Typically, when I’m seated in the dental chair with my mouth getting poked and scraped with sharp, pointy metal things, my mind drifts to far away places.
But this time, amidst the high-pitched EEEeeee-EEEeee-EEEEeeee of drills, I kept getting pulled back to reality by the syrupy, buoyant voice of my nine-year-old chatting with her hygienist in the room across the hall.
Because it’s August, their conversation revolved around two topics explicitly linked this time of year: summer vacation and back to school.
It went something like this:
Hygienist : So how has your summer been?
Hygienist : What kinds of things have you done?
Daughter: Ummmm, well, I did some camps and played soccer and went to a cabin and I’m having a bake sale tomorrow with my sister and our friends from our neighborhood.
Hygienist : Oh, wow, that sounds like fun. Are you doing the bake sale to raise money for something?
Daughter: [Insert awkward silence. Her plans for the loot aren’t exactly what you’d call philanthropic.]
Intuitive Hygienist : Or is it just for fun?
Relieved Daughter: YEAH! It’s just for fun.
Hygienist : Are you excited for school to start?
Hygienist : Did you get your school supplies yet?
Daughter: No, but I got a backpack.
Hygienist : Oh how nice. What color is it? . . .
And so on. That is, in a nutshell, how conversations go between kids and their dental hygienists during the month of August. Named after the first emperor of the Roman Empire, the eighth month carries a royal responsibility as both a finale and a prelude.
It’s a finale to longer, sunnier days when we turn our backyards into splash pads, buy mini doughnuts from food trucks, enjoy farm-fresh rhubarb from local farmers’ markets, and, if you’re me, a thrifty Minnesota gal, you might peruse garage sales for ice skates under $1.50.
It’s a prelude to a season dipped in reds and yellows, free of humidity and mosquitoes, when we run around hay bale mazes, watch pig races, taste-test candied apples, simmer chili in crockpots, watch grown men in huge amounts of padding pulverize one another, and, of course, send our kids off to school.
As if that weren’t enough, August is also one mammoth mixed bag of emotions.
“Parent Exhibit A” feels pretty good about what she’s accomplished since June. She grew the biggest zucchini in the neighborhood, brought her kids geocaching, even taught them and their friends how to make melted-bead suncatchers. And she’s pretty much all set for school supplies because she ordered prepackaged school supply kits last spring.
“Parent Exhibit B,” however, is in a panic. She’s feeling like she’s squandered the season away, mentally kicking herself for not taking the kids to that Shakespeare in the Park Festival. There’s a good chance she’ll be shopping for school supplies the night or two before school starts when grown-ups pulverize one another at Target and Walmart for the last pack of black felt-tip pens instead of a football.
“Parent Exhibit C” is somewhere in between. She never got around to taking the kids to the Bell Museum of Natural History, but she did take them to ride the uptown trolley and has, by now, perhaps peeked at the school supply lists online or even printed them.
No matter, come that first day of school, hoards of moms and/or dads will breathe a sigh of relief after they send their young children or hormonal-raging teens off to spend the next six hours in brick-covered microcosms of society. You might even catch some of us in our kitchens at around 8:45 a.m. lip-syncing into a banana to the song “Sugar” by Maroon 5 between shots of espresso.
Lots of parents, however, won’t fully exhale until they look into their child’s eyes when they return home (or get that first text) and know that things went ok. For some, hardly a moment has passed during August in which a ripple of anxiety hasn’t pressed in, especially those with children starting a new school, moving away to college, or struggling to fit in and find a niche.
Look. We’re all a bunch of grown-up kids with remnants of our own childhood summers and first days of school swirling around within us. Each of us wants our kids to have a good life full of memorable experiences—summers roasting marshmallows around the campfire and school years feeling accepted around the lunch table.
Every kid deserves that.
As my daughter and I left the dental office, she carried a baggie with a toothbrush in one hand and a baggie with her newly-extracted tooth in another. The dentist had to pull it to make room for another. There always seems to be a little out with old, in with the new going on.
Daughter: “Mom, do I get money for this tooth?”
Me: “Of course!”
Daughter: “Can you put it under my pillow?”
Me: “Sure!” I smile as she runs ahead to our truck. Due to some talk on the playground last year, she doesn’t believe in the Tooth Fairy anymore. But she still, at times, wants to experience that magical feeling of lifting up her pillow and finding the treasure. Who wouldn’t?
In some ways, she and her older brother and sister are growing up so fast. But in other ways, they’re hanging onto their childhood with all their might. Kind of like some of us are clinging to these dog days of summer.