There's something about September. There always has been. When I was a kid, I'd get that end-of-summer pit in my stomach and not know where it came from. I liked school, but I still felt "weird" (the only word I could come up with at the time) as I picked out my new pencil case and lunch box. Weird. Weird. Weird. Was it because September meant the end of collecting sand dollars at the beach? The end of playing Marco Polo in the pool? The end of neighborhood bike rides into the night because it was getting dark too early? I never knew. I just knew that for every bit of excitement I had, I had at least another bit of sadness.
As I got older, the conflicted feelings got worse. I couldn't wait to go back and see my friends at college, but I felt incredibly sad to leave my hometown friends. I couldn't figure out why at the time (again, I just knew I felt "weird"), but, looking back, I think I was scared to leave because I wondered what would happen if my friends came back different. What if I came back different? For every dream I had of studying abroad, I kept a dream of returning home to my friends I'd known since childhood. I wanted our posse to stay the same.
When I became a teacher, this strange mix of happy/sad/excited/nostalgic feelings increased. I loved the excitement of my new students, but I could sense that a lot of them shared my mix of emotions. I missed my former students, and I'm sure they missed their former teachers. I loved getting to know my new kids, but I missed those whom I already knew everything about.
Then my husband and I met in September. Mutual friends introduced us at a book signing. I added love to my crazy mix of September feelings.
But love couldn't protect me from September. Two weeks before my husband and I got married, 9/11 happened. I was teaching at a girls' school. I looked out at my sixth grade class: all those eager, innocent, silly faces and told them we had a special assembly. I led them to the church where the headmaster told them about the planes and about the towers. I led them to the end of their innocence. Now every bright blue day in September felt tinged with crashing planes.
September continued, even though it felt like the world had stopped. My husband and I got married on another crystal blue September day. The sun shone brightly,but the air had that fall undercurrent of chill. The water in front of our chapel by the sea sparkled like my new ring. We had hope after tragedy.
Then we had children, and I've never had a stronger mix of emotions. This year, back-to-school meant relief to me, who quite honestly, was limping through the final days of Camp Mom. One woman can only do so much, and I'd been doing it: sunscreening and spraying and shlepping and applying first aid and mediating and mentoring and enthusiastically demanding that they have fun, fun, fun! But I also felt great sadness. Here I was, supposed to be joyful that I would now have time to shower in peace, and instead, I felt sad. More so than birthdays, the start of school reminds me of just how big my children have become. My babies are not babies anymore. They are both tall and lean with no signs of baby fat left on them. They do not need binkies or bottles; they do not need special blankies. They just grab their backpacks and go. On the first day of school, I am now counting the years I have left with them.
And now I am back at school. At 41, I walk among mostly eighteen to 22-year-olds. In class, I look at their skin and think of how smooth it is. I look at their hair and know that it has not been dyed from gray. And I look around and think, Wow, they dress so much better than I ever did at their age. (Bad overalls. Bad.) But when I walk across the quad, I smell that same September smell that I've known for years: a mix of pine trees and fresh cut grass. And I can't believe that I'm not an undergrad. When I smell that scent of September, I'm twenty again, both nervous and excited for the year ahead.
September has the ability to change my psyche into that of a teenage girl. I'm laughing, I'm weeping, I'm on edge, I'm feeling grateful...probably at the same time. Today, Journey's Faithfully made me cry. And then Pure Prairie League’s Amie made me cry. That wouldn't happen in January. Or February.
September feels like the cusp of everything: leaving the old and greeting the new. Days get colder, kids get taller, and clothes get warmer. The sky is brighter; the smells are stronger. And I am smiling, weeping, laughing, and reflecting through it all.
Anybody else feel this way about September?