The photos from the first day of school never change: effervescent kids wearing brand-new clothes, hauling backpacks full of promise — sharpened pencils, glossy glue sticks and notebooks without a bored doodle in sight.
That the photos get taken is something of a miracle, a nanosecond of stillness the kids grant before leaping into a new school year. Excited and optimistic, they’ve willed away any night-before jitters. They’re thinking big. They’re thinking ahead.
The jitters may re-emerge, of course. But for now, the thrill of a fresh start propels them, perhaps further than they dream, but for now, onto the bus.
The adults then retreat — to the office, the house, the job site — wondering, maybe, whatever happened to that “fresh start” feeling.
After all, it’s a new season for us, too. Or it could be, if we think about it.
Herewith, a short list of things for grown-ups to get excited about as we move into fall.
Returning to routine. We know, this sounds nuts. But honestly, after a summer of dinners anywhere from 6 to 9 p.m., of bedtimes flirting with midnight, of weekends that begin on Friday or stretch into Monday, the prospect of being ruled by the clock and the calendar can be a relief.
Now’s the time to turn back the alarm clock another half-hour — OK, 15 minutes — to start that thing you’ve been meaning to start. Maybe it’s doing sit-ups, working on your novel, meditating, packing a lunch or preparing a decent breakfast.
Reclaiming a routine, far from feeling constraining, actually can feel like you suddenly have more time.
Choosing a new back-to-fall outfit. The operative word: choose. Because we are grown-ups and know the value of a hard-earned $20, it’s not crucial to buy new. “Shop your closet,” as they say. Then, having found that everything is looking a little careworn, buy something — even a belt, a scarf, some socks (see below). Wearing something for the first time is fun. It just is.
Wearing socks. After months of sandals worn when it’s raining, when it’s blazing, when it’s chilly and when the bugs are biting, the opportunity to wear socks again, all the time, is a wonderful thing.
You can save money on pedicures, or the odd bottle of nail polish. Your toes are warm and your soles are cushioned. Socks even let you make a fashion statement (see above) without having to commit to, say, corduroy jogger pants. Which you shouldn’t, no matter what GQ says.
Celebrating the first day of a job. Granted, this one is kind of a mind game. But look to the kids: Many return to the same school with the same classmates, yet still act like they’re entering a shiny new world full of possibilities.
So pick a day and declare it the first day of the job year. Dress up a little. Clean your desk, draft a proposal, chat up the boss, acknowledge someone’s good work. Set a goal, or more if you’re in a valedictorian mode. Think big, or just think ahead.
What could it hurt?
Turning on the oven. Fall comes with its own cuisine, mostly defined as foods that are warm. When the air gets crisp, we get to make pot roasts and bake biscuits. We can spend Saturdays cobbling together stews and apple pies and tackling recipes that do not call for zucchini.
Doing nothing. We’re serious. Once the cabin is closed up, the last reunion held, the baseball gloves shelved and the boats lifted, there’s a better-than-even chance that you can spend a weekend or several at home, doing nothing. With no one else.
After a summer of fabulously frenetic activity, poking around in the yard has its charms, because it’s your yard.
These moments are precious and, sad to say, fleeting. Soon, kids’ school activities will tear you from the couch. Holidays will loom, with their accompanying relatives. Winter activities like skiing and skating and sledding will beckon and we, of our own free will, again will grow busy, only wearing more clothes.
But for now, fall offers a fresh start that can feel every bit as thrilling and breathtaking as those first weeks of school once felt. Why should kids have all the fun?
One thing: You’ll probably have to take your own photo.