Why September Is the Cruelest Month
Our truth-telling columnist wishes we could just fast-forward to October and skip the back-to-school mama-drama.
J.C. Penney always has the first Back-to-School commercials. They get earlier and earlier each year, to the point where they now air BEFORE JULY 4th. “WTAF?” my friends all ask. “We just got out of school and now they’re trying to send us right back?”
I have a confession to make: I love those commercials. J.C. may as well stand for Jesus Christ because when they start hawking new backpacks I can taste my pumpkin-spiced salvation. Fuck summer: I’ve had it with complaints about sunscreen in eyeballs and sand in vaginas. I LIVE for fall. However,…. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have total re-entry anxiety. If September is the cruelest month, then August is like a month of bitter-sweet Sundays (not Sundaes or Dusty Millers or Fudgie The Whales depending upon whatever your ice-cream jam is).
Whilst I’m elated to say goodbye to strangers’ gnarly, be-flip-flopped feet and crack out my tights, boots and coats, I sometimes wish I could press the fast-forward button to October 1st. By then the chill is in the air and, more importantly, people stop asking, “Where do you summer?” First of all: if you use “summer” as a verb, we will never be friends. I summer on Third Avenue. How’s that for chic? As an Upper East Sider with no country house, I’m sometimes looked at with a perplexed, pity-riddled stare, like, so…what do you do with yourself?! Do you melt and get spatula’d off the pavement? It’s like people think I have a wrench in my handbag for opening fire hydrants so I can cool off in the stream. And yes, while I’m not of fan of my beloved city’s frying-pan status, I don’t like having to be grilled (so to speak) about where I went and what I did.
"First of all: If you use “summer” as a verb, we will never be friends. I summer on Third Avenue. How’s that for chic? As an Upper East Sider with no country house, I’m sometimes looked at with a perplexed, pity-riddled stare, like I have a wrench in my handbag for opening fire hydrants.”
This time of year also comes with its radical pace shifts. The alarm clock gets earlier, and we are back to that frantic catapult out of bed and the insanity of breakfast, missing socks, whines of a book left behind. There’s the zoo at school drop off, the obligatory fall mommy coffee, and catch-up lunches. There’s the kids’ adjustment to a new grade or school, which often can include more work. I get physically ill when moms of older kids say, “Oh, they REALLY ramp up the work next year!” Great, thanks. What’s the point of even saying that? It sounds like a friendly warning, but really it’s more like I suffered from my daughter’s stress and so will you, My Pretty, HAHAHAHAHAHA!” It’s like these people are prophets of doom.
As I stare down the barrel of the last week of August through Labor Day, I tend to get that same feeling I get climbing up the roller coaster. Once it starts, it’s a crazy ride, but the anxiety lies more in the Rocky Horror antici…………………….pation. I know this feeling weekly, in fact, as Sunday nights give me a smaller dose of the same sensation. It’s like Sunday is the August of the months. You’re supposed to be thoroughly enjoying it, and yet there is the shadow of Monday. I think as a grown-up it’s weird to have this anxiety since we don’t exactly have a new class schedule to navigate, but I think somehow, for me at least, it’s a childhood hangover from the looming tests and papers for the upcoming week. I remember my parents watching 60 Minutes and I’d hear that insane giant ticking clock and think I was going to have a heart attack. Some Sundays when I had finished my homework, I would join in on the family viewing of Murder, She Wrote, but even Angela Lansbury sleuthing it up in Cabot Cove always stressed me out, too. Even though we obeyed the Jewish family’s Eleventh Commandment — Thou Shalt Eat Chinese Food on Sundays — the moo-shu chicken couldn’t ease my stress.
So, what to do? First of all, know that everyone is going through the same disruption. The first week is no picnic for anyone and while seeing everyone feels overwhelming, they feel it too. Yes, it’s annoying to repeat your whereabouts and the kids’ plans hundreds of times, but it’s all innocent bullshit small-talk anyway; no one really truly cares when they ask how your summer was. It’s a September ice-breaker, full of nodding and “Wow, that sounds nice.” But it’s a pattern all parents get stuck in and maybe if we all collectively agree to pull ourselves out of this social quicksand of snooze, we can just bypass all the chit-chat. How about we all just make sweatshirts that say: “My Summer Was Fine (on the front). Let’s Move On (on the back).” I’d rather hear about what your kid’s going to be for Halloween. My kids started shopping for costumes in early August.
Jill Kargman is a New York-based writer, actress and television producer. Follow her on Instagram @jillkargman.