It’s fall and I’m ruminating over my favorite season, the possibility each fall brings, and the start of a new year. I know that technically, we celebrate the New Year on January 1. My personal internal clock shifts into new year mode every autumn. The thing that best represents all of this to me is a newly opened, yet unused box of crayons. I do have my reasons…
First, it’s the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. I’ll get to that in a bit. Next, it’s the new school year. And it’s my birthday, always a time for renewal and reflection. And just to bring the funny, I should mention that it’s also the traditional time when television networks roll out their new programming seasons. This is hardly on a par with the other reasons, but when I was a kid this played a part in my sense of the newness of the season. I guess I’ve always been a pop culture geek at heart.
Rosh Hashanah – literally, the head of the year. The birthday of the world. According to the Jewish calendar, this year is 5774. That’s a whole lot of history and a whole lot of years. This is the time when we reflect upon our previous year, wish one another a sweet new year, get ready to ask forgiveness for our transgressions, and think about how to begin anew, once again. If you believe, then god writes you into the book of life for another year, and there you are! You have a new, fresh start. Of course it could be about the honey and apples, the challah with raisins, and the pomegranates, all symbolizing the hopes for a sweet new year.
Fall is when Things One and Two return to school. You know that Staples commercial, with the parent blissfully gliding the shopping cart through the aisles of Staples, gleefully tossing school supplies in, singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”? Meanwhile, the kids unhappily drag behind? I love that commercial! I think it is so much more truthful than those parents who, in best their “mommier than thou” voices, proclaim how much they’ll miss their little darlings hanging around all day. Yeah, right. (Ok, just for the record: I don’t hate my kids, I love having them around, and the unstructured, timeless aspect of their childhood summers is something I guard closely. Another blog post for another day).
It is also the return of schedule and order (ha ha, but for the sake of this post, let’s pretend, shall we?) to my home. Time and days once again have definition (again with the pretending, please).
And… I get to buy them new school supplies. I love new school supplies. New pens, reams of blank notebook paper, notebooks that have yet to be doodled upon. Erasers. glue sticks that still make things stick together. Markers that have yet to lose that sniff too long and you might lose brain cells marker smell. (also, their tips haven’t been blended and sullied with other colors). New backpacks that have yet to acquire the sour smell of spilled yogurt tubes, the grittiness of crumbs that fall into every book and folder, and untold numbers of loose pencils with unsharpened points. And my above mentioned favorite, new crayons.
More about the new school year: I teach Hebrew School (once a week, Sunday school) to first graders. It’s fun, and each fall, I get a new group of 6-7 year olds to have amazing conversations with – are Torah (Bible) stories true? Who wrote them? How can god be everywhere? (here in our classroom? in gym class? in the car? in my nose? in the bathroom?) How can I help make the world a more fair place? Why do we share/protect the earth/celebrate holidays/visit the sick/practice kindness? Why do I have to learn this blessing? And my personal favorite – if the sea creatures came on the fifth day, and the land creatures showed up on the sixth (with humans), then on which day did the asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs hit the earth? (I always fall a little bit in love with the fledgling smart asses).
I set up my classroom in late August. Prepare materials and notebooks. Labels and names on notebooks and pencil boxes. And yes, new school supplies. The very first time I opened up a classroom sized box of markers, and crayons, I thought I’d died and gone to new school supply heaven.
The marker box, with sixteen (!!!) separate sections, each containing identical quantities of their own colors, lined up and capped tightly. But that was nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the experience of the first time I opened up a classroom pack of new crayons. (This is so embarrassing!) There they were, hundreds of fresh, pristine crayons, in straight rows, nestled within organized little boxes. (boxes within boxes? My therapist would have a field day)
The neat rows of repeated colors called to me. But the smell… Oh my god, the smell of newly opened crayons that wafted up to my nostrils… I closed my eyes and breathed in deeply. It brought me back to the days of getting a new lunch box (a metal snoopy one) and new school clothes including short jumper dresses with knee socks, Marsha Brady bell bottoms (and more embarrassingly, Jan Brady polyester slacks), and bizarrely patterned Qiana shirts. (look it up, I’m not explaining if you don’t know, because you had to be there). I also remember a lot of corduroy.
But the crayons! They were all so unused! So full of hope and the promise of crafts and coloring, of worksheets and projects involving paper plates, sparkles that invade your home and never, ever leave, felt and egg cartons. For that one brief moment, before the little monsters dulled their pristine ends by (gasp!) actually coloring with them, before they chewed on them and broke them and stuck them into various orifices, it was all newness and possibility. And that smell. I’ve wildly digressed from fall and why it’s my personal new year. Let’s get back to that.
My birthday. As I get older, my birthday brattiness is slowly disappearing. Time was, it was all about parties with themes, toys, cake, balloons and ice cream. Before that, were my childhood birthdays. (Ha, see what I did there? Anyway). Pushing a milestone year I’d rather not disclose here (cough cough almost 50, cough cough) has caused me to tone down my desire to celebrate and be all gift-grabby. At least, that’s my intention. The Hubs will tell you that by the time we’re a few days out from My Special Day, I’ve changed my tune, leaving catalogs with post-it notes around the house, dropping gift hints and names of expensive restaurants in which to celebrate. Birthday weekends and birthday weeks are not entirely out of the realm of my desire. “But it’s my birthday week – I want take out!” “It’s my birthday weekend, I need to go have cocktails with my girlfriends, honey will you be home to stay with The Things? By the way, Thing One has two tests tomorrow, and Thing Two has to build a diorama of the Lenni Lanape Indians who lived in NJ before the settlers destroyed their land and killed them off by bringing foreign disease and alcohol to the New World”. The Hubs loves those prolonged birthday celebratory weeks.
But how does my September birthday relate to my sense of the fall as New Year? Birthdays, especially staring that milestone birthday down (not here yet, but it’s coming soon!) creates a certain sense of introspection. It’s really not unlike Rosh Hashanah, a review of the previous year, and plans and wishes for the coming year. Like the new school year, it’s a bit like opening new boxes of mental crayons. Hope, and possibility, but without the crafts and having to endlessly vacuum up errant sparkles. Although I suppose we all have a certain amount of metaphorical sparkles that never quite get totally cleaned up, don’t we?
It’s at this point that I say, bring on the fluffy, mindless new sitcoms. Or dramas that suck you in with intriguing story arcs and characters. Remember when networks would air shows headlining their new fall programming? Trailers with the best moments of new shows, before the ratings and critics made more than half of them disappear. (I was always a little sad that we weren’t a Nielson family. Who were these important people, and why did their viewing habits mean that some shows lived while others died?)
Hopefully there’s some witty dialogue and a couple of characters with many seasons worth of unresolved sexual tension. Even though cable networks don’t adhere to the September release schedule, the truth is, more than half of what I think I want to watch winds up sitting there clogging up my DVR. Lost in my brain somewhere is the idea that fall is my time for new programs, or new episodes of returning favorites. Between life and Netflix binges (I’ll admit to becoming impatient if I have to wait each week to see a new episode – that’s just sad), my DVR stubbornly remains just about full to bursting. But back in the day before hundreds of channels added new shows willy-nilly throughout the year, before I cynically assumed everything would probably suck… a new cast on Saturday Night Live and fall TV programming contributed greatly to my sense of fall being my the new year.
How to tie in crayons with fall TV premieres? Four simple words: Partridge Family Coloring Book. And of course, a new box of new crayons.
Happy Fall, happy new TV season, happy new year (shana tova in Hebrew – a sweet new year!) happy back to school, and all my best wishes to you: may your autumn be full of the promise of many boxes of new crayons.