The week that follows Labor Day - this week, the one we are living right now - is the point of origin. Each year begins here. My birthday is in July, the calendar year turns over in January, but this is the real New Year. We're all a little disoriented, because Tuesday feels like an exceptionally hectic Monday because the new _____ is starting. Traffic is all of a sudden bad again. Did I only imagine that it had lightened up during the summer months? This year's momentous event, for me, is my daughter's joining the preschool classroom at her day care. Three years ago on Labor Day, I went unexpectedly into - yep! - labor, and on Tuesday morning, Ros was born at 6:20 AM. She was due in October, in fact, but this was her moment and she seized it.
Fourteen years ago, September saw me off to Middlebury College for my freshman year, another big Labor Day in the lives of many. Over my last summer at home, I had tearfully admonished my dad for not being heartbroken enough at my going. I'd seen my friends' moms and dads well up involuntarily whenever someone mentioned the imminent departure of their children, professing disbelief at how quickly the time had gone. And my father? Not a word, let alone a tear, at the loss of his firstborn. One day I could no longer countenance this lack of feeling, and I demanded to know whether he would even miss me at all. He responded as he always did (and still always does) by saying that he could see why I felt that way, and he was sorry. However, he noted, I was ready for this. And he was both glad that I was ready and confident that he wouldn't have to worry about me. Plus, he added, this was just another September. Thanksgiving and Christmas were right around the corner as always, and I would be home - which was after all only a four-hour drive away.
Even in the moment, I knew that he was right, but I have thought back to that conversation many times over the years that have passed, especially since becoming a parent. This year, I spent the Tuesday after Labor Day going through all my childhood/grade-school paraphernalia that my dad has kept for me lo these many years (hoping that someday I'd come into possession of my own damn basement in which to store it). We found many things, including the letter I received in September of 2000, welcoming me to the ninth grade. That was the Labor Day when both my brother Henry and I went back to school after our mother had died in the late spring of that year. The summer had begun with her funeral on May 26th, which had then given way to packing up our rental house and moving to a new one, and ending with the three of us - Dad, Henry and me - taking a trip to France that Mom had planned before her death. When the day after Labor Day rolled around, all three of us, still slightly jet-lagged, got up and left our new house, each of us off to new schools, with a new nanny to help our newly-single dad (himself starting a new job) with the driving. I can see how in Dad's mind, September of 2004 would be a breeze in comparison.
As ever, though, Dad heard me, and he knew that I was looking for something from him. On Labor Day Weekend as I prepared to leave for Middlebury, he gave me a letter:
The book that we had first discovered together was The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton, and the one he discovered in college was Winnie the Pooh ("I was a late bloomer"). Each September following that one, when I left for Middlebury to start a new year, he gave me new volume of Pooh. It was The House at Pooh Corner for sophomore year, When We Were Young for junior year, and at the start of senior year, I received Now We Are Six, the fourth and final volume, along with the box in which all four fit snugly.
This was not the first or the last reassurance Dad gave me about the inevitability of the passage of time. Both then and since, he has seemed at peace with it in a way I rarely encounter in other people. Raising children, perhaps more than any other pursuit, inspires a chronic lament of how time flies so uncontrollably. And yet this, as Dad gently reminded me in the sleep-deprived fog of my daughter's newborn stage, is the one thing we can count on. Time, all by itself, would eventually bring change, and in a desperate-seeming situation that you cannot control, that is all you have. His letter to me in 2004 was a celebration of time passing, and I think that for him, though my eighteenth birthday had come and gone some weeks earlier, September was the far more significant marker of my adulthood. I should also note that he unexpectedly cried when I hugged him and my stepmom in my newly-unpacked dorm room, even though it wasn't quite time to say goodbye yet.
For some reason that I've been unable to identify until right now, this very minute, this week has felt momentous. I have felt it coming and felt myself bracing for it, searching for the big event to mark it. Ros transitioning to her new classroom seemed the likely source, but when I took her in yesterday, the new spot seemed as natural to her as anything, as evidenced by her casual "bye, Mom!" Only now, as I sit and write, is it coming into focus: this is always the week when my everything begins again on a cellular level.