This time of year just kills me --the endings, the bittersweet nostalgia. I can't shake the wistfulness of summer, a remembered feeling that its pleasures would be sweeter if a missed someone or other could share in them. It's long since I was a student or teacher, but come June, I still feel bereft of the sheltering arms of school, whose orderly demands I always liked, dense and cozy with mental and social life. At year's end, my friends and I adored the old-fashioned ritual of signing yearbooks, earnestly recording our shared times before they dissolved into the disparate freedoms of three warm months.
Summertime brought a certain loneliness when I was a child. My father had an evocative but isolated summer house deep in the country with no electricity and no phone. My mother mostly had to stay in New York for work, and the house was way too far for weekend visits. An only child, I would talk up the animals we had, coerce a puppy into sitting in a tree with me and imagine myself an angel in Heaven (the upstairs landing). My father and I would drive down the mountain road into town to go to the post office and call my mother collect. As I got older there were lots of Archie comics to read, a hardscrabble horse-riding camp and long letters back and forth to far away school friends.
Now I have two young sons, and the academic cycle of September to June inevitably shapes their lives too. One is still too small for real memories but my older boy has detailed and unerring ones, much richer than mine. He'll recall some child who cried in a McDonald's three years ago or a favorite shirt worn by the music teacher two schools ago. His memory has taught him that some people and places, even treasured ones, disappear from one's life for no good reason other than seasonal transitions, and it makes him profoundly uneasy as spring turns to summer. He knows adored people and playthings, routines and preoccupations will no longer be present in his life. The teachers thoughtfully plan end-of-year parties with ice cream and keepsakes but he sees nothing to celebrate. Unlike many kids, he's never been on a mission to get bigger. Maybe he senses that growing up happens in an unknown future and he likes the known present and childhood just fine.
At summer's end when I was little I would tuck my dolls under blankets in a drawer for the deep freeze that would engulf the house all winter and write a letter to myself to be opened when I returned the next June. It burst with questions about the fertile school year ahead -- "Is Fran still your best friend?" "Were there any new kids?" -- as I grappled on a girlish scale with what might change and what would stay the same. It's still hard to have to wait to learn the answer, but mostly we learn how.