Beating the back to school blues

Beating the back to school blues
A parent’s perspective


August can be a funny kind of month in many ways.  I’ve never quite been able to shake off that lingering childhood dread that marks the last weeks of the summer holidays. A few weeks earlier the summer break stretched out, full of promise. Anything could happen: another heatwave that would have us all thinking we were living in the Mediterranean; endless beach trips, barbeques and catching up with friends. Memories of childhood shenanigans in the sun are so embedded in our psyche that we glow with the anticipation of it all. Inevitably, mid-August comes, with its noticeable difference in the length of the evenings, reminding us of summer’s end. The leaves’ barely noticeable change of hue seems to match our slight change of mood with less focus on fun and an increasing resignation to the fact that we’re on the back-to-school countdown. At least when I was a child, you wouldn’t be setting a foot through the door of a classroom until September 1. The minute August begins, the vast majority of children know that they’re back at the end of the month. Parents and students are bombarded with endless advertisements for school supplies which only serves to intensify the gloom. In the words of one of my favourite ELO songs: “Summer came and passed away, hardly seemed to last a day, but it’s over and what can I do.”

What is it about summer’s end that leaves many of us feeling melancholic? We may have had the summer of our dreams but are still left with this disquieting sense of something being not quite right. It’s almost like a feeling of vague disappointment. This despondency often makes its unwelcome presence felt at various different times in our lives. We build up the passing joys of this world and somehow imagine that they’ll last forever. My father used to remind me in his matter of fact way that nothing good lasts forever. He had a deep faith and realised that our true joy will never be complete in this temporary earthly home. In the words of St Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

It’ll soon be 40 years since Pope John Paul II uttered those unforgettable words at his Mass for the youth of Ireland on Sunday, September 30, 1979.”

Of course, being human, we keep seeking to quell that restlessness or imagining that if we just achieve this particular goal or fulfil that particular plan, all will be well.

It’s that time of year when all the focus is on Leaving Certificate results. Some will be ecstatic with their results. Others will feel that they missed out on what they were hoping for. Either way, in a few months time those who are downhearted and disappointed will have set out on another of life’s roads on a new journey. Some of the students who are on top of the world with their achievement could possibly be disillusioned when they realise that what seemed like a great CAO option is not really what they had envisioned.

A few weeks ago, a priest at Mass preached a very good homily about Mary and Martha, contrasting the busyness of Martha compared to Mary’s focus on the presence of Jesus. Martha was distracted with the task of catering for such an important visitor, something a lot of us mothers can identify with. This Gospel scene reminds us of how we all are so centred on our schedules and plans and making sure that every detail is perfect that we forget that what is really important is the time we spend with Jesus and the focus we put on his Gospel message.

Like Mary, we should choose the better part. There’s a calm and serenity that only comes when we stop chasing the utopian dreams of this world and realise that “something else is needed”.

It’ll soon be 40 years since Pope John Paul II uttered those unforgettable words at his Mass for the youth of Ireland on Sunday, September 30, 1979. The “something else” he referred to is the joy that can only be found in Christ, who the Pope referred to as “the measure and the scale that you must use to evaluate your own lives”. He preached powerfully about Christ having “the power to uplift hearts”. How many times in life can we get caught up in chasing a fleeting type of happiness? We see our own children doing the same when they put everything into trying to achieve the perfect friendship or relationship or the top exam results or match score. Of course these things are important and we want to see our children making their best effort. However, when they lose the match or fail the exam or suffer the devastation of a broken relationship or friendship, we have to remind them that, as St Pope John Paul II said: “You must build on the foundation which is Christ; only with him your life will be meaningful and worthwhile.”

I often find that the more time I devote to prayer and avail of the Sacraments, the less I’m affected by the vagaries of life. Focusing on the spiritual and on the certainty of God’s grace and love, no matter what the circumstances or season, is one sure way to banish the back-to-school blues and any sort of blues that threaten our peace and joy and the peace and joy of our families.