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The Back-to-School Blues

September 10, 2014



I’m sitting at my writing desk for the first time since late July. We spent most of August on the road, logging roughly 3,500 miles in a car, 12 states traversed, 50-60 friends and family members caught up with, hundreds of fireflies chased, dozens and dozens of pounds of August fruits and vegetables shared from friends and family in those states.

I just dropped Checkers off at her second full day of kindergarten, and Crazy Eights is in her second day of playschool phase-in. The school where I teach is now in its third week, and my mother-in-law is staying with us this week to help with the adjustment. For the first time, I have a full school day’s worth of writing time, and I can’t for the life of me think of what to write. I’ve got the back-to-school blues.

Last Thursday, the first day of public school phase-in, my friend Matthew posted to Facebook:

All over New York City, for parents who work at home, vacation begins at 8:30 this morning.

Working at home three of five weekdays, I feel the same, but also exactly the opposite. Vacation is beginning, but it’s also ending. Staring down a blank screen for the first time in over a month with my children in new buildings, making new friends, spending the next few hours on parallel but not converging paths with mine, I’m struck with how different the month of August is from the rest of the year, especially the month of September.

The greatest challenge, and also a great comfort, of the start of the school year is getting back on a schedule. While packing kids out for two separate drop-offs and pickups, planning playdates for afterwards, and figuring out what I can accomplish in the time left, I find my mind drifting back to the cabin we rented in Kansas, where the only thing we planned (roughly) was what family and friends were coming out to see us and what trail to hike or lake to swim on a given day, and the beach house we shared with my wife’s side of the family, where the only interruption to the getting up-going to the beach-going to bed cycle (I hesitate to call that a schedule) was the Thursday night blue crab feast.

But let me be honest: I love me a schedule. And just as honestly, I got restless more than a couple days last month without having this time in front of my computer, my hours delimited and accounted like are again now. It’s just different, is all I’m saying, having “work hours” and “kids hours.” I can’t cry overtly like both of my girls did their first day of school, but I kind of want to.

There also is the matter of lunch. (Yes, it’s now lunchtime, after I sat down to write this three hours ago.) I’d forgotten, in the travel and the park time and the beach and the time-zone shift, that meals are supposed to be eaten at a specific time, and you need to plan these things. I’d also blissfully forgotten that chocolate milk is like crack to a five-year-old, which Checkers has already autocorrected after two days of school lunch.

Now, with lunch over and pickup looming, I’m hurrying to finish this post. That’s probably the root of these blues, if there is one—September, more perhaps than any other month, marks so many beginnings (or resumptions, at least) and endings. End of summer, beginning of fall. End of vacation, beginning of school and work. End of chaos, beginning of order. Speaking of endings, I’ve also recently finished rereading The Salt House, Cynthia Huntington’s series of essays about living in a dune house on Cape Cod with her husband. In an essay written in September, she challenges my beginning/ending dichotomy:

It is a familiar fiction that this season brings endings. This shows perhaps our prejudice, in a still-new culture, for the seed-head over the root…The world is never any older in one season than another, or any closer to its beginning.

Yet September, in its own right, is hard to imagine: it seems so always on the verge of being something else, so not-quite-finished with what went before. September seems not entirely to be here—it is always earlier or later, leaning back into the last of summer or charging ahead into cold, and it is an act of will to focus it, to take each changing day for itself alone.

That seems as good an ending to this workday, and this post, as any.

Joh223904_10150275185469554_770089553_9338862_7997903_n-375x470-239x300n Proctor is our Dad for All Seasons and writes on his experience living and raising his two children in Brooklyn. He has lived in Brooklyn since 2000, and been a father since 2009. Besides keeping company with his wife, two daughters, and chihuahua, he also writes memoir, fiction, poetry, criticism, and just about everything in the space between them. His work has been published in The Austin Review, The Diagram, Superstition Review, Underwater New York, Defunct, New Madrid, Numero Cinq, McSweeney’s, New York Cool, and Gotham Gazette, and he serves as editor for Hunger Mountain Journal of the Arts. He teaches academic writing, media studies, and communication theory at Manhattanville College. You can see more of him at his website NotThatJohnProctor.com, and he can also be reached at askadad@achildgrows.com. He’d love to hear from you!