Growing up, this was the most difficult time of year. You might think that because I grew up in the north, any time after Christmas break was over and before the spring thaw hit had to be the most difficult time of year. Sure, snowy winters were cold and inconvenient, but they were also fun. For every sidewalk shoveled, there was a mug of hot chocolate. And there were also sled rides and snowball fights and just general fun building snowmen and snow forts.
No, the most difficult time of year is the second half of May. We weren’t allowed to wear shorts to school, and the rooms weren’t air conditioned. It seemed insufferably hot. I’m sure it wasn’t, it just felt that way because the sun was finally out of its winter hibernation, and we couldn’t go out and enjoy it. We sat in our classrooms, trying and failing to pay attention to whatever our teachers were droning on about. Which meant when that material was presented on the final exams—and all the new material would be covered on the final exams—we’d be woefully unprepared. We were too busy to listen; we were staring at the clocks (whose hands were ticking backward) and staring outside (at all the potential fun we were missing).
But who could concentrate? A carnival traveled to my hometown every year near the end of May. My school district had a picnic at Kennywood, a local amusement park, at the end of May. The birds were chirping, the sun was shining, the flowers were blooming, and the grass was finally green in May. Once we hit Memorial Day, the public pool opened. And most importantly… school was almost out for the summer. Like I said, who could concentrate?
So of course, they picked that time of year to try to cram in the most important bits of knowledge at the fastest pace.
It never worked.
The teachers were aggravated that we all had spring fever. And our parents didn’t appreciate it, either.
I’m an adult now with kids of my own. I don’t force them to stay in, shackled to their textbooks.
They’re kids; they’ll only have this opportunity for a few more years.
They go to air conditioned schools in shorts, and they come home and have free time. In May.
They can do their homework when it gets dark.
I had hoped to never see the symptoms of spring fever on my own kids’ faces. The glazed eyes. The slack jaws. The vacant stares at the clocks. The looks of longing at the doors as the sun streams through the windows.
No, they don’t have it as bad as I did when I was a kid.
But I know they’re still counting the days until school’s out for summer.
Anticipation is important in fiction. Get to a goal too quickly and the reader hasn’t had time prepare for the event. Take too long to reach an objective and the reader will lose interest. It’s all about the pacing. Make sure to give the right amount of clues and foreshadowing leading up to an event or a reveal, but not too much unnecessary backstory or narration, and the pace will work itself out.
As a child, did you also feel this was the slowest time of year? If not, what was? What about now, as an adult? Let’s get to the heart of the matter… leave a comment and we’ll talk about it.