Volume 74, Number 17 | August 25 - 31 , 2004

Back to School, Part I

A special Villager supplement.

The real new year starts with school in September

By Wickham Boyle

The real new year starts in September. Just ask anyone who has attended school for the first 20 odd years of their life. January is a weak sister. There is nothing but that damn ball and a hangover as you get older. Especially here in New York, where even non-Jewish citizens celebrate a school holiday on Rosh Hashana, the real deal for the new year is September.

Look at the facts: The weather changes dramatically as if a switch was pulled, the light adjusts, and we do a radical downshift into work and school mode. It is indefensible to not return phone calls after Labor Day, the lackadaisical work habits and excuses of summer vanish; it is knuckle down, back to real work.

My son says that even the commercials conspire to make kids know their leisure time is drawing to a precipitous end. Ads feature overjoyed parents trundling children to shop for mundane items like paper, staplers or print cartridges; the parents are gleeful, the kids miserable. Even the little tykes, who still adore school, as it gives them a sense of being a big kid, still miss summer. Everyone loves the warm air, the T-shirt and shorts, bare feet, summer food and laissez-faire attitudes.

But summer ends, it always does, and we skip, trudge or soldier back to our regular routines. School is the thing most of us have done longest and most consistently. September comes and we get up at a prescribed time five mornings a week. As well, we usually have a regular bedtime. Our kids eat lunch in the cafeteria every day at the same time, even if that is 10:30 because the school is too, too crowded. But they do it; we did it; and as a result we learned to be creatures of habit. Kids cannot change this stuff, they can argue and gripe, but in the end it is up and out, rain, snow sleet or sniffles. And so we learn to march to the beat of the fall drum.

Crisp air and shorter days mean back to school and that means more of a routine for all people, but most especially families. No more supper at nine because, after all, it just got dark; it is back to dinnertime, homework, maybe music practice, a little TV, then bath and bed. WHEW!! I am exhausted just pondering all of that.

And yet somehow, when it is all upon us, there is a sweetness to the early dark, the cool nights, the sweaters that layer into coats and the meals that morph from cold pasta to hearty sauces, from salads to roasts, and it seems to happen as effortlessly as the extra fur our animals grow even though they only brave the windowsills or sidewalks. We adjust to all that is thrown our way.

So when you watch the kids march back to school, whether you have one or two in tow or observe from the sidelines; take a moment to reflect on your own ability to change, to adapt, to change colors like the foliage. Sometimes we need seasons to make us see how infinitely flexible we are, even if we are creatures of habit.

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