End of Season Rituals

It may be 90 degrees out, but Labor Day still feels like the start of fall to me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Midwest where fall arrived a bit sooner, and school started a bit later, so that when you tromped off for the first day, you might very well be sporting a stylish jean jacket – if you were a child of the 80s like me, at least.

There are rituals to the end of summer, a process to the winding down of one season and the start of another. The pools are closing, the lake days are dwindling, and maybe – just maybe – the smell of chlorine is seeping with less intensity from your children’s pores.

As school starts up again, we settle into new rhythms, with lunches to pack in the morning and extracurricular activities to attend in the afternoon. Bedtime comes earlier but no one really minds because the wakeup call comes earlier, too, these days.

The first twinges of fall mean it’s time for soup and chili and homemade biscuits, although I’ll keep grilling until the snow comes because I adore my grill. When the calendar rolls around to September, I start thumbing through the pages of my favorite cookbooks, contemplating the many wondrous uses for butternut squash and sweet potatoes. My hands reach instinctively for the ground ginger and nutmeg in the spice cabinet.

I’m a fall girl. Team Pumpkin Spice for life. The moment that there’s a bite to the air or a single red leaf on the trees, I’m ready to dig out the sweatshirts and flannel. Bring on the pumpkins, bonfires, and hayrides. Point me towards the nearest apple orchard and get out of my way.

My enthusiasm for autumn often leads me to jump the gun when it comes to wardrobe switches. Digging out the fall apparel too soon is one of my end-of-summer rituals. It doesn’t help that I hit a big consignment sale at the end of August and stock up on fall clothes for the kids. Then, in the air-conditioned comfort of the living room, everybody gets all excited about leggings and cardigans, only to suddenly remember that it’s still a million degrees with 200% humidity outside. I wrestle my children out of their cableknits and stuff everything into the closet for another month or so.

Last week, we took advantage of a sultry late summer afternoon to stage one final sprinkler party on the front lawn. I rounded up the swimsuits and towels for a last hurrah and turned the kids loose with the hose. Word of the fun spread, as it does in a friendly neighborhood, and before long there were nine kids frolicking in the yard. They squealed and turned cartwheels and piled onto a platform swing, soaring back and forth like a circus act. The late afternoon light was beautiful. They were beautiful. The moment was beautiful.

Naturally, the whole situation devolved quickly, as things do when that many kids are involved. Attempts to turn a plastic slide into a water feature led to arguments and disagreements. A toy got broken and my son worriedly confided to me that – “this was not what I meant to do. It’s a disaster” – in a tone so reminiscent of a remorseful teenager after a party gets out of hand that I laughed out loud.

It’s been a lovely summer, but I’m ready for the change of seasons. We have holidays to look forward to and birthdays to plan for. I’m ready to pack away the swim goggles and sunscreen, exchanging them for backpacks and cowboy boots.

It’s fall, y’all. Or it will be soon. And that’s good enough for me.

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