My wife and I are shopping for a house. It’s the next milestone on the “we’re actually growing up” checklist. And it’s hardly something we’re in a rush on; we have a lease until next summer. But it’s time to look around and see what your dollar buys you, and just how many of those dollars you can comfortably part with.
I would say our basic expectations are at least reasonably modest. But there’s one item at the top of the wish list that will be hard to satisfy. She wants a pool. Whether we end up in a three-bedroom cape or a three-floor townhouse is far lower on the totem pole than a place to take a dip on the summer’s hottest days.
We have a pool now. It’s a large reason why, when we moved in together, we opted to keep her apartment over mine. It’s much bigger and far fancier than any pool we’ll be able to afford. Granted, it’s shared with five other apartment buildings worth of tenants, so it’s not exactly our pool. But at dinnertime on a Sunday, it’s quiet enough that it could be. And the best part is, we don’t take care of it. Rent is a wonderful thing sometimes.
A pool in New Hampshire is kind of like a convertible sports car (a toy I’d like to own someday) or a motorcycle (a toy I wouldn’t). They’re great fun when the stars align. On a ninety-degree day, a dip in the pool is refreshing, invigorating. When the sun is out, a convertible brings you closer to the world around you. As an automotive journalist once said, a convertible gives you access to ninety-three million miles of blue sky, and there’s no price you can put on that. And for those who prefer their speed on two wheels, a motorcycle will get you the same freedom, with the greater joy of drowning out your cell phone’s ringtone.
But the alignment of the stars can be short-lived. Summer is a fleeting moment here. For every ninety-degree pool day, there are five or six more where I stand on the pool steps trying to ease myself into an ice bath. (My wife, who may be part mermaid, doesn’t suffer from this dilemma.) For every perfect blue-sky driving day, there are four or five where the sky is too dreary to indulge or where rain makes a canvas roof (or no roof at all) far less appealing. And the days you lose don’t get makeup dates further down the calendar. Our apartment pool opens on Memorial Day weekend and closes on Labor Day weekend. And even if we actually owned the pool, it’s unlikely we would be able to use it much outside of that window. The perfect pool days in May and September are few and far between.
At times, these luxuries can seem more like obligations. A friend of mine described a summer home that way. Every year, you have a finite number of Summer Weekends, maybe eleven or twelve. As every Summer Weekend approaches, if the weather is just right, you feel obligated to use the summer home. And as every alternative plan comes up—a concert or a wedding or a work commitment—you feel as if you’re wasting a precious Summer Weekend. The summer home becomes an albatross around your neck, something you have to use at the expense of other options or else you’re not using it to its full value.
(Though as problems go, first-world problems are the best kind of problems to have.)
And then again, at what point would you bore of a toy if you could use it all year round? Worse yet, at what point would you take it for granted?
We’re fortunate that we never get the chance to find out.
Instead of taking our seasonal toys for granted, we learn to appreciate them for every moment we have them. A snowy winter is no more guaranteed than a sunny summer. A crisp, bright autumn is no more guaranteed than a dry, mud-free spring.
As the summer days wind down, we need to step back and enjoy every perfect pool day and make those last trips to the lake house and take those endless Saturday drives. When summer eases into autumn and those activities fall out of season, we can shift our attention to fairs and fall festivals and preparing for the long winter ahead. And the anticipation of next year’s first dive or first trip or first drive with the top down will goad us along.