Twenty years ago, I sent my oldest child off to attend pre-school two mornings a week. Every year since then -- in fact, most of my life before then -- has been in some way shaped and defined by the concepts of "school year" and "summer." Until this fall.
This fall, that oldest child has completed his formal schooling and is working full time. My youngest child is still in school, but she's studying abroad this semester and it seems more like she's just on a very long extended vacation. Helping her pack belongings into a suitcase and putting her on a plane in the middle of summer just wasn't the same as moving her into campus housing this fall. I haven't even had to buy textbooks. Instead, I'm fighting the urge to run out to the store and pick up some three-ring binders and loose leaf paper. I'm at a loss without the back-to-school rituals that signal the end of summer.
This is different from the "empty nest" thing you hear about when the kids leave home. I've discovered, much to my surprise, that I like living alone. I truly enjoy that my son is living with me right now, but we both know it's temporary. And I'm fine with that. I'm delighted by the prospect of having the nest all to myself. Just as I'm delighted my kids know the door is always open and a light is always on. Even if it is just the refrigerator.
But this, this disassociation from school, is different. This changes the basic order of things, the way I view what happens and when. For the past two decades, planning a vacation, even a quick trip to the beach, always took into consideration the school schedule. When did winter break start and end? Where did the teacher workdays fall and which ones added a day off to a holiday weekend? Was that enough time to get to the mountains and back? Where should we go over summer break?
But suddenly this fall, I realize my life is losing that structure. My daughter will have three semesters to complete once she returns home. A year and a half. And then my life will no longer be influenced by the school year. At all. I'm not sure I like that.
This feels odd, wrong somehow. Yet at the same time, strangely freeing.