A Different Kind of Summer, a Different Kind of Fall

By: Icy Frantz

It’s been a different kind of summer. The temperatures were warm and the days long, as usual, but for many, it was difficult to experience the normal stress-free casual laid back feelings that we associate with the summer months. The kids have been out of school, forever, large gatherings were limited in size and scope, travel bans and restrictions prevented trips and annual family vacation time away, and the pending fall is just that – pending.

The other day a friend posted something on social media that caught my eye. She was on vacation on an island that was reachable by car and welcoming to Connecticut residents. She had gone out to the beach to watch the sunset, only to discover that the clouds had rolled in and were blocking the sun.

“So, we covered up with blankets and basically just watched it get dark,” she wrote.

And that summed up the summer beautifully for me. I had the good fortune to get away for a week, but the relaxation I normally derive from lying on the beach, reading a book, and watching the ebb and flow of the tide was obscured by the apprehension that I felt.

It’s going to be a different kind of fall.

For over twenty years, mid-August has represented the beginning of the end; the hours in the day both fill and shorten. There are medical forms to complete, school shopping to be done, and little yellow stickies covered with lists to check off. This year, in our home, we still have two returning to academic institutions, however, at the time of this writing, one will once again be learning remotely while the other is scheduled to be on campus (albeit with very strict guidelines and protocols). And all communications from their schools have clearly stated that any outlined plan is subject to change. It breaks my heart.

So how does one prepare when we don’t know what we are preparing for? Do we head out to watch the sunset even if it is blocked by the clouds?

No parent has parented their way through this before and no kid has lived this way before, so it makes sense that we all feel a little anxious. We have already seen a few universities open and promptly shut. We have grown familiar and comfortable with phrases such as “remote learning”, “hybrid campuses”, “distance teaching”, “best practices”, “transmission rates” and “pods”. Six months ago, it seemed absurd that schools would close their doors; today, we accept it with a shrug.

A little-known fact about me is that I play the piano, although I may be overstating that fact. I started taking lessons the year our second child went away to school. That was a very long time ago, and yet, I am still a beginner. Really. I am not a natural and I do not practice enough. However, a few times a year I attend a recital where I am expected to play, and it is nerve-racking. The weeks before the recital, I prepare by practicing like crazy, and when I sit down in front of the friendly crowd of colleagues (all of whom play better than I), a number of things can happen. Maybe I will bomb. Maybe my mind will go blank. Maybe I will be nervous, and my hands will shake, or I will hit the wrong keys and lose my place. Or maybe I will be brilliant and play the best I have ever played.

But no matter how I do, there will always be another recital, the crowd is always encouraging, loving, and applauds with gusto, and then we laugh about it over a well-deserved dinner.

So, here is the leap – my piano recitals have taught me how to prepare for the unexpected – hoping for brilliance, but ready for anything – and to face uncertainty with the three constants that have seen me through some awful performances: encouragement, love, and humor. We show up to watch the sunset even if it is blocked by the clouds.

Two nights ago, I got an unexpected call from the head of a boarding school with which I have been involved for the past seven years. We discussed the thorough and thoughtful work that has gone into preparing a safe and healthy community for this fall. “It will be different. We will be very strict. We have to be,” he said. And then he shared this metaphor with me – “a little cliché,” as he put it – but, if a head of school can use it, I can too. It is fitting.

It’s as if we are all climbing Mount Everest. We are at 26,000 feet, the final camp before our push to the summit. We are on borrowed oxygen. It’s been grueling and hard. The climb has depleted much of our energy, and there has been little time for rest. It’s scary. The summit is in sight and we want to reach it, knowing that at any time, we might need to abandon our climb, because of inclement weather, or failed equipment. But we will go for it.

It’s been a different kind of summer and the chances are good that it’s going to be a different kind of fall. We are weary and anxious as we head towards this new terrain. But side by side, step by step, we will tackle this together. It might be a bomb. But then again, it may be brilliant. I say we go for it!!

September, we are coming for you.