My apologies, in advance, to anyone who makes plans with me this month. There’s an 80 percent chance I’m not going to show up. Likewise to anyone who invites my kids to a birthday party, relies on me for carpool, or asks me to perform any kind of simple task. Like someone who’s just arrived in New York City for the first time, I can’t keep up with the pace of the new things being thrown at me. It’s September and I do not yet have my head screwed on straight.
As an illustration, let me play for you the best track on my September’s Greatest Screw-ups album: In 2006, at 9 on a Monday morning, I was in the parking lot of the Stop & Shop when my phone rang. “Where are you?” asked the voice on the other end. I get this question all the time in September, so my answer was ready: “Why? Where am I supposed to be?” It turns out that this was the morning of the Kindergarten class coffee, and it also turns out that I had volunteered to bring all the food for said class coffee. I assured the hostess that I was on my way and raced to the Patisserie to buy all the carbs they had. Miraculously, I arrived at the party just 15 minutes late, a bit out of breath, but seeming like I had everything under control. That is, until I removed my jacket to reveal to everyone in attendance that I was still wearing my pajamas.
In this way, the whole month of September seems kind of like a recurring nightmare. I am either a day late, a day early, or not there at all. I’ll arrive at a cocktail party with cupcakes and at Back to School Night with a bottle of wine. And the reason for my disorientation isn’t that I’m too overcommitted and busy. I am always overcommitted and busy. In fact, busy is my drug of choice. The dysfunction of September is that it looks like all the other months, but all the tiniest details have been changed.
We would sail right into the new school year if it weren’t for the fact that in September everything’s the same but slightly different. If you’re not paying attention you’re lost: library books are now due on Wednesdays; pick up is at the other playground; the spelling words that had to be copied three times on Monday nights into a blue marble notebook now have to be copied four times on Tuesdays into a black marble notebook. They’ve even tweaked the cafeteria payment system, so I apologize if your kids end up buying my kids’ lunch until I’ve mastered that in October.
It’s the small details like these, the ones that can easily slip under the radar, that are my undoing. Success in the housewife/parenting biz hinges almost entirely on one’s ability to put the details on autopilot. We rely on the routine as the framework for the chaos. It’s Meatballs on Monday, basketball on Tuesday, piano on Wednesday. September is the month of reprogramming yourself to know who needs to be where, when, and with what supplies in a world that has shifted almost imperceptibly.
To add insult to injury, this September the high school and middle school will now be dismissed five minutes earlier every day. I’m pretty sure they’re just messing with me. I will pick my kids up at 2:32 instead of the (equally arbitrary) 2:37 that I’d spent a previous September getting used to. There is a logical reason for this that smart people seem to understand, but I am not yet in the know. Maybe next year they’ll pick up the high school and move it six inches to the left.
By the time this is published, we will be 13 days into September, and my level of disorientation will have peaked. I’ll be barking orders at Siri full time. I’m making it her job to make sure I get to the right school on the right Back to School night this year (it’s happened). Between the two of us I’m hoping we’ll be able to reboot my autopilot and get me out of my pajamas and where I need to be.