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Cruel, Cruel (End of) Summer

by Nancy Kirwan-Hayden

Welcome to the end-of-summer doldrums.

It’s kind of like the Sunday afternoon doldrums, but way worse. It’s also similar to the mid-January doldrums but not as bad. 

Ever since I was a kid, these last two weeks of summer have been nearly unbearable. It’s a mourning period. Mourning the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The end of freedom and the beginning of structure. The end of staying up late and the beginning of homework. 

As happy as I tried to be, as much as I tried to ignore it, there it was, hanging over my head as I went to the beach one more time, as I rode my bike to the penny candy store one more time, and as I played flashlight tag with my neighborhood friends one more time: school. 

It’s not that I ever hated school, but the idea of summer ending and getting older was just too much to bear. Summer is fun. Being young is fun. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! I’ll stay right here in summer, thank you very much. 

I thought I would grow out of this feeling. But here I am at 42 with kids of my own, wallowing in the doldrums. I even suffered from these doldrums before having kids, when I was working full-time and didn’t have a wide-open, nonstop fun and relaxing summer. There really wasn’t much difference between the last two weeks of August and the first two weeks of September, but it was still depressing.

Before having kids, I always thought that Staples commercial with the parents gleefully skipping down the aisles to “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was so funny and probably true for all parents who couldn’t wait for the start of school. But, now with an incoming third grader, a first grade and a pre-schooler, I still get that sad feeling even when shopping for fresh new school supplies at Target (sorry, Staples). I did not find myself skipping down the aisles.  I was dragging my feet and sighing while they excitedly selected just the right Trapper Keepers and  pencil boxes.  

Sure, at this point, they’re driving me batty. They keep getting up at 6 a.m. and making a disaster of the kitchen (flour, water, cranberry juice, OxyClean: all things I’ve had to mop off the kitchen floor just in the past couple of days).  Their voices seem to be stuck on SCREAM! They’ve lost any sense of personal space and their energy is curiously inexhaustible right now. One is actually begging me to go back to school (the preschooler, he misses his friends).

But I’m still sad.

That first fall-like breeze in August always gives me the chills. The way it clatters the leave and smells like September makes me gasp. I’ve never been a “Fall person." Sure, I like it when I’m in it, with the apple picking and the Halloween costume shopping, but just the idea of September brings to mind dying leaves, forlornly bare trees, shoes with socks.  

And then my brain jumps to thoughts of the Mid-January doldrums. Oh, those are bad. I have wistful thoughts of Memorial Day, with its excitement and anticipation of what summer will bring. I completely forget about the string of 90+ degree, oppressively humid days (without air conditioning), the mosquitos, the killing myself to keep the “bored” kids busy, the nuisance of watering the garden (I would like to publicly apologize to my vegetable garden this year: I am sorry, I was lazy and you didn’t deserve that.). I can only remember the good stuff. And I miss it dearly.

The one bright spot during the August doldrums was always school shopping.  Oh, did I love to buy the latest new Thom McCann’s and matching outfits featuring Lacoste shirts (if Marshall’s had some good ones), plaid pants or, if I really wanted to get fancy, gauchos! Note: this was the late ‘70s, I was in second grade. By high school it was Nine West and Benetton. From third to eight grade, I had to wear private school uniforms. That was just adding insult (ugly, uncomfortable polyester injury) to injury to the end of summer doldrums.

In any case, I loved to lay out my outfits on my bed and mix and match. Oh, this rainbow shirt goes great with these purple pants! Can you wear strawberries with stripes or is that clashy? I also didn’t mind cracking open a new box of crayons or markers for that delightful first sniff. Mmmmm, Crayola, you’ve done it again!  

Now, I don’t even have the thrill of back to school clothes shopping to artificially and temporarily lift my spirits. Mostly what my kids wear in September is their summer clothes. And I think it makes better budgetary sense to wait until the late September sales to buy fall clothes. I will buy their new sneakers or pick up something cute here or there, but it’s just not a “thing” to look forward to now. Boo hoo. Poor me.

Not only did I have to wear a uniform against my will at private school, but we also went back to school two days before Labor Day. In August! August was a summer month! My neighborhood friends who went to public school went back after Labor Day. In September. That’s right, twist the knife. Now my children go to public school and they start BEFORE Labor Day!

As much as I think my kids are ready to go back, I would rather endure another week of lunacy at home than send them back to school before Labor Day. Let them go longer in June, I say! Let’s have July and August free and clear. Is anyone with me here?

As back-to-school time closed in on me as a kid, I desperately tried to cram in all the TV watching that I could. My parents didn’t let me watch TV on school nights and TV time was limited on the weekends, but summer was a freakin’ free-for all! Anything the kids talked about at school during the year, I binged on all summer long. All these programs that I fantasized about for so long were finally mine! I was in a panic to fill my brain withLittle House on the Prairie, The Facts of Life, That’s Incredible/Real People (I was not picky), Family (OK, no one at school talked about that, but listen, times were tough and I liked Kristy McNichol) and The Wonderful World of Disney (watching TV on a Sunday night–now that was living!). I would occasionally bring our small portable TV out onto the screened in porch at night so I could combine my two loves of television and summertime. There’s nothing like watching WKRP in Cincinnati with a backdrop of fireflies. I concede that the doldrum depression might also be linked to TV withdrawal.

Another anxiety-provoking facet of the doldrums is finding out who you got for a teacher and if any of your friends are in your class. The news either added another nail to the coffin (Oh, no! Not her!) or a silver lining (Yay, him!) depending on who you got. 

Reliving this process with my children seems to be more anxiety-provoking for me than them. They don’t have a lot of requirements, really they just want to have the same teachers and classmates from last year. But they’re young (and male, maybe that makes a difference?) and perhaps don’t know any better.  I find myself doing things my mother would never have done. For instance, chatting on a Facebook group with the other moms in town about who got who.  I’m quite sure my mother did not pick up the telephone and call all over town to see who the other kids got. Of course it’s easier on Facebook to mass communicate the news, but is it necessary?

Some town moms were concerned that we were getting the teacher assignments much later than usual and that we weren’t getting class lists. Do we even want the information sooner than the last minute? Do we need to get into school mentality earlier than we have to? Shouldn’t we be trying to drag out summer as long as possible? 

This year, so I hear from the FB chats, the school held off on the teacher annoucements to avoid giving too much time to the inevitable unhappy parents who want a different teacher for their child. I rarely know who the new teacher is, so I don’t even know who to not want. I try to avoid the scuttlebutt from other parents about the teachers (unless it’s about someone really awful, but I’m not sure there’s anyone really awful on staff).

It’s all subjective. Every kid is different, every teacher is different. At one of our Meet the Teacher sessions with one of my children, I was so disappointed with the teacher he was assigned. It seemed like a bad pairing (no offense to her, but she was on the brink of retirement and he was a handful, I just didn’t think she could handle him) and I foresaw disaster. Well, it was a wonderful pairing and I was so grateful for her wisdom and guidance. I leaned on her a lot that year.

The next year, he had a very young and energetic teacher and he loved her too. She wasn’t as communicative with the parents, which some parents found strange and off-putting, but that was what worked best for her. So it worked fine for me. The next year he had “the best” teacher to get for that grade and it was, in fact, amazing and we both wanted our son to to have him again. We heard that teacher would be moving up into the next grade and my husband and I each rallied the principal and superintendant about it, but backed off when we realized it wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t be happening with any children from that previous class. End of story. 

My children’s teachers are not my choice. Nor should they be. There are a lot of factors that go into matching up students to teachers and balancing classrooms. If there ends up being a real problem during the year, of course I’d fight the system, but otherwise, I’ll just go with it and trust the process.  I don’t need to exacerbate the end-of-summer doldrums with unnecessary stress and worry.

In fact, the end-of-summer doldrums give me the opportunity to break old patterns. Being a parent forces me to as well, because I don’t need to pass down my neuroses to my children. They can develop their own if they so desire.  I’m learning to live in the moment and stop worrying about the future so much.

It’s easy to get caught up in the chatter and over-worry about your kids (who are still blissfully enjoying the time they have left). It’s easy to overload them with information about the future when their just happy existing in the present. It’s easy to forget that the sun is still shining and there’s no homework tonight. 

So, I will enjoy these last few days of summer. Soon it will be time for early morning alarms, making lunches, beating the bus to the bus stop, homework, soccer, and the endless list of activities, but for now, we’re going to play in the yard, eat ice cream, stay up late and maybe watch a couple of old school Disney movies on Netflix. I am going to bid adieu to the end-of-summer doldrums and just enjoy the end of summer.

(Editor's note: The author, Nancy Kirwan-Hayden, is a resident.)

Suzan August 30, 2012 at 05:07 PM
"...the idea of summer ending and getting older was just too much to bear. Summer is fun. Being young is fun. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! I’ll stay right here in summer, thank you very much." I still go through the doldrums just as you describe. I decided to homeschool my children for many reasons but mostly for the gift of being able to remain a kid as long as they can and to never feel the way I do when September rolls along. They always do what they want and they have remained free spirits and full of life. My 12 year old actually decided to go to school this year and he's motivated to handle everything on his own including getting himself up and out in the am. How empowering is that? Homeschooling is a wonderful option if you can do it. It's not difficult as many think and you end up so bonded to your children as you are forced to work out problems because you have to. That is the gift to yourself besides never having to think about September rolling around. Being young is fun. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! I’ll stay right here in summer, thank you very much.

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