Around and Around

(or I ♥ School Supplies)

As a kid I loved buying school supplies at the start of every school year.  I loved everything about the process: going to the store, carefully picking out everything on the list, coming home and opening everything up – oh the smell of new pencils and notebooks!  Then I would methodically lay everything out on the floor, survey my new supplies, this new school year landscape.  And then I’d pack it all up and put everything in my bag, just so.  And I would repeat this process for as many days as I had before school started.  I’m not sure how many other children “played” with their school supplies, but I sure did.

When my son started school last year, my wife gleefully announced that she had bought school supplies through the Parent Teacher Association.  Everything he would need would be in his classroom, waiting for him on the first day of school.  Now I know this makes so much practical sense, as no parent really wants to run to every store in town trying to track down all the items on the shopping list, but I was gutted.  The buying of new school supplies had always given me such pleasure, and I was looking forward to doing it all over again with my son.

However, in my son’s school, the cool thing to do is to have your school supplies delivered to you in a box on the first day of class.  I guess times have changed.  I do remember that one year my school did sell supplies directly to students.  Thankfully we were allowed to pick these up ahead of the start of classes, and I was able to go through my bag and exchange any item that wasn’t the right color or style for my liking or my color-coding system.  I’m sure I drove the lady in charge nuts.  In hindsight, it seemed like a good compromise: all the supplies required were in one room, and I still had the ability to make my own selections.  And of course, bring everything home and play before school actually started.

It’s probably just as well that I didn’t get to pass along this school supply neurosis to my son.  He doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by the type or color of anything – as long as he has the supplies he needs, he is fine.  I remember in graduate school that I became attached to a particular type of notebook during my first semester.  I had no idea at the time that I should have bought about 10 of those notebooks so that I was prepared for all the semesters to come.  Instead, I found myself having to trek back to a particular drug store in our old neighborhood, praying each time that they had my beloved notebook in stock again that year.  So yes, the school supply box is better, for him – and me.

With all these thoughts of school supplies and the start of a new school year, it occurred to me that our calendar allows for so many “new starts” over the course of a year.  We start with the big one – the New Year, with resolutions and promises to ourselves and others to do things better or differently.  We get to leave the old year behind and embrace the fresh start of a new calendar year.

And if the hope of the New Year is lost in the long months of winter, it’s okay because the season of spring and Easter offers new hope and new life.  As the snow finally melts, the world turns green again and is filled with promise and longer days and another chance to renew and begin again.

And sure enough, the hope of the spring gives way to the long days of summer, but soon enough we find ourselves back to the fall, back to school, back to the start of a new school calendar.  I’ve always found it perplexing that we count time on two different calendars – the full calendar year and the school calendar year that awkwardly straddles two calendar years.  I find that so many of my memories are a combination of these two time-counting constructs, as if one calendar isn’t enough to store and classify memories.  I have to think back to what grade I was in, and map that grade back to a year, to try to fix a memory in time.

Back to School seems to bring as much of a restart and a re-setting as Spring and New Year’s before it.  Maybe even more so as this is the last chance to start over and get it right this time, before the end of the year approaches and the year is gone for good.

And it’s not just the kids who embrace this new start, two-thirds of the way through the calendar year.  My HR department tells me that September is an active month for job seekers, my therapist says she gets more calls for consultations and new appointments at this time of the year.  Even the New York subways are in on the act:


Perhaps it’s because the kids are back to school.  Or maybe because the seasons are changing.  Or even that people have returned from their summer vacations and have settled back into the work routine.  Whatever the reason, this is the last chance for a do-over this year.

As these thoughts about the cyclical nature of time rattle in my head, I can’t help but hear these John Denver lyrics, from a tune we often sang at summer camp, those many years ago:

Time as I’ve known it, doesn’t take much time to pass by me.
Minutes into days, turn into months turn into years, they hurry by me.
Still I love to see the sun go down and the world go around.

Dreams full of promises, hopes for the future I’ve had many.
Dreams I can’t remember now, hopes that I’ve forgotten, faded memories.
Still I love to see the sun go down and the world go around.

So if you don’t get it right, this time, New Year’s is only four months away… and then Spring… and then the start of another school year.  There is always time, a season, to begin again.  Perhaps this is because that change, real lasting change, is so hard.  So we give ourselves many opportunities – to try, and fail, and try again.  Our calendar systems are designed to support such a re-starting, every few months.  A chance to wipe the slate clean, and begin again, fresh and anew.  And so we go, around and around.

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