When I was Ruby’s age, this time of year, just the mere sight of an ad for a “back to school” sale could ruin my whole day. I have always been the kind of anxiety-ridden neurotic for whom anticipation is far worse than the actual event, so in my memories, the end of July and the bulk of August were always tinged with stress and melancholy. When I would go to the K&B on the corner to aimlessly browse lip glosses and spray myself with Debbie Gibson perfume samples and was greeted with school supplies prominently displayed at the front of the store, I would always fall into deep depression.

I liked school itself well-enough, I guess – I was always a straight-A student, got along with my teachers, and had at least a handful of friends – but the sense of summer, of freedom, of late nights and lazy days slipping away from me unbidden plunged me into the kind of existential despair that only a fellow intense tween could fully comprehend.

Now that I am a grown-up myself, I still have a soft spot for summer. I have to go to work as usual, yes, but having the kids out of school still has a seriously pleasant effect on my life.

Alas, the best season is waning. School starts for my kids next week, and I am already bracing myself for the early wakeups, the homework tantrums, the crazy morning rush in which I scream, “PUT ON YOUR SHOES BRUSH YOUR TEETH GET YOUR BACKPACK YOU’RE GOING TO BE LATE HURRY UP!!!” on an endless loop.

I am not looking forward to the return of reading logs or carpool lane.

“What is it about carpool lane that turns normal boring moms into insane bitches?” my childless friend mused the other day after reading several back-to-school-themed Facebook posts.

“I hate to say this,” I told her, “but you really have to have kids to fully understand the horror of carpool line. Carpool line is a ring of hell.

I am definitely not eager to jump back into the petri dish of childhood illnesses, either. We had a solid four-week stretch last winter where one or both or all of us were sick with everything ranging from norovirus to walking pneumonia.

Looking on the bright side, though, it will be nice to have uniforms again, which limits the extent to which Ruby can throw the entire contents of her dresser onto the floor in disgust and then openly and dramatically despair that she has nothing at all to wear. It will be nice to come home on my lunch break to an empty house and watch true-crime shows all by myself. It will be nice to leave the kitchen relatively clean in the morning and come home to it still relatively clean instead of to a sink heaped with milk cups and burrito-crusted plates. It will be nice to have the kids back on a schedule where a reasonable bedtime is not 11:40 p.m.

Georgia, who is starting pre-K, is entirely enthusiastic about school. “I am excited to see my friends! I miss them! And I am in Ms. Roohi’s class, and I am going to be a Kanga-Roohi! And we will get treats! And we have a tree house in the classroom! With my friends! And I will write my name on the board: G-E-O-R-G-I-A! That spells my name! Georgia! And I will eat lunch in the cafeteria! I LOVE PEARS! AND CHICKEN! AND RED BEANS AND RIIIIIIIICE!”

Ruby … well. She is starting fourth grade, and her emotions are more like mine at her age. It’s not all bad. She got the teacher she wanted, and she has many of her friends in her class. She’s taken her AR tests on summer reading and done her 32-page math packet. She likes her new backpack, and she’s sorted through her uniforms to see what still fits. She’s resigned to her fate.

But, as of press time, she is still without comment.

“I’m mostly pretending it’s not happening, Mom,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

I get that. I don’t know whether anxiety or denial is a healthier emotion, but Ruby and I are not very different when it comes to back to school time – then or now.


Are you back at school yet? Are you happy or sad about it?