It’s that time of year again: the start of another academic year. Everyone who has ever been a child or raised a child in the Western Hemisphere will recognize that this is the time of new beginnings. Small children start school, bigger children chafe in new uniforms, and many teenagers leave home for the first time against a backdrop of reddening trees and the freshening winds of autumn.
For me it is also the time to pick up the exacting routines of housekeeping after the laxness of summer. Everyone has to get up, eat and shower and be out of the house on time. Everyone has to return home safely at the end of the day and be fed again, listened to, commiserated with, supported and soothed and finally nagged back in to their beds. The fridge must be kept supplied with food, everyone must have shoes and the lights on the bikes must be working.
This routine, though somewhat monotonous, is necessary. Without it we rapidly sag downwards into the chaos that awaits beneath: skipped meals, forgotten medication, chronic sleep shortages and abandoned homework assignments. I will know my children are truly adult and independent of me when they finally recognise the importance of getting enough sleep and eating regularly.
I love this time of year – especially those September days when the heat of the summer is gone but the days are still long and bright. It is a good time to start something new, a time full of energy and promise. The school year starts again, the sins and omissions of last year are forgotten, and everyone plans to work hard this year and do well.
Summer strolled past slowly, but the last week has vanished in a flash. Julie started at sixth form: a big challenge after three years out of normal school. Her new support team, who seem good, are in touch with me every day. She needed extra support in the corridors, and some lessons. But she is making new friends and loves the work. I let the balance of my life swing back slightly towards home and away from the office: what you don’t want is to be absorbed by some project at work just as the crisis hits.
Duncan has another year to sixth form, and his last year in school uniform. A difficult year lies ahead, full of public exams and teachers driven beyond the limits of patience to draconian punishments. He is not going to become a good student – and I should be sorry if he did, for it is that streak of originality, that remorseless questioning of the status quo, that I secretly treasure. It is going to be a difficult year for him, for his teachers and for us at home too. But if he can only survive this, and not fall into the trap of despair again… Next September, when he moves to sixth form, and has more freedom, really holds the promise of something better.