ESSAY- September slump: The empty nester's lament

You are a slacker, a dropout – you're the loser sneaking a cigarette behind the gym while the good kids are in algebra class. You are aimless and useless and worthless. 

Or is it just me?

I think of it as the "Maggie May" syndrome. Because it's late September and I really should be back at school.  

From the time I was 6 years old until I was 24, September meant "back to school." It meant time to buckle down and start fresh: new classrooms, new textbooks, new challenges. My life was worthwhile: I was on the road to something. I was getting better, getting smarter. It felt good. 

Okay, it wasn't always good. Although I've never been a smoker and never skipped algebra class, I failed algebra. And a clean slate in September never did a thing for my math aptitude. But I always found reason for hope, because – who knew? – maybe this time I could grasp algebra, wrestle it to the ground and make it mine. 

In the fresh glow of September, anything seemed possible.

For years after my formal education was behind me, that rhythm continued to give shape and meaning to my life as I raised my children. And it wasn't a totally vicarious experience, because I was an active supporter of their education. I was the pit crew helping with homework, advocating for them with teachers and administrators, and chasing down the elusive day-glow orange poster board they HAD to have the next day for the big project.

But now, the days of dragging them from their beds so they won't miss the bus are over, and the essential rhythm of my life has changed. Something is missing.

It doesn't matter that I have a full plate, that my to-do list is long and that there aren't enough hours in the day. 

When September rolls around and the to-do list contains pretty much the same stuff as it did in February or July, my inner student grows restless, and it starts to feel like there's a class I should be in right now, a locker combination I really ought to know, an exam I'd be studying for if I weren't such a good-for-nothing.

This happens to all of us, sooner or later, right? 

It's the malaise that begins near the end of August and builds to a full-blown funk by late September as everyone else in this college town is in preparation mode and beyond, buying textbooks, notebooks, scrutinizing the brand-new class schedule to see if it'll all be manageable – all those classes, all that homework, all those gold stars and grades and feedback so you know whether you're living up to your potential or not.

And that's it, ladies and gentlemen, isn't it? ARE you living up to your potential? How can you tell? Without a new challenge every September, how are we supposed to get a handle on our progress? 

While everyone else is boning up on God-knows-what, we're slacking off, just getting by, and totally not living up to our potential. We're smoking dope in the parking lot, hoping we can make it one more day without someone noticing our seat in the classroom is empty and we haven't handed in a single homework assignment.

Let's have a show of hands: Tell me it's not just me. 

Anybody? Bueller?