By Shelley Murphy
It’s that time of year again, when the lazy days of summer give way to busy back-to-school schedules.
I’m always a bit nostalgic this time of year. As fall approaches, I often remember my years spent tethered to the school year calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar.
I enjoyed back-to-school shopping; well, shopping in general. This month, I miss buying brand-new backpacks, yellow pencils and pink erasers.
But I don’t miss wrangling rambunctious boys in the heat of summer to search for fall clothes.
I do miss the ritual of back-to-school events and the excitement and promise a new school year brings.
But I don’t miss packing paper bag lunches, fighting morning alarm clocks, struggling with homework assignments, and battling over bedtime curfews.
Overall, I’m grateful to be on the other side of the great back-to-school divide.
Maybe it is my view from the other side, but it dawned on me that saying goodbye to summer sometimes feels a little like a loss.
I remember, years ago, taking my first college psychology class and learning about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, who established the five stages of grief.
Kubler-Ross introduced the world to the five stages of grief, also known as the Kubler-Ross model, in her 1969 best-selling book On Death and Dying.
She identified five emotional stages experienced after the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Obviously, going back to school is not comparable to losing a loved one, but students and parents grieving the end of summer may find they experience feelings of melancholy.
The five stages of grief might just explain the phases that parents and students experience as they prepare to go back to school this week.
Students can’t believe summer is ending, and they deny it’s time to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic instead of the sun, sand and beach.
Parents share a similar mindset and cling to their carefree calendars and flexible schedules.
The thought of returning to school sinks in, and students resent the idea of classrooms and homework. They fight against the return to routine and loss of freedom.
Parents are irritated by demands for their money and time. Budgets are busted by registration fees and back-to-school supplies. They’re annoyed that their unencumbered days will soon consist of congested traffic and jammed drop-off and pick-up lines.
Students hope to stop the calendar by pleading with parents to delay completing registration packets. They also promise, if given more time, they’ll finish their summer reading list.
Parents use negotiation tactics to get kids ready for the new school year. They seek compromises with kids over extracurricular activities and academic endeavors.
Students may become sullen when it finally sinks in that summer is over and the school year is starting. They become depressed when they realize they can’t stop the first day of school from coming and, along with it, the constraints of classes and avalanche of activities.
Parents mourn leaving behind the idle days of summer and dread the impending control that the school calendar commands. They also brood about the burden on their bank account.
During the last stage of grief, students surrender to reality and prepare for the first day of school by stuffing their backpacks with new school supplies and selecting outfits to wear for their return to campus.
Parents concede to resuming the roles of chauffeur, chef, tutor, coach and medic. They realize there’s some solace in the predictability of the academic year ahead.
This week is bittersweet for students as they put down the beach bag and pick up the backpack.
As students and parents say goodbye to swimsuits and suntans and hello to academics and activities, it’s important to remember one thing: It’s only 18 weeks until winter recess.
For more than 20 years, Shelley Murphy and her husband have lived in San Clemente, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to Picket Fence Media since 2006.