Post-summer, pre-fall limbo is a real pain

For The Baltimore Sun
Signs of early fall used to thrill me. But now, the weeks between Labor Day and autumn leave me unsettled.

The school bus stops at the corner across from our house, and wordlessly, the neighborhood children board. There's a coolness to the night; sometimes the early mornings, too. Our lawn is dotted with leaves.

Signs of early fall used to thrill me: a porch sporting a pumpkin. Trees transforming into art. The first aroma in the air of fires burning in fireplaces.

But now, the weeks between Labor Day and the official first day of autumn leave me unsettled.

How is it that fall hasn't arrived and yet the summer is over? It's like we're stuck in a seasonal limbo — and nothing makes sense.

The calendar still says summer, but I'm making lunches at night again.

The midday heat index still says summer, but the pools are closed and there's no beach in sight.

What is this purgatory between summer and fall? Why is it here, and what does it want from us?

Sadly, it seems to affect the children most.

So used to relaxed bedtimes and half-hearted nightly routines (they didn't brush their teeth, but they chewed a lot of gum today, so that counts, right?), they don't fall asleep easily.

Which means waking them up at zero dark thirty again is like trying to rouse the dead. They groan and whine and pull covers over their heads. They mumble, "Umgeddinguhh," and then flop face-first onto the opposite end of the bed to doze back off. There are tears and threats. There's yelling and bribery.

Once dressed and fed, however (if their bellies have gotten used to the earlier mornings and actually signal hunger), they fairly run out the door. Their excitement is palpable. New supplies, new haircuts, new classmates, new resolve. This year is going to be great! Oh, the possibilities!

We parents are gobsmacked by the cuteness of their journey to the car door, backpacks expertly slung, faces shining. They smell like syrup or raisin toast or apple-cinnamon oatmeal when we kiss them goodbye, and the scent warms our hearts. They are well-fed and well-loved and well-adjusted, and we marvel at their resilience. One day it was summer, and the next day it was not, and look at them — how gracefully they absorb the shock of it all.

So we leave for work proud, eager to hear later the news of their days. Maybe they made a friend! Maybe the teacher complimented their summer reading progress! Maybe we'll finish dinner early and have time to sit outside in the dappled light of our shade tree and read a book before bath time!

And then, they come home.

The assault begins the moment you're reunited. The little one lost her hair bows — she looks like Diana Ross at the sad end of "Lady Sings the Blues." She is shrieking at her brothers about eating her leftover snacks. There is a trail of cast-off possessions from the living room to the kitchen — sneakers, lunch bags, paper airplanes made of important first-week-of-school notices. A backpack sits in a puddle on the hardwood floor. "My water bottle spilled in my bag!" a child yells at you, accusingly. The other one announces his gut-wrenching, soul-draining hunger over and over. "When is dinner? Can I have a snack? But I'm STARVING!"

There's no discussion of new friends or teachers' compliments. Dinner is late. Reading gets nixed when you find (still more!) papers that need filling out crushed into the corner of your child's wet satchel. There's whining and wild mood swings and tears reminiscent of toddlerhood. There's drama ("No one talk to me!"), pouting ("Why can't we watch TV?") and bedtime regression ("Can I sleep in your bed?")

It's like a full moon, retrograded Mercury, and pet mogwai gifted a midnight buffet all at the same time.

You know change is hard — even welcome change — especially for little ones. You know they'll get used to all the newness and it will eventually be back to "normal" again.

But for now, this mini-season of hot days and cool nights, early mornings and bedtime fights, excitement and utter exhaustion — it's all just too much.

September 22, come out from your pumpkin patch. Bring your colors, your crisp and your calm. We need you. Please hurry.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as vice president at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 6-year-old sons, a 4-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at Her column appears monthly.

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