To me, the day after Labor Day feels a lot more like New Year’s Day than January 1st ever does. I’ve been out of school for 17 years, so it may seem strange that when I say “this year” I am almost always referring to the school year. Calendar years seem arbitrary and are separated only by the dropping of the ball in Times Square. You awake with resolutions and maybe a headache, knowing you will spend the next month writing the wrong year on your checks. But nothing’s really changed, not even the season.
The end of a school year, on the other hand, is celebrated over the entire month of June (is anyone else still trying to shake that cupcake hangover?), followed by a whole summer of resting and playing and growing. By the end of the summer we’ve had enough sun, rosé, and guacamole to propel us into our new year.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. The geniuses who do the advertising for Staples run a commercial every September featuring a dad doing his kids’ back-to-school shopping, while gleefully skipping through the aisles of Post-Its and binders to the holiday tune, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” I couldn’t agree more. And it’s not just because I get sick of applying sunscreen and shaking sand out of shoes (which I do), or because I like having my house to myself for a large chunk of the day (you have no idea).
September feels like the crisp possibilities of a fresh pack of college-ruled paper. It is marked by newness: new teachers, new classmates, new routines. It’s like if you had a job where you got a new boss and new colleagues every year. You’d get to make an entirely new first impression, and any mishaps from last year would be forgotten. On the first day of school your GPA and your attendance are perfect, and there’s usually no homework.
As a kid I would barely sleep the night before the first day of school. I’d sleep in my new school clothes on top of my already-made bed so I wouldn’t waste any time the next morning. I’d stand by the car, tapping my foot, 10 minutes before it was time to leave. Everything about me shouted, “Game on!”
In September, I still find myself wanting to buy new sneakers, number two pencils, and a Trapper Keeper. And I also want new jeans. Of course, the jeans will be identical to the ones I wore all spring and all summer, but I will think of them as my fall jeans. I will wear them to meet new teachers. I will wear them to football games and to back-to-school nights. If I were J. Crew, I’d market fall jeans in one color: Clean Slate.
Summers are like placeholders between these new beginnings, like one really long New Year’s Eve. My summer memories are defined entirely by the space they held between two school years. For example, if you ask me about the summer of 1984, I have no recollection. But if you call it the summer between ninth and tenth grades, I can tell you that Prince released “Purple Rain”, the Olympics were in Los Angeles, and that I ate a grilled cheese sandwich every single day for lunch. I remember my white bathing suit and the blue bus line that I took every single day to the beach. I can still smell that summer.
Of course, as an adult, I’m not really between anything anymore. My life is like a long string of Saturdays — not in that hammock-laying, lemonade-sipping way you might think, but in more of a dishwasher-unloading, Volvo-driving, cleat-tying, food-preparing sort of way. But this “game on” sort of feeling has become ingrained in me. On the day after Labor Day I’m raring to go, but I have no idea where I’m going.
All this Pavlovian fall energy needs to be channeled. I find myself wanting to make some resolutions. I’ll start going to yoga and Zumba. I’ll have freshly prepared snacks waiting for my hardworking kids after school. Maybe I’ll take everything out of my closet and then color code it to look like a California Closet ad. I wonder if it’s too late to make baby books for my two younger kids…
Actually, maybe I’ll just wait and see how much energy I have left after I’ve skipped through the aisles at Staples.