I always loved going back to school. During summer break, I counted down the days until classes started up again, no matter how old I was or what I was going to school for. In You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan that if he knew her name and address, he would send her a bouquet of newly-sharpened pencils in honor of fall in New York City. Incidentally, the opening to that movie is among my favorites partly because of its autumnal setting. It doesn’t get much more fall than an NYC street lined with colorful foliage while a Cranberries song plays in the background.
Despite it staying melt-your-face-off hot well into October in the Tennessee Valley, fall conjures up images of bright leaves, pumpkins, hot drinks, and hoodies. Stores fill with notebooks and backpacks and back-to-school specials. Parents scramble to ensure that their kids are well-stocked, well-fed, and well-adjusted for the upcoming year.
But one of the things I liked best about school was its structure.
When you’re in school, there are rules to follow and objectives to achieve. A teacher gives you an assignment, and you complete that assignment. School lasts for a set amount of time, broken into chunks for different periods and classes. Some classes even have assigned seating. And some schools require uniforms or a dress code, eliminating the anxiety-inducing fiasco of getting dressed in the morning.
For about 12 straight years, teachers tell kids where to be, whom to listen to, and what to do. If they go to college, kids have another four (or more) years of structure before they get thrust into the Real World (where people stop being polite and start getting real). For those of us with a need for instructions, it’s unsettling at least and terrifying at most.
Growing up doesn’t come with an instruction manual.
Without going into specifics, this year has been rough in the Davis household. Between my ongoing medical problems and a surprise house repair that cost about as much as two Disney vacations, this year has been all about #adulting. For a person who thrives on structure, dealing with what seems like a constant wave of setbacks has been exceptionally challenging. I’m not a “go with the flow” kind of person. I need to know what happens next.
I like control.
Recently, I went to see my primary doctor because I thought I might have adult ADD (not the hyperactive version but the can’t-concentrate-to-save-my-life version). She doesn’t think that I do. But she did say to me, “You need to give yourself credit that it’s been a tough year for you.”
It has, in fact, been a tough year for me. And while I tend to compartmentalize my emotions to the point that I’m A-OK with a cancer diagnosis, apparently my brain disagrees with this approach. My doctor suggested that perhaps the year’s challenges have affected me more than I’m willing to admit. My body, specifically my brain, is attempting to process these challenges in its own way.
What does all of this have to do with school?
My Facebook Feed continues to display posts about kids going back to school, some for the first time. I’ve seen kindergartners holding up cutesy signs as their parents both mourn and celebrate the next stage of childhood. I’ve also seen pictures of a friend’s daughter who just started at my alma mater (MTSU) this year. Kids of all ages return to school this month, eager to put those bouquets of newly-sharpened pencils to good use.
And as I read everyone’s posts and share in their joy, I can’t help but feel a bit sad and a lot jealous. These kids will learn new things, make friends, have adventures, and grow up too fast. And they’ll enter the real world, where there aren’t any rules and the hits just keep on comin’.
No one can prepare us for how our lives will turn out.
That’s a lesson I’ve been learning the hard way this year. Adulting (and particularly parenting) means rolling with the punches and accepting that you can’t control it all. My dad tried to warn us. He half-jokingly proclaimed our family motto to be “life sucks and then you die.” Despite his lighthearted nihilism, my dad isn’t entirely wrong. There are lots of good things about life – Tom Hanks movies, for example – but it’s not always fun, and you aren’t given a rule book to follow once you graduate. You just have to take one thing at a time.