that was a great time.” I knew—in real time—that I was happy, and I remarked on it to friends in person and on the internets. For me, sustained, real-time happiness recognition is rare, and might be pretty much peak well-being.
That summer of good feels and sunshine came as a surprise, because the previous nine months had been brutal due to the fact that we were caring for a newborn. My partner and I spent the first four months of parenting white knuckling, grindingly tired, and being grateful that the other one didn’t disappear and start a new life in Las Vegas. I wonder if we struggled more with newborn care because I was “old” when I had a baby (is it somehow easier when you’re 25, like yoga is easier?). I’m pretty convinced that 2% of the population enjoys caring for a newborn, and everyone else just tries to survive.
But when my baby reached about nine months old in the Spring of 2019, things had shifted. She no longer screamed nonstop from 6 to 11 pm as though something invisible was burning her (Colic? Demonic possession? No pediatrician or priest could ever tell us). We had moved to a new apartment in a new neighborhood where we were close to friends. I was back at work, where I had a lighter summer schedule and did something I was actually trained for and good at several days a week. We had found an awesome, non-creepy, non-Craigslist childcare provider who we sometimes paid to stay as much as three whole hours per week past work time, so we had that time to ourselves (!).
On the days when I was home doing childcare, I figured out that the key to sanity was leaving the house before noon and taking the baby to the park, or library story time, or the coffee shop, or anywhere to just not be trapped inside with a baby. In my desperation for contact, I made friends during these forays, including other parents, and I amassed a group of neighborhood “baby friends,” by which I mean I actually met infants and very young children whose company I enjoyed. Weird!
I went outside a lot, and got plenty of fresh air and sun. I got an awkward tan and semi-ruined my leather cross-body bag by wearing it to splash pads, but no matter, the babe and I were having fun.
When my kid took a nap, I laid down in front of the AC and read fiction—fiction by women, about women—mostly women who were burning shit down. I tore through the first three masterful Neopolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, and Lauren Groff’s excellent “Fates and Furies.” In the evenings, we went to the park and put down a picnic blanket and watched our child crawl through the grass and chase lightning bugs while the sun set on the river.
At some point, I realized I was really happy. I was still tired, but I was tired and happy.
I had struck on the right mix of work and pleasure and healthy coping mechanisms. I decided I wasn’t going to let myself get in the way of this newfound sense of well-being with my usual anxiety and perfectionism, and I was just going to enjoy it. And surprisingly, I did.
Toward the end of the summer, I posted this to Instagram and meant it. “Goodbye Summer 2019” I wrote, “you were a beauty.” It was the happiest summer I’d had in years.
It’s a good thing that I stored up all that sunshine, because as we all know, 2020 descended months later.
One of the hardest things about the following summer in 2020 was that nearly all the stuff that had helped me thrive and shoulder the burden of parenting was stripped away. No friends, no baby friends, no coffee shop hangs, no library story time, no library. I didn’t even read any fiction, hardly, because—no childcare. It sucked.
As we entered summer this year, I remembered how good summer 2019 was. Could it be like that again? Maybe it could. And it has been—in fits and starts.
After moving away for a year due to the pandemic, we are back in our beloved New York City neighborhood. We have friends again; I even have my baby friends again, who now have gone through a fast-forward time warp and are snack-eating, fast-talking toddler friends. I’ve picked up my summer lady fiction habit again (Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” is my current love).
We’ve had some magical moments, like this one, at our local playground, where a neighbor regularly shows up toting a speaker in his kid’s wagon, and holds dance parties with bubbles for the kids. The fireflies, the sunsets on the river, we have them again.
All of this has still been undercut, at first just a teeny bit and then more as the summer has progressed, by the fear of knowing that even though we are vaccinated (the relief!), the kids are not. Is childcare safe? Will school be safe? Is my kid’s cough and fever just that—or something worse? What do we do with the anger and distress over the a-hole at the playground/grocery store/school who brags he isn’t vaccinated, but refuses to mask around the kids?
The ignorant bliss of 2019 still seems out of reach—enjoying being in the moment with just, you know, the usual worries. Without pandemic anxiety, without masks, without anti-masker-anti-vaxxers. The sensation that things are okay and might stay that way for a while; it hasn’t totally stuck yet.
But in my Instagram feed there’s Summer 2019, and it wasn’t that long ago. And I’m hoping that we are moving, in fits and starts, back toward something like it.
Goodbye, Summer 2021. You weren’t a beauty, exactly. But you were better.