Monday, September 1, 2014

Taking Back August

I don’t know when it officially happened, because I don’t remember feeling this way as a kid, but for as long as I can remember, August has felt like one long Sunday afternoon, an afternoon filled with dread and anticipation that work or school was lurking around the corner, similar to a Sunday afternoon.  It was almost as if the "summer switch” was turned off on July 31st.  Mentally, I was no longer feeling that it was summer, even though there were still thirty one days left, which is just under half of the days allotted to summer break.  This glass half empty scenario was not mine to bear alone, because many people refer to August as the “Sunday afternoon of the summer.” Some may blame all of the “back to school” commercials, but they, too, were around when I was a kid and it didn’t phase me then, so somewhere along the path to adulthood, there was a mental shift my perception of August.
This year, I was determined to change the glass half empty perception of August, at least from my perspective. First, I had to figure out the simplicity of my life when I was a kid, and how I was able to enjoy every minute of my summer. It’s not that I was unaware of the date as a child, because there were calendars in my house, and we watched the news various times a day on the ONE television that was in the house, so the carefree August of yesteryear cannot be attributed to lack of current technology.  So I tried to dig deep into my memory and figure out what I used to do as a kid in August. Then I realized that my carefree spirit was not a result of expensive vacations, mall walking, or the planned play dates that we arrange for our children now, it was because I used to just have fun EVERY day. Simple fun which included: bike riding, swimming, hanging out with the neighbor friends playing kickball, or just whiling away the day with my friends trying to figure out what to do next. The days were long and full, and definitively warranted a shower at the end of the day. I realize that it’s not a new psychological theory that kids used to play outside more as a kid and make their own fun, as this is a common complaint of many parents today as they/we try to juggle activities and entertain our kids, but, the root of August enjoyment, whether it was the simple fun I enjoyed or the planned fun of today, was the rudimentary fact that, as a kid, I was always having fun.
So on July 31st, I decided that I was going to “Take Back August” and I began to figure out a plan to change my glass half full perception of August and make sure that I did something fun EVERY day, no matter what. Now, defining fun for an adult is definitely different than it is for a kid, so I knew that unlike my unplanned days of fun from childhood, I had to make a more conscious effort to plan fun for myself without making my month feel so scripted that I didn’t allow for spontaneous fun. So, first I defined what would count as fun, and determined that it could be anything from having lunch with my kids or a friend, shopping, going to the beach, attending a BBQ, doing a creative home project (I think that’s fun) or any other unplanned, spontaneous thing that came along. 
Luckily, it’s not hard to find fun things to do in the summer, as my calendar was already dotted with some BBQ’s, planned beach days, family dinners, and potential lunch dates with my friends. I knew that I had to make a concerted effort to not let a day slip by without doing one activity, whether it was quick or a full day jaunt. It’s so easy to get stuck in the laziness of a day where the morning turns into the afternoon, and all I can account for is a load of laundry, entertaining myself on my computer, or the chores of a household, not that those are not valuable things that need to happen in one’s life. So with those goals in mind, my plan was in motion, not knowing if I would succeed, but at least I had a plan.
Taking Back August: Chilling at the beach in Long Branch, NJ.

By August 10th, my perspective of August had already taken a drastic shift in the positive direction, because I made an effort to fill my days with fun. I had already been to the beach twice, saw three movies (lots of releases in the summer), attended two BBQ’s, went antiquing, dined with friends for lunches and dinners, enjoyed an evening of jazz, took a bike tour through Central Park, and went on a mother/daughter dessert crawl in NYC. At that point in the month, I was already having more fun than most of my previous, anxiety-filled Augusts. So far so fun, but would I be able to keep up the pace, and not break the bank in the process?  The good news is that many activities were free like antiquing (looking is free), attending BBQ’s and the jazz performance at a local restaurant, whereas many things were also low cost like going to the beach and the movies. Since, my plan was such a success so far, I just had to keep the fun going for twenty-one more days and luckily, I still had some previously planned activities on the calendar. 

Taking Back August: A view of the fountain
in Central Park while on a bike tour. 
     On August 20th, I was two thirds complete with my Take Back August challenge. At this point, I was in a groove and feeling happy.  My perspective of August had already taken a dramatic turn towards the positive.  I had logged in twenty days of fun! Twenty days in a row! I don’t ever recall having twenty days of fun in August as an adult, or even twenty days of fun during the entire summer season, and this year I was approaching success with no sign of defeat. When I looked at my Chart of Fun (see below) I was amazed that I had done so many things! Then, when I looked at the remaining blank spaces for the last 11 days of the month, I did not look at them with remorse that summer would soon be coming to a close; I looked at those blank spaces as opportunities to be filled.

Taking Back August: Beach tags on my beach bag
from Pier Village in Long Branch, New Jersey. 

During this second third of the Take Back August Challenge, I did, however, make a conscious effort to do two very important things. First, I wanted to make sure that I continued to complete important tasks on my to-do list. I didn’t want the challenge to take the place of my responsibilities or project goals for the summer, not that I had neglected my priorities during the first ten days of the challenge, but I wanted to make sure that this new goal didn’t overshadow my usual routines around the house. Additionally, I didn’t want to plan too many days of extravagant fun, so as you can see on my chart below, some days were low cost like the beach ($5 entry fee) or a movie, and some days included free fun like game night at a friend’s house, attending a BBQ, or enjoying a movie at home in my comfy bed with a cup of tea and a lavender candle. At that point in the month, I was feeling positive and fulfilled just like when I was a child.  I was closing in on completing my Take Back August challenge, and I was confident that I would be successful.

Taking Back August: Winding down the month of fun
 at the Color Run with my family. 
Well, August 31st is finally here and my Take Back August Challenge is complete! Thirty-one days of fun under my belt, and my negative perspective of August has been successfully altered. Deliberately incorporating fun into my daily routine was painless, and it effectively helped me take back one month, thirty-one days, one twelfth, or 8.5% of my year, all of which I was previously squandering away with negative thoughts. Not since childhood have I felt this fulfilled and happy in August, even with the impending responsibilities of September on the horizon. Not only am I elated to have filled my month of August with days fun comparable to childhood, I am personally satisfied that I had the determination to follow through with the challenge.  Now, if I could only find a way to take back Sunday afternoons!

           Taking Back August Chart of Fun

Daily Fun
Lunch in Downtown Freehold with and friend and Sangria Cocktails.
Dinner at the bar at the Mill and Spring Lake Heights, and Jazz performance by Gina Fox
Went to see the movie Boyhood, and had dinner at The Downtown in Red Bank
Lunch with my sister in law at Cheesecake Factory,
Went to the Beach with my son in Long Branch, and lunch at Bobby’s Burgers.
Family Dinner at Nonna’s!
Antiquing in Red Bank and lunch at Front Street Trattoria. Chick flick movie in the evening with my daughter, Begin Again.
Beach with my daughter and Sushi dinner at Sawa at Pier Village
Afternoon Movie (Lucy) with my daughter and BBQ at a neighbor’s house.
Bike Tour through Central Park and dessert food crawl with my daughter in NYC.
Went to the beach with a friend at Pier Villiage in Long Branch and to Stewarts for a diet root beer and French fries.
Craft day! Worked on a DIY T-shirt quilt with daughter. Organized t-shirt pieces for my daughter’s quilt and prepared it to be sent to the Campus Quilt Company for assembly. 
Shopping Haul at the mall with my daughter!
Unexpected Day 2 of mall in the AM, beach in the afternoon at Pier Village, and Family dinner at hibachi for nephew going away to college. (So much fun in one day, it’s a crime!)
Sushi dinner with the Hubs and sister and brother in law.
Got a manicure in the morning and went to a friend’s BBQ in the afternoon.
Family BBQ in the afternoon.
Beach with a friend at Pier Village in Long Branch.
Lunch with a friend at a local diner, pedicure in the afternoon, and game night at a friend’s house in the evening.
Watched a movie at home in my comfy bed with no one bothering me, drank a cup of tea and relaxed with the scent of a lavender candle.
Afternoon movie by myself! The Hundred Foot Journey.
Sushi dinner with the Hubs and my daughter.
Lunch with the Hubs and my father in law at The Fireside, and dinner at Monticello in Red Bank with family.
Late lunch at 10th Avenue Burrito in Belmar and Movie at the Asbury Theater, The Most Wanted Man.
Mexican Lunch with my son at Moe’s.
Hair Salon Day!!
Sushi Lunch with my daughter.
Chick flick at home with my daughter.
Attended a friend’s Bar Mitzvah with the family.
Participated in The Color Run with the family in the AM and worked on a DIY lamp with my daughter for her boyfriend’s the dorm room.
Move in day for my daughter at college! Decorated the Dorm room!