Now that school has resumed, I believe I join moms everywhere who are breathing a sigh of relief. Don’t get me wrong – I love lazy summer days and swimming and staying up late and movie nights and no homework. But really. At some point I was ready to stop telling my boys to go jump on the trampoline and just send them to school already.
The thrill of the back to school season, however, is not simply about having a quieter house. Long before I had kids of my own, I have always loved this season. The song may technically be about Christmas, but It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is all about the fall for me.
Back to School = Autumn
Ever since I was a little girl, school starting has been synonymous with my favorite season. I am unabashedly in love with all things autumn. Sipping apple cider and grilling s’mores over a bonfire. Orange and red leaves crackling under my feet. Cuddling under flannel blankets on a hayride. Youth group retreats in cabins with metal bunkbeds and 3” mattresses. Football games that I never watched but loved for socializing.
Of course, in my heart of hearts I am still a Midwesterner, and there’s nothing like a Michigan fall. At the top of my nostalgia list is apple picking with my family. Chomping on perfectly crisp Jonathons while turning the fraying hem of my U of M hoodie inside out as a makeshift knapsack for stray apples. Watching my oldest brother clamber up giant trees as if he’s still a boy to get the best apples that no one can reach, even with the pickers. And don’t even get me started on the hot cinnamon donuts. Or the apple pies. Or the caramel-dipped apples. My mouth is watering just writing these words.
In Tennessee, the back-to-school season starts at the beginning of August, which is a bit different. Forget images of cool, crisp air and flannel shirts. Instead, it’s sweaty moms in tank tops and coolmax shorts trying to stay hydrated while waiting in carline or the bus stop in humidity that renders your flat iron completely useless. School starting doesn’t mean that fall has arrived, but it’s a sure sign that it is coming.
Back to School = Newness
As the school year dawns, the expenses start rolling in for parents – kids need new school shoes and clothes, not to mention the book-length school supply list. But if you have an inner school geek like me, then you can relate to the pure joy of Trapper Keepers and unscuffed notebooks and perfectly white Keds.
In the timeless words of Tom Hanks’ character, Joe, in You’ve Got Mail: “Don’t you just love (New York in) the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils…” As much as I dislike being the person who is actually sharpening dozens of pencils for my kids’ supplies, I love the smell, sight and sound of brand new, never used, full of possibilities school stuff.
I still remember the tinny clank of my brand new Care Bears metal lunchbox in third grade. Or the red cardboard pencil box holding my own freshly sharpened yellow #2 pencils. And what could be better than a 64-pack of Crayolas with the built-in sharpener? My parents certainly weren’t buying new crayons for the lazy days of summer. That prized possession was reserved for the sole purpose of going back to school.
If I close my eyes and take a deep breath, I can trace my fingers over the immaculate teacher penmanship of “Kimberly G,” written on cardstock and placed beneath bubbled-up contact paper on my school desk. I remember checking out the cluster of classmates seated next to me and the mix of excitement and fear as we settled into the classroom and the rules and the schedule and the other kids. Waiting for those first weeks to pass so it could be familiar and established and no longer new.
And now I see my own kids walking that same murky line of eagerness and timidity as they try to figure out what their teacher is like and who they will play with at recess or sit with at lunch. It’s all so new and exciting and scary. And when they slip on their brand new Lego t-shirts and tie their still-clean tennies with the glow in the dark laces, I want to hang onto them a second longer.
Because it’s a new year – a new year! I don’t know how that happened; I just took pictures of slightly smaller versions of them in their first-day duds last week, right? School starting reminds me that time is passing quickly, and the gift is that my kids become new to me again.
So after a long summer that left me too often worn out and run down, I now find myself watching the clock as it gets close to 3:13 p.m. I listen for the telltale squeak of their bus’s brakes, because I miss my boys. I get to watch them run down the giant steps, heads bent toward each other, laughing about what their buddy said on the bus or conspiring about their next Lego project or trampoline battle or movie request.
The after-school hours are limited, which makes our time precious. Sure, we still have squabbles and tattling and complaints and more messes than I can count. But it’s not just a new year for them. It’s a fresh start for me, too. And I’m thankful for it.
Maybe you could also use a New Year. You may not be a parent to a school-aged kid. School may be a distant memory or a daily reality. But no matter what season of life you find yourself in today, it can be a New Year. So go ahead – do things different. Start over. Be a better version of yourself. I hope to be in that place too, with a little more patience and gentleness. And a steamy mug of hot apple cider wouldn’t hurt.