Getting back to it

Today was the first day of school here. We're down to just one back-to-school kid at our house but it still seems just as much of a turning point to the year. Goodbye lax summer schedule, hello routine and early mornings and (dare I say it?) productivity. 

Of course I had to take the obligatory back-to-school photo.  I've grown accustomed to seeing everyone in shorts and knee socks but I know it takes some getting used to at first (someone commented on Instagram that it looked like a teenage Christopher Robin and that's about right).  For half the year the boys wear summer uniform (which is this one, below) and the other half they wear winter uniform, which is a blazer, shirt, tie and slacks. As a new Year 11, Sam switches to black shoes rather than brown (kind of weird with the shorts in my opinion but whatever) and in the winter to blue slacks instead of tan. 

Maddy managed to photobomb this one with some big sister love

Maddy managed to photobomb this one with some big sister love

I'm feeling the need to buckle down, too. Summer has spoiled me and I'm in need of a self-discipline intervention, transplant, something, stat! I made goals in January but it was more like pulling the starter on the lawnmower over and over without any turnover. February is the month I'm going to get serious about them. 

1. Write and/or research every day. Show up, give it my best focus, then get up and do other things. [edited in April to say: I've been doing this! Mostly. I've scheduled a dissertation defense in mid June so the adrenaline is kicking in and I HAVE to do this. It feels really good...and is a big reason why I haven't been able to write blog posts lately. I'm spent!]

2. Walk/hike 1500 kilometers in 2015 (this works out to about 28 k or 17.5 a week).  We've got some ambitious plans for doing some family hiking trips and I want to get some mileage in so I know I can keep up. Plus it just does me a world of good to do it. [edited in April to say: really really didn't happen but I'm going to do my best to get back on track.]

3. Have more fun. [True sign you're taking your life too seriously: having fun is a resolution. But Fun and I are going to tango this year. In a good way.]

Settling in

Annie's post yesterday struck a chord with me. I love Fall -- not that we get a whole lot of changing leaves and sweater weather in Texas. But we get enough, and what doesn't occur naturally we create for ourselves -- orange wreaths on doors, soup simmering in the crockpot, a bowl of apples on the kitchen table, football, football, FOOTBALL everywhere. I love the sights and smells of Fall, but it's the return to school that brings me home -- back to myself. School always was (and probably always will be) a place of purpose and confidence for me. I love the learning, the performing, heck -- even the testing. I love the schedule -- everyone back in their appointed places after the meanderings of summer. "Let's all roll up our sleeves (gird up our loins?) and get to work!" That's what Fall says to me. Mostly, I happily obey.

Road trip to Utah. Somewhere near Shiprock, NM.

Road trip to Utah. Somewhere near Shiprock, NM.

Last week I was in Utah helping Maddie get settled into her apartment near BYU. This is her sophomore year, and after an entire summer on her own in NYC she's far more settled and prepared than those first shaky days of her freshman Fall. And still, I know my kid . . . and she doesn't take kindly to transitions. She's living somewhere new, with new roommates, new classes, and (hopefully) a new job. I could sense her anxiety, and being the empathic person I am, I took all of her anxiousness and set it right next to my heart -- alongside her sister's ailing foot in France, and Becca's three AP classes, and Parker's desire to be a star football player even though his promised growth spurt hasn't materialized (yet). 

Morning view of Timp from Heber.

Morning view of Timp from Heber.

When I returned home from Utah, I intended to claim my Fall. My back-to-school mojo. I woke up bright and early Tuesday morning (after Labor Day) to get Becca off to seminary. I dropped Parker at cross country practice and arrived at Crossfit by 7. By 7:10 I was having this conversation with myself, "I can't do this. I'm too tired. And I can't get up at 5 AM everyday. I can't make lunches everyday. Or dinner. WHAT ABOUT DINNER?" My mojo was mysteriously gone. 

Later that day, still feeling anxious and blue, I bought Halloween stickers at Target. 

The next day I wrote three letters, bought a dirty Diet Coke, and sang loudly in the car. Maddie called to tell me she had two job interviews and had made spaghetti in her apartment. Becca wrote a lovely and well-thought out essay about her seventh birthday for English class. I picked up Parker from football practice, and he smelled like a sweaty, eighth grade boy.

Open the sun roof even if the sun scorches your head. It makes you feel alive.

Open the sun roof even if the sun scorches your head. It makes you feel alive.

The next day I got an e-mail from a kindly French gentleman to tell me Jordan's appointment with the vascular surgeon had gone well, and she'd received a clean bill of health.

I slept through an entire night without waking up once.

I've decided that Fall isn't necessarily a magic pill. I mean, I adore candy corn and all . . . but I think I'm going to have to make this one work on sheer will power (and caffeine). And sure, maybe a little sugar.

School Disorientation

As an American in Australia, I get a serious case of September envy this time of year. This week my Instagram and Facebook feeds are filled with darling photos of returning scholars--preschoolers to college students--posing in the morning sun with wet, comb-tracked hair, brand new shoes & crispy jeans and basking in that hopeful, heady glow of new beginnings. (No filter needed.) It makes me get all Joe Fox/Kathleen Kelly-ish: I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. (Really, it goes beyond the back-to-school photos. See also: apple orchards, fall boots, cozy sweaters, brilliantly colored leaves--on trees or in piles, jam making, garden harvests. Oh, September you are so wonderfully cruel. Please don't stop.)

And then I look out the window, the planet tilts and I am in late winter/early spring, which definitely has its joys and delights but...still.  It's a little disorienting, frankly, and even after two years I have to take a split second to locate myself in the correct season. After all those decades of apple-y Septembers and autumnal Octobers, my seasonal clock is more difficult to reset than my time zone one.  I'm not complaining; it's just so weird. And I think social media makes it more difficult than ever to be here now, with such easy windows into what's going on everywhere else.

Here the kids are no longer basking in that clean slate, new beginning glow (that wore off back in February).  The pencils, figuratively and literally, are no longer new, no longer in bouquets, and rarely sharpened. There's a lot of homework and studying happening (and yes, a little stress) around here as the kids are midway through their third term of the school year. Maddy's life is particularly filled with studying and deadlines as she zooms toward her final IB testing in November. The International Baccalaureate program has a lot of positives but it is definitely rigorous and demanding. And because of how the Australian schools grading systems are set up, Maddy won't have a GPA when she applies to universities in the US; instead she will submit her IB scores, which are mostly comprised of the test scores she receives from comprehensive exams at the end of this year, covering two years' worth of content. But no pressure, ha!

(Here's a little bit more about the IB system if you're curious.)

While I'm vicariously living the back-to-school, early autumn bliss through my US friends, Maddy's FB feed is filled with all of her high school friends' posts about leaving for college, their new dorms and roommates. This would have been Maddy's life right now, too, if we hadn't snatched her off to Australia, where the class of '14 graduates in November rather than June. Instead she has an extra five months of school and will start university a year behind her US cohort. Secretly (or not so secretly) we're glad to have her around for this bonus Maddy time but I know it's not easy for her to see everyone else moving on into their exciting new lives and opportunities. But she's been a good sport.

As with most things in life, though, there are tradeoffs. When the northern hemisphere is shivering in January tundras, we will be basking in beachy sun. And Maddy just found out  that she was chosen for the UN Youth Australia delegation to the Middle East, something she definitely wouldn't have been able to do if we hadn't come here. As you can imagine, Maddy's thrilled. It's the light at the end of the IB tunnel for her. As you can also imagine, I am equal parts excited and nervous for her, my protective mothering activated by all the news of violence and unrest in the region.

Shhh, mother bear. It'll be fine.  And, hey, look! Is that a daffodil coming up?