It’s the last week of summer – whatever that means when you’re in a pandemic. Next weekend is the Labo(u)r Day long weekend, almost falling in mid-September this year because of the quirks of the calendar. While some have already started back to school, my kids’ school distract has (sanely) decided to hold off until after the traditional end-of-summer long weekend.
I’ve been easing into the end of summer. Classes have started in earnest where I work, and we’ve moved from the predictability of our summer programming into a more chaotic immediate response system for faculty scrambling and facing last-minute technical issues. That will last for a few weeks, and then…we don’t even know. What happens when you level-up and entire campus over a six-month period, a leveling-up you’ve been working to try and achieve for more than a decade? The what is now the floor was once the impossible ceiling, and so what do you do in response that you long imagined but never dreamed would actually happen?
We have one more week of morning swim practice outdoors. And while it isn’t as dramatic as climates slightly further north, the smaller kids are starting to shiver in the morning because the nights have gotten cooler and the sun doesn’t quite crest over the trees anymore during practice providing warmth. I think back to my own childhood at the pool and the one summer that it snowed in late August, probably about this same time, and yet nothing was going to keep us from our big, end-of-summer swim meet.
Once the kids are all back at school, we’ll shift to evening practices again, holding the practices outdoors for as long as we can while we wait to be able to go back to our indoor pool. While I will miss the mornings outside on pool deck, my legs will not miss the ever-changing irritated topography that comes from an endless stream of mosquito bites. My youngest, who was my consistent, natural early-riser is now transitioning into a more adolescent sleep cycle and is counting the days to when he doesn’t have to get up as early anymore.
There had long been a law in Virginia, the “King’s Dominion” law, which prohibited public schools from starting their academic year before Labor Day. This was because the local (read: just outside of the State Capital) amusement park needed the high-school aged staff for as long as possible. Starting last year, the State began issuing wavers, and we were, for the first time, supposed to start before Labor Day. But alas, or perhaps thankfully, because of COVID, we’re back to a September start date.
Summers in Quebec were always clearly delineated: it started on June 24th, the St-Jean-Baptist long weekend, Quebec’s own “national” holiday. Schools were done by that weekend. And it would move through July and August to end on Labour Day weekend. While she was growing up, my mom’s extended family would all move down to “The Lake” over that first long weekend, and then move back home over the last one. The men would take the boat across the lake every weekday morning and then drive into work, while the women and children would spend endless days swimming, hiking, lounging, cooking, reading, gossiping, sewing. They would give a list of provisions to the men to acquire as well to bring back with them at the end of the day. The worst was when you had to pay the exorbitant prices at the depanneur at the main docks/parking because you forgot to pick up milk at the local grocery store on your way back from work.
The rhythm of my own summers resembled that of my mother’s. The first summer swim meet would be the Wednesday during the week between St-Jean-Baptist and Canada Day long weekends. That week you would also have the first diving meets, the first water-polo games, the first synchro practices. Five weeks of duo meets would culminate during the first two weeks of August with time trials or prelims and finals, with champions in all sports crowned around my birthday. Where I grew up, we took an extra week to do inter-municipality competitions. Our three pools would compete in all the sports, a week of competition more cut-throat than what I happened the two proceeding weeks. We’d then have a week “off” before school started.
Here, in normal times, the summer swim season is basically July. The universities start so early that many of the coaches and lifeguards are no longer available very far into August. This summer has been a month-long series of emotional goodbyes as a large group of graduating seniors on our team have left for their freshman year. Yes, shockingly, all of our rising freshmen are attending universities where they are reporting to campus. We will gladly welcome them back to train with us once they are inevitably sent home.
I never got used to school schedules that started around or even before my birthday. Mid-August was always the start of the transition away from summer and looking and planning towards the fall. For the entire time I lived in Kentucky, I couldn’t ever get my head around sending my kid back to school the Monday after my birthday, or the week before my birthday being my first week back on contract. I like this rhythm here; it feels more familiar and I need things to feel familiar during all these “unprecedented” times.
There has been no back-to-school shopping excitement. I had to replace all of my son’s sweatpants because he has grown, and new shoes for both kids were procured, but they sit largely unused. My daughter’s clothes all still fit, although a little shorter, but crop tops are in and ultimately it doesn’t matter to her if her leggings reach all the way to her ankles or only mostly down her shin.
Because time has no meaning, it literally feels like yesterday that I did the semi-annual shoe-and-coat rotation. It also now feels foolish that I even bothered. I took out all our summer shoes but we never went anywhere and I could have just grabbed all of our flip flops and be done with it. Do I even bother buying the kids new boots for the winter? Where will we even be allowed to go? Will we even need jackets, sweaters because we will spend all of our days inside in a climate controlled environment so “winter” and “summer” clothes don’t even really matter?
But some routines are the same, signing the kids up for swimming and ballet, filling out endless paperwork, meeting teachers. But of course not really as the meetings are all virtual, the school supply list and “getting ready” instructions are foreign and include distance picking up of laptops and technology checklists. I am relieved that the kids each get their own district-provided laptop and that it has also been decided that, in an understanding that the kids will be burned out on screen time, there will be no homework assigned during the week save student-driven reading. I get a 504 plan for my son which means a little extra face time with the teacher on Mondays, an asynchronous day, to help him stay on task and on target.
Summer is almost over. Summer writing projects are coming due and I start to look ahead to what I want (or promised to) write over these next few months. A book on teaching online. An essay about writing as an alt-ac. Revising my personal history manuscript. Hoping that two manuscripts I have out will find peer-reviewers who aren’t completely overwhelmed and have time to lend to the books. I dream that they are introduced to the world as books in 2021. I prepare, mentally, for virtual book tours and promotions. But at least they will exist. It is something tangible to look forward to.
I mourned missing spring, and I wonder if it will be the same during the fall, missing the gradual changes in the color of the leaves. I am grateful that I will still have to leave the house to coach; in a way, being inside all day all the time during spring meant that I missed that gradual temperature change and all of a sudden one day I ventured outside and it was hot. This fall, I will have to leave my house to go coach, and even that routine will help the transition, noticing the creeping darkness as the temperature slowly dips.
Fall preparation also involves a lot of bracing: bracing for another shutdown, bracing for a localized outbreak, bracing for more racialize violence, bracing for an election. It will be my first presidential election where I am able to vote. My god, what I first time. My firsts are never boring apparently, turning 18 a few short months before the 1995 Referendum. I try not to imagine what it will be like, because I need to be calm and sane for my kids, for myself.
My sad tomato plant keeps going, and while not providing us with an abundance of fruit, it nonetheless fulfills it’s duty and flowers when the conditions are good enough, and while it looks like hell its hanging in there. Now strange red beetles are swarming all over it, and there are too many 2020 analogies as for it to be dismissed as too obvious. I now know what to do differently next summer which is planning more further ahead than I have done in a long time. But ultimately, there will still be dirt and tomato plants so I hold onto that sliver of certainty, silently noting to myself how I will take better care next summer when the chance comes around again.