Some may start their year on January first, smarting a little after an night (or a month) of excess. Maybe it’s followed by a day of atonement, or comes in under a zodiac animal, or is marked with the end of the harvest. For me, the beginning of a new school year is it. Having sat on both sides of the desk, this time of year always feels like the end of something, and the start of something else.
Before you start thinking I’m weird, I was born into a family of teachers. I started school at a fairly early age, and stayed a student for a pretty long time. Then, I was a teacher. Then I worked with teachers. Then I had a little person of my own, and I became a parent of a student. When you’ve been dancing to a certain rhythm for this long, it’s hard to imagine any other.
The beginning of September, for me, brings a lot of new year-ishness. I get the same feeling of momentousness, the same mental listing of everything I did and should have done in the months before. I make resolutions about how things will be in the next twelve months, all that I’m going to accomplish, bad habits I’m going to break. I can sleep through a midnight countdown and Auld Lang Syne, but the night before school resumes, I’m staring at the ceiling, willing my eyes to close and my brain to turn off. I feel compelled to stock up on notebooks, new shoes, and snacks that come in bar form. I don’t know if I have very many clear memories of New Year’s Eve, but I can still taste the fruit punch my mom packed in my lunch on the first day of kindergarten, still picture the sensible brown shoes with buckles, the blue sweater, and my hair tucked back with plastic barrettes.
I don’t think a person has to be from a teaching family, to feel all of this. There are parents and kids, of course. This morning, social media was plastered with sweet, still-tanned little faces, toting backpacks and holding signs with grade levels. I imagine that there are a number of parents who dropped their kids off, then skulked back to the privacy of their car to cry a little and think “How did another year get by me like that?” There were notes in lunches with a reassuring “You got this!”
I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that even those who aren’t involved in school anymore, who aren’t rushing a student out the door in the morning, still feel something. Maybe while they’re stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for a dozen little feet to scurry across, they have a flashback of a worn, dog-eared copy of Lord of the Flies, or they remember the way a basketball sounds against playground pavement. While picking up printer paper, they secretly wish they had occasion to buy one of the cartoon pencil cases on display. They miss sandwiches with the crust cut off, just a little bit.
Happy New Year to everyone. May it be one of big ideas and much learning, inside and outside of school.