Pondering the end of summer: My daughter’s pool-soaked feet.
Remember that old Staples commercial with the dad dancing joyfully through the aisles of back to school supplies while the children dragged behind miserably? “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”… Well, there’s something to that, apparently. And not just for parents of school age kids. No, as it turns out, September is being marketed by the fitness industry, businesses, and college students as the mark of a new beginning. It’s September, and it’s time to get your shit together!
As the calendar flipped from August to September, your brains did a collective sigh of relief. It was a certifiable neuro-exhale. Our brains are set up to operate on homeostasis, meaning that you are cool as a cucumber and everything is stable. So back to school is a welcome routine after a couple months of wildly fluctuating schedules, whiny/”bored” children and and incessant consumption of appalingly non-scheduled activities (think: computer games, trips to Dairy Queen, bike rides, jumping through sprinklers. Oh, the wonderful chaos of it all!) In the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, we learn that it is our basal ganglia which lays the groundwork for our innate love of routine. This part of the brain is responsible for, among other things, establishing a loop whereby we start doing things, our brains like it, and then it becomes a habit. For better or worse. Because a habit is a habit whether its getting up every day to to exercise or making a call to your dealer to score your next meth hit.
Even if you don’t have kids in school, summer can set up a variety of off-routine activities such as vacations, staying up late because the lengthier days beckon, picnics/BBQ’s, fix-up projects etc. While all your recreational and creative juicing has been fun, there comes a time when your brain says, “Slow it down! I need to rest and refuel.” This is called a stress response and it can be large or small. Small might be an inclination to take an afternoon nap for a few days straight. Large might be a tired mother screaming that she’s doing her best to her bewildered children followed by a door slam. Not that I would know anything about that. Your amygdala is the part of your brain that gauges a stress response. It’s what yells “Overload!” when your kids are bickering and complaining. It’s how you’re feeling when, as I have overheard in suburbia many times this week, you say, “I am so ready for them to go back (the fuck) to school!”
Our brains love predictability and the ability to put things on the “back burner” so to speak. We all do this, and we are constantly prioritizing. Do you remember pulling out of your driveway this morning? Or making your coffee? Maybe, but most tasks like this are on autopilot. And your brain likes it that way, thank you very much. So, now that a new day is dawning, and we are back to familiar routines, how do we infuse some meaning in our everyday lives? In other words, how do we go about creating rituals from our routines? Meg Selig of the “Changepower” blog says to make sure your routine carves out the following:
- Provide a structure: I have informed my children that they are making their own lunches this year. We worked on making a list of faves to make morning choices easier. No, sweetie, whoopie pies are not a choice.
- Put things on autopilot to add creativity: I listen to the same playlist every time I write. New music or voices can’t distract me! My dog licks my feet sometimes and it tickles and that’s very distracting, though.
- Protect yourself from self destruction: Never turn on the tv! It’s a time suck and there is nothing worth watching anyway. Except Mad Men.
- Bring Order: Witness, readers, the proliferation of chalkboard paint. Have you noticed its everywhere? People love writing on their chalkboards, especially lists and reminders like “get more chalk!”
- Promote health: Set your alarm for the same time every day. So you can exercise. Or write. Or have 10 fucking minutes to yourself.
- Give you rest and relaxation: Read before bed! Sing in the shower! Life is good!
Of course if your routine becomes stale or is wide open, change it, loosen it, tighten it. Do what it takes to get you to your happy place. But that’s what is so great about September. Here are some other great things about September:
- Fall colors like pumpkin orange, burnt sienna and golden maple. Everyone looks good in them.
- Crisp cool evenings and warm days. “Sweater and shorts weather is the best,” said my wise friend Beth.
- The first time you sit under a tree and a leaf falls delicately onto your lap.
- New school supplies. Who doesn’t remember the feel of new notebooks and the promise of new words inside them?
- “Are you ready for some football?!” I can hear the theme: DA DA DA DAAA.
- Folding chairs occupy a firm place in the family vehicle for soccer season.
- Apples. I live in Washington. Apples.
- Tossing around halloween costume ideas. Zombie pioneer woman? Maybe. No, you can’t take the idea.
- Beer. I know it’s all year but it just tastes best in September. Not to mention pumpkin ale. Go. Get. Some.
- Load up on summer clothes. It’s all on sale, my friends.
It’s also 15 years this September since I married my awesome husband, 11 since my first child and 8 since my second. September is a truly momentous month for us. Renewal is always a good thing. Tell me why you love September, too.
Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Mama Iphoneography. Check her out!