Michelle Martin

Turning tables

Sunday, September 7, 2014

This, to me, is when we should celebrate the new year: in September, when the leaves start to turn and all the kids are back in school. The notebooks are fresh and unblemished; the pencils are sharpened and unbroken; the slate, quite literally, is clean.

Yes, I know, most schools — Catholic and suburban public schools — opened during the last two weeks of August, some even earlier. But for Teresa, who will go to school five days a week for the first time, the first day was the day after Labor Day, and she was by far the most excited of my three children for the beginning of school. Perhaps that’s because her three-hour school day includes an hour of recess or free play time, not seven hours of back-to-back chemistry and algebra (Frank) or AP Language and biology (Caroline), followed by several hours of homework.

She had a new dress for the first day, and a new backpack and her own water bottle, just like the big kids. Of course, the older kids also had summer assignments to complete before they showed up on the first day. Somehow, it wasn’t surprising that they both were working on their assignments the weekend before — in Frank’s case, the night before — classes started.

Both have announced plans for turning over new leaves, for trying to get homework done on time and to study harder, very New Year-ish sentiments.

As a family, we spent Labor Day working to rearrange rooms in the house, moving some furniture out to be given to friends and moving some from room to room, floor to floor. Two china cabinets and their contents got transferred without breaking a dish, and we cleaned and vacuumed the places where they stood for, oh, 20 years. Tables were shifted, too, and once we started taking a good look at things, I climbed up on one of them and cleaned the chandelier.

All that housecleaning is pretty New Year-ish, too.

Perhaps our Jewish brothers and sisters had it right when they put the high holidays in the autumn. As much as it is a time for nature to slow down, for plant life to enter a period of dormancy and animals to begin to conserve their energy, it is a time for renewal, a time to prepare the earth to start again.

Soon it will be time to cut back the plants in the flower garden, trim the day lilies and separate them, keeping them from getting too crowded. By next month, it will be time to cut back the roses and think about planting more bulbs, which will give us our first flowers next spring.

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant,” Ecclesiastes says, and while I shake my head at back-to-school sales that start on the Fourth of July, this is as good a time as any to start anew.


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