Will there ever be a time in my life when “back-to-school” has no anxious connotation whatsoever? Even before I was a part of the Brookline school community, I got the jitters this time of year. Will I ever get to a point when I don’t resent the crackly brown death of my summer garden, or find the sight of mums at the Stop and Shop depressing? It’s still August, but I already find myself studying the light outside with trepidation, trying to decide whether it has changed yet to that sharper, more direct light of autumn.
To me, September always means everything’s changing, all at once, too fast. My fourth grader is now a fifth grader, so whatever I got used to about fourth grade, forget it. That beloved teacher retired, that bag of schoolwork is shelved, those fourth grade sneakers are fit to be burned. Now we look at the new class list, the teacher assignment, and we try to separate the good from the bad, try to guess at the new friendship alliances that will be formed, and whom his (gasp) girlfriend will be.
My preschooler is still a preschooler, but just barely. Sometime in late winter I will have to register him for kindergarten. And I know what happened the last time I registered a child for kindergarten. Suffice it to say that my preschooler is exactly five years younger than his older brother’s kindergarten registration day.
How do others deal with this transition? Better than me. How is it that so many of us manage to be organized enough to pull off that first day of school, exactly as we’re supposed to? Whether we are to assemble in the field under the teacher’s banner, or meet in the auditorium, or just go right to the classroom, we all get it right. It’s funny, and a little comforting, for me to imagine that nearly every person I greet on the field on September 5 will be feeling a churning stomach, and some sense of great relief as well, sending them off, knowing they’ll be okay for the next six hours.
But how much better might it be for some of us if back-to-school happened in the summer, when boredom swells with the heat waves and there’s nothing more to think about but getting to camp on time or what do we do in this heat? Would I still feel that pang of loss when I first see the school clothes, if back-to-school clothes were shorts and sandals? How strange for those who live in Florida, to have to pretend that there’s been some change that warrants the buying of new clothes when things go on pretty much the same —hot- all year round.
I’ve decided that the only way to get through the strangeness of it all is to embrace it wholeheartedly. The pilgrimage to The Barn or Sloan’s for new shoes. New backpacks from the Gap. Clearing a special space on the kitchen table for all of the forms to fill out, all of the notices to be read. Getting the afterschool activities straight, complete with possible carpools. (Ooh, can’t wait.)
But honestly, there is a part of me that is looking forward to it, because we do crave change as much as we fear it. The new year comes rife with possibility and potential. Maybe this year I will do a parent project with my preschooler’s classroom. Maybe I will finally chaperone a field trip; I hear the fifth grade does a lot of them. Maybe I will finally organize a system for keeping track of the stuff I need to do for each one of my kids, a way of beautifully filing their artwork other than the big paperbag it gets sent home in. Maybe this year we will take that autumn drive out there to Lincoln, or wherever, pick apples, make a pie, and celebrate the different kind of brittle beauty of the fall.
But I draw the line at mums.
Copyright 2002, Susan Senator