I enjoy the sunny days of summer. But some days, I pray for rain.
Rain doesn't give your kids sunburn. Rain makes the grass in my back yard stay green.
Most important, rain is cheaper. It keeps us away from those $8-per-person beaches or those $40-per-person amusement parks. It even makes it too much of a hassle to drive two miles to a fast-food restaurant, where I can easily spend $20 on lunch for a family of five.
Childhood memories of summer are always so pleasant. Playing in the surf, riding the roller coasters at the amusement park â€” all those things stick with a person forever, and they can make one long for simpler times.
But for today's families, the demands of summer can be as painful as a patch of sunburn.
In the winter, staying at home and watching TV is considered a "fun time." But in the summer, there's that pull that comes from the kids, relatives and friends who demand, coerce and beg you to partake in summertime activities. Even TV commercials get in the act.
"There are external pressures," said Emanuel Shapiro, a Paramus, N.J. psychologist. "Some people feel that if everybody else is doing it, I should be doing it. Then they see the TV commercials for the beach and say, 'I should be doing that, too.' "
My family long ago gave up the idea of becoming less dependent on foreign oil, so we satisfy my in-laws by burning 25 gallons of gas to go see them twice a month.
Then there's the pressure to have your kids live the same way you did, and take them to whatever pool, ocean or waterhole is most accessible â€” even if it's 30 miles away. Usually, we go to the Metuchen pool, which costs $200 a year for a family membership.
If it's a trip to the ocean, add to that the side trip for ice cream and, of course, fast food. The kids say: Everybody else is doing it; why can't we?
But it's not just the cost â€” it's the packing and preparation. When we visit relatives, we start loading all the toys, the pack-and-play, the food and the various other items at 6 a.m. â€” and still end up a half-hour late for whatever 2 p.m. event we're supposed to attend.
And, for those events â€” whether it's a day at the beach or a party with the relatives â€” appearance matters. Shapiro noted how there's additional pressure for people to look good in the summer.
"There are lot of pressures on men and women to look good in a bathing suit. There are people who are not ready to be exposed on the beach," he said. "For some people, they just say, 'I'm a little older. I'll cover my whole body.' But others say, 'I can't do that.' "
Shapiro says summer glamour is usually no more realistic than an advertisement in a store's Christmas catalog.
"It's not real. It's all idealized," Shapiro said. "Do the best you can. Don't expect too much of yourself."
The thing to remember, Shapiro said, is that summer is like any other season â€” it's what you make of it. Fun can happen at home, too.
Or events, such as beach visits, can be better scheduled so preparation need not be rushed. Friends and relatives, if they care enough, can make adjustments â€” like meeting halfway between their home and yours.
My family has found a way to tolerate â€” and even enjoy â€” the beach. We go to Sandy Hook at 4 p.m. The sun isn't as intense, and the fee is waived.
Also, it's a good time for kites, since there's always a strong wind that blows through there late in the day. We put one up, watch the kids smile and sigh.