For parents, the real new year's day

Labor Day, not New Year's Day, is for resolutions

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If all those pictures on Facebook are any indication, everybody is happy about the start of the new school year. Except perhaps the parents, who realize this time every year how quickly their children are growing away from them.

I will venture a guess that this will reverse itself soon, with the kids sick of homework and the parents happy for the peace the back end of a school bus represents.

But Labor Day is the traditional start of a new year for parents, too, I think. More so than New Year's Day.

We make all kinds of resolutions on the first day of the new school year — healthy dinners as a family, quiet homework time, peaceful bedtimes and lunches packed and in the fridge the night before — and we break them just as quickly.

We mean well, but things fall apart so easily under the weight of the everyday. Getting dressed in the morning becomes a fight, breakfast is rushed, the car pool leaves somebody behind and the other shin guard is always missing. Somebody is always in tears.

The teacher doesn't understand, and the math is getting harder (for us). Book reports and science projects sneak up on you out of nowhere. College essays still aren't done, even though the kids had the whole summer to compose something memorable.

By May, we won't recognize who it was we wanted to be back in September. And neither will the kids. Everybody will be gasping to cross the finish line of another school year and fall on the cool grass of summer.

The rhythms of the school year do not leave you, even after you have left back-to-school shopping behind. The smell of a newly sharpened pencil, the promise of an unopened notebook, the tissue in the box of brand new shoes. These are among the signals of a fresh start, and every September I grant myself one of them.

I make a list of all the house-cleaning that needs done, I sort through another season of clothes, I fill the freezer with the summer's harvest and I work my way through the gardens, clearing out the neglect of August.

I make a list of books I want to read, and a dentist appointment. I clean out a closet and order wood for the fireplace. I make all sorts of resolutions. I think about how much better this year will be. I think about Halloween. Thanksgiving. And Christmas.

The Fabulous Mikey has started preschool, and he looked so shined-up and happy in his first-day photo, just like all the other kids on Facebook. I wondered if there were tears — and if they were happy tears -- on the other side of that camera.

My husband was gloomy about the boy's milestone. Don't you know, he wanted to tell our own little boy, Mikey's dad, that this is the start of his leaving you? That every September is another step away until he is gone and all that is left is the echo of a new school year?

But Mikey has now joined the tribe for whom the years are marked not so much by birthdays or New Year's Days, but by Labor Days and the first day of school.

For my part, I was happy to see Mikey in his new shirt and carrying a new lunch box. New is good, I thought. Especially new beginnings.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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