The End-of-Summer Blues

The end of the summer is upon us and I'm feeling blue. How did that happen so quickly?

My favorite season, gone in a flash. While some reasons for my sadness are easy to pinpoint (I loathe winter), others are somewhat within my realm of understanding (read below), while still remain tough to define, floating in a space that feels so personal yet is, at times, so difficult to grasp.

Summer's end used to be marked by my return to school. A new school term signaled a sudden and abrupt end to what once felt like an endless stretch of time, so confusing in its contradictions. By the end of the first week back to school, it was almost as if summer never even happened. That end to summer signified much more than a gradual shift in the tilt of the earth: it was a shift to everything new; clothing, school supplies, teachers; classes, books and friends. The unmistakable scent of a freshly-cleaned classroom, beckoning a new regime. Chalk and erasers plump with freshness; chairs and desks waiting to be occupied.

It was also a time fueled with a confusing and conflicting mixture of anxiety and excitement, with a keen measure of something approaching dread thrown in. Will I like my teachers; will they like me? Will I be able to keep up with the work or will I struggle? Will I make new friends or lose the ones I had? I doubt I logged any sleep at all the first few nights of the new school year. I remember tears, stomachaches and an awkwardness I'm now happy to put behind me.

The years sped by as quickly as the earth's axis shifted and just as suddenly as new school years were upon me, it was my children's turn. Again, the new clothing, school supplies and teachers. Only this time the anxiety and excitement would be shared and brought to new heights: Rather than shouldering the burden alone, as I did all those years ago (most parents, including my own, were not much involved in their children's every moves), there were now three of us feeling all the new-school-year-emotions; (four, if you count my husband, although he never felt it as intensely as me). Those early school years always slogged along at first, what with the endless forms to fill out, the choices to make (band or no band this year? Clarinet or trumpet? Which clubs and activities to choose?). They were also an abrupt about-face from the idle, relaxing, free form days of summer. But then, once the schedules were set and the rhythm steadied with dizzying speed, it was an exhausting and breakneck race to the end of the school year.

And so it went -- until it didn't anymore. Being an empty-nester in September places me deep within an undefined space that I struggle to explain. It interferes with the predictable unfolding of time. It puts me in a place mixed with melancholy and relief. The children I watch preparing for school are no longer my own; now, it's someone else's turn -- and my turn to watch from a distance.

Strangely, just like the end of December, each September reminds me that another year has passed, that I'm about to turn one year older, that there is one less summer to celebrate. A good friend, older than me by almost 10 years, was fond of saying that he only had about x amount of summers to look forward to. I used to deride this rather depressing notion, but now I think I get it.

And yet, in my attempt at optimism and gratefulness, I strive for this (at the risk of sounding all theatrical or dramatic): Just as the seasons shift, so do our perceptions and truths. While summer may no longer be about back-to-school, I'm trying to replace the so-called midlife heartbreak I feel with the appreciation that I got to experience another glorious season. I'm ecstatic that I was able to watch the waves while digging my toes into the sand; sip my morning coffee out on the deck, drive with my windows wide open, watch new blooms unfold, dine at outdoor cafes, eat my favorite fruits, store my boots away and show my toes, wear a tank top, a wonderful and warm summer reunion with my extended family and a vacation with three of my favorite men, my husband and two sons.

And even though school has resumed, and this past weekend was Labor Day, there are still 14 days of summer left.

A comforting thought, indeed.