...it’s just that there’s all this WEATHER, fall slamming down on top of summer like a set change, the backdrop with its cold nights and hurricane-force winds thudding down on the seasonal stage — BAM! — to obscure summer with its clear blue skies and heat-thirst and exposed skin. BAM! Fall! We’re done, and stop snivelling in the corner over there about how you want if not just simply MORE summer then at least a GRADUAL shift from one season to the next. Buck up, Buttercup. AUTUMN! IS! HERE!
It’s jarring, like the alarm that woke me this morning, the alarm we will now set regularly, for the first time in six years. We just haven’t had to set alarms — notwithstanding the fact that my commute is a hallway or that our schedules are flexible, we’ve always have children to wake us well before seven, and if they didn’t we took it as a welcome surprise. But this year, with the start of first grade and twice weekly preschool and children who, miraculously, can be relied to sleep at least occasionally through the night and past sunrise, the alarm feels necessary. I’m grateful for it, if grateful is the right word. More specifically I am grateful for the perceived order it confers over the household, over enough time to shower and dress and eat and put together lunches and backpacks and get children to two different locations every single day. I have been fighting, in fact, for the alarm for a while now, fighting against Rachel’s laissez-faire attitude about getting up any earlier than we possibly have to. But last night, the night before the first day of first grade, when I suggested setting the alarm for 7:30, she actually countered with 7:00.
“Really?” I asked.
“Really,” she said.
“Every day?” I asked.
“Every day,” she said.
“Pinky swear?” I asked.
“Pinky swear,” she said, and we shook on it. And then I turned to face her and said very slowly and very carefully, “Okay, because I want you to know that I am fully and completely committed to setting the alarm and two weeks from now you can’t conveniently forget that we had this conversation and decide that you don’t want to set it. Because this is very important to me. I need you to understand that.” And she patted my head.
To be perfectly honest, the alarm didn’t actually wake me — my own internal, autumnal clock did just that. With some help from Isaac, who insisted, circa 6:30 or so, that Rachel go cuddle with him. I lay awake, in the dark, eyes closed, until the news came on and I learned that Australia does indeed have a Labour government and that a 90-year-old man was found alive in the bush in northern Manitoba and I thought how odd it will be to be somewhat informed about world events from here on in. And then we awoke and there was indeed enough time to shower and eat and dress and take two children to two different places. Just barely enough time.
And of course it had to rain, pouring down in grey sheets over me and Rowan as we picked through the puddles and made our way to the gymnasium for the handoff. He’s been fairly low-key about starting school this year, alternating between nonchalance and calm proclamations that he’s simply not intending to go, the way he might decline an invitation to a birthday party. But he hopped gamely out of the car and held my hand as we walked through the doors and through the hallways to the gym. “Oh look,” I kept saying, “here’s Jacob’s dad, and there’s Julie, and Erin and—”
“Mom,” he kept saying, “stop telling me every time you SEE someone.”
And then we were in the gym, and he was in line, and his teacher shook my hand and I caught glimpses of some of the other kids in his class and some of their parents and Rowan kept hitching his backpack up over his shoulders and looking very small and grown-up all at the same time and I caught a glimpse of one of his classmate’s mothers who looked like she was about to cry and you know, a therapist once told me that my tendency to cry so easily — my hyperemotionality — is a sign of a body in crisis, under stress, and to that I simply say, Pah! I am a Goldberg. We cry. Have you met my father? A cryer. Me? Cryer. My five-year-old son, who today started first grade? Two nights ago, after watching an airplane move its way through the sky, I sang to him the first few verses of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and he asked me, holding the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, to please stop singing, because it was just a little too sad.
Rowan did not cry. And, to my credit, I held it together until I exited the gym and another mother asked me how I was and I gulped. And then another mother came by and took one look at my face and hugged me. And then another. And then we all made our way, slowly, via the first-grade lockers, outside, where we stood making small talk, until I shuffled home, tears mingling with raindrops on my cheeks.
PPS: Two years ago today