back to school

The yellow goldfinch lands on the pole, here one minute and gone the next. Three of our four young adult children, and our one remaining teenager, have lived at home for the last five months, trapped by the pandemic. Our house strains at the seams. They flop their unfinished selves over counters and couches, messy and self-absorbed. They never stop eating. No matter how many times I wipe the counters, every time I return they are sticky; there is always some kind of slop in the sink. They leave trash in the cup holders, wet towels on the floor, smoothie glasses on every table, novels out in the rain. I ache for order, and solitude.

Living with young adults has brought a surprising revelation. Until our flock of big kids returned, I thought my husband and I were energetic, middle-aged people. But through their young eyes, I see that maybe, in fact, we're old now—what with our cable news, our boring bedtime, our inability to really get Tik-Tok. Our kids don’t care about our orderliness and routines. They want to fly, flirt, dance, and laugh. They reject our generation for failing to fix this broken world, and want to find a more meaningful way to live. And we get it; they should. We need them to. But for now, we’re all kinda stuck here together, and it’s all kinda awkward.

This week, though, the sun began to set earlier, and we sensed a shortening of the days. One son packed his duffle bags and returned to college, even though it will be fully on-line. With even one of us gone, the house exhaled a little, the volume of trash and dishes and towels shrinking just a bit. While it’s a relief to have one less body in the house, we miss him already. Our time all together in the nest was precious, even though it was sometimes a mighty strain. Both things are often true.

Autumn comes, as it always does, equal parts heartbreak and hope. Soon, my youngest starts high school. Tomorrow we will go shopping for school supplies, a favorite annual tradition. We'll stock him up for the semester ahead, to help him feel ready, and get excited for school. I'll buy a new box of my favorite pens, too, and a fresh notebook. In September, we all get to begin again.