Although kids seem to go back to school earlier and earlier now (and in all fairness, get out earlier in the spring too), mine have not yet gone back to school, as I write this. My college kids go back to school in mid August, and those on sports teams have to go back even sooner for practice. But some of my kids in college have gotten out for the summer as early as April, and all by May. So they get a nice long vacation, but it still seems a little strange to me to be going back to school in what feels like the middle of summer, when I am not yet ready to turn my mind to the fall. September feels like the month for that, so we just have to rev up earlier, forget the beach, and start thinking ‘fall’.
The odd phenomenon I’ve discovered is that no matter how old I get, with my own school days a distant memory, September still feels like an exciting time, and the fall means to me ‘back to school’. I can still remember the excitement of buying new notebooks, spending hours selecting ones with covers I liked, pens with ink, pencils and sharpeners and erasers, and that unmistakable smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Lunch boxes, pencil boxes, a new school bag (or back pack now) always seemed so exciting to me, and new uniforms. (As an only child, I had no hand me downs). The newness of everything seemed so exciting, the smell of paper in a new binder, everything so fresh and clean. It was a hopeful beginning every year, a promise of good things to come. And I find that that whole notion is so integrally a part of me that every year sometime in August, I find myself going through my house, replacing things that are old or damaged or broken, making sure that all is fresh and new and clean for the fall. In my house, I’m not so inspired by ‘spring cleaning’ as I am by the notion of back to school.
Like a squirrel tossing out old acorns, I found myself the other day taking my kitchen apart, and getting rid of broken bowls, chipped plates, burned wooden spoons, and pots without handles. Suddenly, I wanted everything new and clean, and I went on a mission to replace the old broken kitchen implements with new items (basting brushes, ladles, chopping boards that had been worn down. And I did the same with old towels today. And after doing so, I realized as I reached for a brand new skillet and a brand new clean spatula that what I am doing is the adult version of back to school. There are no new notebooks, clean erasers or freshly sharpened pencils in my life now—-but in spite of that, I feel as though the “year” is beginning, and I want everything fresh and clean to herald a new year. After so many years of living by the school calendar as a student, then briefly for a few years as a teacher, and finally for thirty years with nine children (and I still have one in school now), the school calendar is so ingrained in me that for me the new year begins when everyone goes back to school. And I want to see everything around me fresh and new and clean. I even picked out new fabric for my office curtains a few days ago. I can’t see the fall season in with droopy, faded old curtains. (I picked crisp red ones with blue trim!!! I liked the old white curtains with red hearts on them better, but they are so old and faded now that I cant justify keeping them any longer. And fabrics with hearts on them seem to have gone out of style).
In any case, I feel like I am preparing for the winter, getting everything ready for the long months until next summer rolls around again. In September, I make resolutions that I don’t make at New Year (to swim regularly and get more exercise), I’ve already shed the few extra pounds I gained this summer. I have an idea for a new book, and I am getting ready to ‘sharpen my pencils’, and my mind, put a new ribbon in my beloved ancient typewriter and get to work. I never write in the summer, but only when my kids go back to school. I have done that all their lives. So I guess it’s a new school year for me too.
I love the feeling of newness that hits me at this time every year. The hope of a great year to come, new ideas, new plans, and the energy to get back to work with vim and vigor after the lazy months of summer. (I never work in the summer, so I can be with my kids and pay full attention to them. I wind up doing a little editing here and there in the summer months, but no serious work. I never write a book in summer. I don’t want to miss a minute with my kids!!! Our summer vacations together are infinitely precious, and I don’t want to spoil those now rare days by working, or locking myself in my office to write a book. That is a perfect activity for the winter months. In the summer, I want to be on a beach somewhere with my children, enjoy the last few days of vacation over Labor Day, and then back to work with me…..hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go, just like one of the Seven Dwarves.
So technically, it may not be back to school for me, but it sure feels like it. Fall is already in the air, and the mind begins to turn to serious work. Not Algebra and geometry in my case, not Latin, or a new language to learn, no dorm to move into, bumping a trunk up the stairs to my room. But new books to write, new ideas to develop, research to do, I love this time of year!!! It’s ‘back to school’ for me!!!