Unreliable Narrator: Lifelong Learner, Perpetually Plotting
"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” — Nora Ephron
TUESDAY, AUGUST 14
“I have to be at the doctor for Henry’s physical and immunization forms at noon, and then we have to get his uniform,” my friend Megan texts me, and suddenly I realize what’s going on.
“Oh my God, back-to-school stuff!” I write back. “Wait, does it count as ‘back-to-school’ if it’s actually his first time going to school?”
At times, it’s still tough for me to wrap my head around the fact that my friend Megan—whom I’ve known since the age of fourteen—is the loving, multitasking, radiant mother of two (two!) children. That her sweet little boy is now old enough to be enrolled in pre-K is almost too much for me to handle, but as I continued texting with Megan, I found myself feeling strangely giddy on his behalf.
For at least the next fifteen years, Henry will spend the second half of August bustling around town with his mom, picking up pens and pencils, markers and crayons, notebooks, rulers, calculators, and erasers. If he’s anything like I was as a child, these two or three frenzied weeks will feel at once exciting and melancholy. Melancholy, because saying goodbye to summer sun and long stretches of unscheduled time is always a bitter farewell. Exciting, because purchasing fresh school supplies in abundance is always a bit heady, a feeling that tends to mingle with one’s sense of self—
like all of these shiny new things might be just the thing to kickstart the creation of a shiny new you.
I came to appreciate those bittersweet last weeks of summer more and more as I grew older, along with the exhilarating prospect of a new school year. The first day of school represented an opportunity to hit the proverbial reset button, become the sort of person who got straight A’s, maybe, or managed to finesse one’s way into the in crowd. You could try on a new persona or plan a way to get your crush to notice you. For a little while, at least through October, anything seemed possible.
As an adult with no further formal education on the immediate horizon, I’ve learned that while New Year’s Day is advertised as having the same magical qualities of a fresh, unblemished school year, it pales in comparison. For starters, it tends to fall at the beginning of the bleakest stretch of winter. Secondly, it comes at the tail end of the holiday season, in which we’ve been busy darting back and forth between family obligations, and mere days before our return to the workplace. There’s no time to chart a path toward the next iteration of ourselves.
All we can do is bundle ourselves up, trudge back to the office, and hope that we can stick to least one or two of our resolutions.
Of course, there are always vacations. No matter what climate you choose, vacations have the potential for recreating the quiet, idle stretches of a summer break. Still, getaways are meant to be a sanctuary for indulgence. It’s no time for personal plotting or betterment schemes. And so, I’ve come to the conclusion that whether I’m enrolled at an accredited institution or not, I will always reserve the dog days of summer for envisioning what the best version of myself looks like and planning a game plan for getting there.
The bad news is that, as a grown woman, my plans have expanded far beyond my girlhood goals of pulling off the fall fashions in Seventeen or expanding my extracurriculars. Now, I think about ways in which I might be more present for my friends and family, how to pursue a career without sacrificing my creativity, and ponder over the exact point where wellness ends and a new, ruthless approach to my body cloaked in buzzwords begins. The good news is that I can still revel in those girlhood goals when I want to—I may do a full moodboard to capture the look I’m going for this fall—and, just like when I was younger, I always allow myself the pleasure of a couple of new notebooks and pens to jot down those plans.