Updated: Nov 4, 2019
My first summer out of college was a rude awakening. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, a Los Angeles suburb once known for orange groves and wide, open fields where they used to film Westerns.
Our neighborhood was full of children. As soon as school ended in June, we were allowed to play outside until the stars came alive, dotting the dark sky like sparklers. Summer meant freedom — no school, no homework, no alarm clocks. It was the season of sleep-away camp and long days at the beach and suntan lotion—the good kind, the kind we used before anyone had heard of UV rays or SPF. Oh, how I loved summer.
Then I grew up, and the summers of my youth became a distant memory. I got a job at an advertising agency in Santa Monica, only a few miles from my beloved Pacific Ocean. All was well through fall and winter and into spring, but as soon as the weather turned and summer flowers began to bloom, I got that familiar antsy feeling, the anticipation of change. But then, nothing changed except for the weather… hot and dry with a layer of smog that rested on the horizon.
What had happened to those lazy, hazy summer days?
Damn, I thought, I should have been a school teacher like my mom.
Now summer meant sweaty feet in high-heeled shoes and business suits not bathing suits. Trips to the beach on weekends with huge crowds, traffic, and over-priced parking, were not worth the effort.
I spent my days in an air-conditioned building, occasionally wandering to the window in my boss’s office to gaze at a sliver of blue ocean which could be seen from our tenth-floor location. One time she interrupted my reverie.
“Julie? What are you doing?”
I turned. “Oh, I’m sorry. I was just looking at the water.”
She came and stood beside me, a wistful look in her eyes. She patted my back.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll get used to it. We all do.”
My boss was right. The rude awakening lasted only one summer.
I accepted adulthood, as any maturing woman should, and forged ahead, leaving my idyllic childhood summer days behind . . .
Fast forward about a decade or more, when my first-born son was finishing up second grade. It had been a strenuous year of school: difficult homework assignments, strict bedtimes, and no mid-week TV. A few weeks before the end of the semester, as I was rushing my little boy to finish his breakfast, he said, “I can’t wait for summer, Mommy.”
Hmm, those words were familiar, something I’d said a thousand times.
I felt a tingling in my chest, a stirring in my stomach, a tiny rush of adrenaline. At first, I thought it might be a heart attack, but it wasn’t — the anticipation of those carefree days of summer had returned. I had forgotten all about it, but there it was, as fresh and uplifting as ever.
And just like that, a new era began. My children’s love of summer became mine. Once again, I delighted in the salty smell of the ocean, the sweet scent of orange blossoms, and the unmistakable fragrance of Coppertone, the quintessential suntan lotion of my childhood.
Only now it’s called sunscreen, and it has SPF 80