Fall is arriving here in the form of cooler nights and ever deepening layers of scattering leaves. We're reaching into the backs of our closets for sweaters and sweatshirts to wear in the mornings and hauling out comforters and quilts to sleep under at night. Thanksgiving is next month. (Yeah, I'm repeating that to myself in shock too). I can sense a great slowing in the earth as gardens give up their last crops for the year, as flocks of birds gather for practice flights in preparation for moving to warmer climes, squirrels are hurrying about the yard collecting items for their nests. And with it all, an unaccounted for jubilation is rising.
I feel like celebrating . . . something. I have no idea what, just something. So the other morning, I announced this to my younger sons. They were only too happy to contribute to this unnamed festivity. Especially my youngest, Sam, who is all about celebrations.
So we hauled out our small collection of scarecrows, and tiny bails of hay, orange lights, and the dollar store wreath with yet another scarecrow holding a welcome sign, and a light-up jack-o-lantern with a silly straw hat, and some orange candles left over from last year, and three miniature ears of of Indian corn. We set them up on top of the television and strung the lights around them.
For years this has been enough, not including the Halloween items that generally appear in the last week of October (spider webs, jack-o-lanterns, and whatever artwork the children felt the need to add). Not this time though. This year, it needed to be more.
Tight budget or no, I went to town and began the search for decorations--found a fall flower arrangement at a local boutique for $2.00--probably the only item in the place that was less than $10.00 (and most were far, far more). Found some nice autumn printed table cloths at the thrift store for three or four dollars. a handful of fake fall leaves for 1.50, and a picture of a autumn silhouette made out of felt (.50). Then I stopped at the dollar store and found some Halloween decorations and decided to add them early--decals for the windows (three sheets of them for $2.00), a strand of purple lights ($2.00), and a silly foot-long rubber skeleton for .50 cents. When I stopped at the grocery store to pick up something for supper I ran across a Halloween version of a gingerbread house kit (Kinda blew the budget there, but it was so cute and I knew the kids would love it). It had to come too.
I came home with my treasures and laid them out on the table in front of the excited kids. We had a merry time putting it all in place. In fact, we became so merry that it only made sense to rummage through the Christmas decorations for our longest and best strand of white Christmas lights (why should Christmas trees have all the fun?) and string them around the room. In the midst of this I remembered some "dwarf" acorn squash that never grew or ripened, and some left over seed packets and we added them as well.
My oldest came home from school and studied the results of our mad golden decorating festivities. He smiled at the Halloween decals and chuckled at the purple lights in the front windows, then looked at me quizzically. "What's up with you?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean--what holiday are we getting ready for?" He glanced at the Halloween decorations on the windows. "Apart from Halloween which is a month away."
"Dunno, just felt like it," I replied.
Daniel brought me his math book and asked me to help him with a problem. And Sam asked me to read his story he was writing, and Joe wanted to know when we were going to watch the Nova documentary that had just come. I checked on dinner (spaghetti), and went to help them.
As I looked over Daniel's algebra (Hell for me would be never ending algebra classes), it came to me. I'm home with my kids doing exactly what I believe I should be doing right now--homeschooling, writing, gardening, teaching youth group at church, taking care of my family and, as importantly, taking care of myself.
For the first time in five years the pressure is off. I'm not trying to homeschool three kids, coordinate ridiculous schedules with my husband, and get my oldest son back and forth to school events and work a full-time job with part-time pay-- setting up and overseeing new 4-H clubs and training and managing volunteers, organize annual banquets and awards ceremonies (If you want to know what that was like, just rummage through my archives), writing annual reports, sitting through long pointless discussions, and dealing with office politics (which I seem to be really bad at). Suddenly fall isn't all about deadlines and worrying about letting down a hundred and fifty kids and twice that many parents, or rushing from one meeting to the next, or coming home to a blinking answering machine full of snippy questions from the secretary who often demanded answers to questions that could have waited until I returned (and was officially on the clock). Nor is it about putting together lesson plans to teach to a hundred kids at the local public school every Friday, because we needed the money and I didn't know how to say no to the woman who asked me to do it. And it's not about teaching youth group, then dashing off to twice weekly choir practices because I've had my arm twisted into singing a solo part in the Christmas Cantata by my mother or the choir director. And it's not about coming home from it all to a dirty house, animals that needed attention, too exhausted to cook properly or exercise. Or the guilt I felt most of the time because someone was always getting shorted--often the people I cared most about in the world.
It is about waking up every day with a set of to-dos that I don't dread and all of them centering around what's important to me and my family, about being emotionally available to my kids and husband and friends, about going to bed most nights feeling like I did the best I could and that it was good enough. About being able to say "no" to the things that conflict with my priorities and only feeling a twinge of momentary concern instead of hours and hours of guilt.
So I don't know what I'm going to call this new holiday I've created, but I think I'm going to celebrate it on the first of every October just to remind myself of this feeling. I don't think gift-giving will be necessary (thus avoiding commercialization), but I do think a special sit down meal of spaghetti will be its centerpiece.
I'm still working on the song though . . .