Fall Fever

fallYip all you want about Spring Fever — Fall Fever is worse.  It plays mischief in your eyes with Van Gogh colours dancing in the trees to sad 60s songs.  It rustles crisp on shuffle footsteps that leave no evening echo.  Its dim light chilly is brittle on the breeze, and it speaks in long, muffled tones.  It wears knitted scarves and fat socks and smells like hot chocolate, steaming in the afternoon air.  It aches winter but touches your face with warm summer sun, like a treacherous lover teasing its escape.

As old as I am yet to get, I will never see September without back-to-school.  Stiff new paper; pens with all the parts; blunt pencils of virgin wood, waiting to be pointed; plastic instruments with purposes so academically secret they have never been revealed.  And books.  Heavy books.  Books that told me numbers were true and always acted responsibly.  Books that showed me that some things could be proven.  Books whose gone places and dead lives taught me immortality.  And books that lied — so cleverly, so carefully, so convincingly close to me that we became friends.

These were the books that jealously wouldn’t wait to be read.  These were the after school-books.  The week-end books when the world was too cold for walking but too soon for skating.  These were the books that were finished before any teacher ever assigned them.  These were the books that turned into libraries and later, with part-time money, into dim paint peeled bookstores, dusty with promise.

Fall Fever has a serious heart.  It is what once was — coming again on the low evening light.  Every year when the sun moves south, I hear it scratching its quill pen verse on the skinny wind.  I see the words and accumulating phrases and remember the books that brought me here.  The tales that told me, showed me, explained to me why we are all just souls — single, lost and divine.  Fall Fever remembers that for me.  And it reminds me that it is the stories we tell each other that gather us together against the wind.

Shouting in Frustration about Back-to-School Stress!

The problem with writing blogs is you can’t shout.  All the words on the page get the same weight; none of them stand up before God and everybody, throw their heads back and holler, “What the hell is going on here?”  So, all you can do is delicately present what you know to be true and hope at least one person pays attention.  It’s frustrating work, but somebody’s got to do it.  Either that or we’re all going to end up sliding down some cosmic bunny hole and the Red Queen’ll be calling the shots.  This is one of those times when something is so messed up I just wish I could scream from this page.

What I am about to tell you is absolutely true.  No sane person could possibly make any of this up.

Recently, Angus Reid, those annoying people who always phone exactly at dinner time, conducted a poll.   They wanted to know — and many people told them — if kids were getting anxious about going back to school.  Easy question, simple answer: “My kid’s eight.  How hard can this be?”  Not so fast!  Apparently, 42% of children are not only anxious about it, they’re stressed right out.  Forty two percent!  That’s nearly half!  And that’s the national average!  Where I live, the percentage goes up to 47!  I’m running out of exclamation marks!!   Can you believe this?  I have no idea about the methodology of the poll — who responded, what the questions were etc.  However, I do know one thing, without even looking: Angus Reid didn’t talk to one single kid.  If they had, that 42% would have dropped to practically nothing – 4% max.   And that’s what makes this poll so scary.

Here’s what’s actually going on.  Angus Reid talked to parents and nationwide, 42% of those people who answered the online survey have no business having children.  They’re unfit parents.  Either that or they’re so ego-blasted on 80s entitlement that they don’t realize those munchkins who show up for breakfast every morning are their responsibility — they’re not just there to make adult life miserable.  Regardless, somebody should call social services immediately because these parents are not doing their job.  Let me explain.

First of all, ordinary kids do not come by stress naturally – especially in North America.  They just don’t.  Yes, I’m sure there’s anecdotal evidence to the contrary.  There’s probably some little person out there somewhere whose dad is a crack addict and whose mom’s doing covert ops in Afghanistan or something, but that’s not the norm, and that’s my whole point.  Stress comes from extraordinary circumstances.  Normal, everyday life does not cause stress.  If it did, we’d all be renting condos in the Valley of the Loons.  Besides (and I’m pretty sure about this, also) kids haven’t bought into the extra curriculars of life yet — things like mortgages, car payments, a rat-faced, inconsiderate boss or an idiot spouse who answers surveys.  They only get stuff like that from parents who are contagious.  These are adults who haven’t made the simple connection that kids can’t fully handle a lot of information yet.  They haven’t figured out there are ways of sharing life’s little difficulties with a nine-year-old — without freaking him out.  Unfortunately, most inhabitants of the 21st century think stress is a natural condition.  So, when it comes to their children, they treat it like an accomplishment that should be passed along.  Stress is taught in the home like sharing your toys or tying your shoes.  And when it shows its ugly little head, it’s rewarded with lots of close personal parental attention.

Next, kids go to school.  That’s normal.  It’s what they do, and they do it for years.  It’s like the cycle of the seasons to primitive tribes.  They measure their little lives by it.  Every September is a rite of passage – another rung in the ladder to adulthood.  I know people who haven’t been near a school in a generation, but the rhythm of their childhood is so ingrained that they still think of Labour Day as a kind of Everyman’s New Year.  And here’s another newsflash: despite what they’ve been conditioned to tell you, kids love it.  Why?  ‘Cause kids are sponges.  They soak up everything around them and process it.  Everything is new and exciting.  Electricity and magic carry the same weight with them because they don’t know the difference yet.  Every piece of knowledge is a mighty discovery.    And there’s no better place to quench that thirst than at school.  It’s the one place whose sole purpose is to explore the world and get in touch with all kinds of new stuff.  This isn’t just confined to the classroom, either; the socialization of recess or lunchtime friendships are just as important.  Children keep this sense of wonder for years — until it’s kicked out of them by inept and preoccupied adults.  Find a kid who says, “Been there; done that.” and you’re doing something wrong.

Finally, kids are tough little beasts.  They’re made to withstand the harsh realities of growing up.  Here’s how it goes: take away an adult’s most cherished dream and you run the risk of destroying their ego, their joy, their purpose — for life.  On the other hand, tell a kid that Santa Claus is…well… kind of a spiritual thing, and it might set them back for a day or two but pretty soon they’re on to the next adventure.  Kids face the Santa Claus type discovery over and over, year after year, and the vast majority of them shake it off and keep on moving.

Parents who see signs of back-to-school anxiety in their kids are looking in the wrong places.  Either that or they’ve already conditioned their children to be timid and needy.  Kids naturally look forward to a new school year just because it is new: it’s exciting, it’s more and different and part of that bigger life they’re growing into.  Parents who don’t understand this and foster it are raising a generation of young people made of spun sugar, so breakable that every bump in their future mundane lives is going to be a setback, an injury or an occasion for angst and foreboding.  These parents are stealing the wonder from innocent lives and they ought be ashamed.  I’d like to grab that 42% by the collective collar, get right in their face and shout, “Stop it!” but I can’t.  I just wish I could.