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Rolling with the change of seasons
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Although the sun still hangs fairly high in the afternoon sky, its angle has changed over the last month and the minutes in each day grow noticeably shorter. The physical results become evident in the garden. Brown seed pods rest atop stems where brilliant blooms once beckoned. Tomato and pepper plants droop after a season of producing - their fruits processed and stored inside canning jars and freezer bags. Vines wither; weeds sneak in, growing gangly between once-neat rows of planned plants. Nights hint at chilliness and I know it is nearly time.

I should be glad. I am glad. I am ready for a new season and look forward to it each year, sort of.

My anticipation is understandable. The change of seasons holds my attention, but has little to do with the garden. The garden puts itself to bed each night. The young people living in my house do not. Staying up late has become summer habit - as has sleeping in. They come and go at odd hours. When they are not sleeping, they are eating - and drinking gallons and gallons of milk. Last week, they located my secret stash of chocolate. They want to go places and use my money to fund the expenses. They have grown accustomed to each other's presence and bicker over the most minor misunderstandings. Their bedrooms - filled with discarded clothing, fast food remnants and depleted double-A batteries - have morphed into scary places where I dare not venture.

By mid-August, we are almost nearly completely out of control with the anarchy of summer. Thankfully, the season wanes.

It is time - to trade flip-flops for shiny new sneakers. School schedules arrive in the mail. Backpacks come out of the closet. Haircuts abound. Our thoughts center on 17-cent notebooks and a never-ending supply of number 2 pencils (sharpened). Summer reading assignments are (painstakingly) completed - or very nearly so. We stand ready.

Despite all this, I experience a twinge of remorse each year as the calendar turns over from August to September - from summer to school. Because as much as I long for the order and stability accompanying a set schedule, I also mourn the loss of the perceived magic and uninhibited freedom that comes from living in chaos.

Like it or not, my house is on the cusp of change brought on by a new school year. We are not alone. Just as summer turns to fall each year, our lives are benchmarked by changing seasons. We live through a new school year, new job and new marriage. Through birth, death, tragedy and triumph, the calendar turns over - each month, each season, each year, each decade - as we navigate our way through diapers to dentures. Some things come easy, others do not. Some are planned, others unscripted.

As immersed as we may be in our senior year, or baby years or first year in the new house, it all comes - and goes. When we are in the thick of a particular life event, it is hard to imagine anything else. When it is over, we reminisce and remember: Yeah, that was a pretty big deal.

Then we move on, because we're in a new season and that's a pretty big deal, too. In fact, it's the one we're really interested in right now. That's probably how it should be.

This September, one son begins his last year of elementary school. Another starts high school and a third enters his senior year. All benchmarks. All important. For now. In the moment.

I will remember this on the first day of school, when I make them stand in front of the trees along the driveway to take their photo. They will protest the picture-taking part, but I will persevere, because I am their mom and remain boss - for this season, at least.

After they leave that first day, the quiet of the house will feel peculiar at first. I'll pour myself a cup of coffee and linger in the moment, missing them, because I'm sappy that way and, besides, chaos has a tendency to grow on me. Before long, I'll move on to the tasks of the day. If I have enough time, I may even do some planning - for a new garden layout next spring.

- Jill Pertler's column appears every Thursday in the Times. She can be reached at