Now that September is firmly in our midst, like many East Enders, I’m feeling relieved that the busy summer season is behind us.
… But between you and me, I’m also experiencing a certain sense of dread.
Am I alone? I’m honestly not sure. After all, September is supposed to be the month when we all breathe easy and settle in to enjoy what’s left of summer, which is still quite a few warm days on the beach, parking spaces on Main Street, and quiet walks in the woods (if you can avoid the evil Lone Star tick larvae which are just waiting to pounce).
Lovely (except for the ticks, of course) … but still, there’s something about this time of year that makes me melancholy and even a little lonely.
I’ve spent the last several years trying to figure it out. At first I thought it might be the onset of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Then I suspected the fall funk may be linked to my rather social nature. This is the time of year when my husband, Adam, heads out early to fish on the beach and it’s kind of weird to wake up to an empty house. Friends also are busy and hard to pin down, and while my husband can happily go on for days with virtually no human contact (which, I suspect is why he never seems to get sick), I need socialization which, as we work toward winter, can become increasingly difficult to sustain.
But ultimately, what I think this September ennui is all about is more closely linked to the passing of time. I’m not talking about all those metaphorical references to dying trees and fading light, but the very real dynamics of starting a new school year.
For parents, it’s the milestone of academics — not New Year’s day — which marks the advancing years like nothing else. Each September as we shop for new school supplies, we notice our little ones becoming a little more independent, empowered and entrenched in mortification mode … that’s the refusal to be seen at school accompanied by mom or dad, which is the true signal you have a teenager on your hands.
For example, now that my daughter, Sophie is a senior at East Hampton High School, I’m totally clueless as to what she needs for school. So two weeks ago during our annual foraging trip to Staples in the Bridgehampton Commons, I turned my daughter loose on the place. In an obvious sign of maturity she met me at the cash register just 15 minutes later with only $45 worth of functional goods in her basket.
Wait, was this my child? Where was the sparkly pencil case and the fuzzy unicorn backpack? In fact, where was anybackpack? For the first time in living memory she is making do with what she has — theover-priced and unpronounceable Swedish FjällrävenKanken which she carried all last year and even the year before. For goodness sake, there wasn’t even a swag kit to make her locker resemble a living room, complete with pink shag carpeting and mini battery-operated chandelier.
Apparently, locker swag was so seventh grade.
It’s true. Gone are the days when my teary-eyed kindergartner boarded the bus with a longing look back at me. Here to stay is her departure down the driveway in the Subaru at dawn’s first light as she sets out for Sag Town where she will order a large cold brew to start her scholastic day.
And in another sign of maturity, she is making do without a lunch period this year, frontloading her schedule so she can take advantage of the tradition of “senior privilege.” That means she gets to sign herself out early and leave school before the final period of the day, nearly an hour earlier than her younger peers.
While she’s in school, she’s tackling subjects like Latin, AP Calculus and AP Physics — some of the most difficult courses offered and most of them subjects I never dared to attempt during my own, admittedly inferior high school career. Which means I am no longer in a position to help her with her homework. Though when I offered to read her college essay before finalizing it (the one thing I think I’m qualified to do) she adamantly refused to show it to me. Instead, it went out to other friends and relatives whose judgment we’ll just have to trust. I still have no idea what she wrote about and maybe never will.
It was another sign of her growing up and the inevitable offspring separation. But I think the reality of the passage of time really hit me earlier this week at “Back to School Night.” If you’re a parent, you know the drill. Show up at school on a Thursday during dinner time, pick up your child’s schedule and a school map, and when the bell rings rush off to first period with all the other parents for a 12 minute visit with the teacher who offers a mini-version of what his or her class is all about. For the next two hours, you circulate from class to class in 12 minute increments until you’ve finished your child’s “day.”
During third period AP Government, a class that began on day one with a totally relevant discussion on the 25thamendment and will no doubt be the one to watch given the daily news bombshells coming out of Washington, some parents cheered when the teacher pointed out that, for many of us, this was our last back to school night.
I didn’t cheer. I just sat there and realized that at this time next year, Sophie will not only be able to vote, she will also be settled into college — probably not New York State and definitely not Long Island — where maybe she’ll have a real pink shag carpet on the floor of her dorm room instead of just in her locker.
Wow, that went fast I thought as I left the classroom and entered the hallway where I bumped into a mom I knew whose daughter is a newly minted freshman at the school. She was a “Back to School Night” novice and had that dazed first-timer look on her face that I recall so well.
I wished her well and headed into English class where I caught up with Sophie’s favorite teacher who she’s had more than once during her high school career. I was glad that she’ll be finishing high school with the same teacher who ushered her into freshman level English. If anyone understood how far she has come in these four years, it would be this teacher and after talking about the literature they would be exploring and the seminar nature of the course, the bell rang.
“Time to get to your next class,” he joked.
That’s when I raised my hand. “Wait, don’t we have senior privilege?” I asked.
We did indeed. And as the freshman, sophomore and junior parents headed to the last class of the evening, I headed for the door and out into the parking lot, wondering under the dark, almost autumn sky if Sag Town might still be open for a late night cold brew.