When I lived in Colorado, autumn was defined and clear as a political opinion. Labor Day meant pack away the shorts and retrieve the ski sweaters. The third weekend of September brought peak aspen-changing, when mountain roads clogged with leaf peepers and newspapers inevitably captioned photos, “Colorado’s Other Gold.” By Halloween it often snowed, so the costumes were buried under down jackets, and hot chocolate sounded better than a Hershey bar.
Now I’m puzzled when Californians speak of seasonal change. It may get a bit cooler, but trees are green in December, flowers still bloom in January, and by February fruit trees are flowering. The changes must be so subtle, I’ll need to explore them more carefully.
So too for seasons of life. Once I was the Wage Earning Adult, teaching classes that began strictly at 9 am. No waffling in the “I’m Mom” department either. “Do it because I’m bigger.” Roles were rigidly defined, without much room to breathe.
So does semi-retirement make one a quasi-adult? My next deadline isn’t ‘til end of October, and I can write the article in my pajamas. My four children are the busy ones, with responsible careers and heavy obligations. I get delegated to chauffeur, supervise the playground, and build sand castles with Louisa while the grown-ups clean the beach house.
My more responsible side resists the change. But the better self likes lingering on this threshold. I can observe and delight in grandchildren as I never could when my constant mantra was, “I don’t have time!” With the surprising gift of time, I can find out if “California fall” is an oxymoron. I can glow with professional pride when the 4-year old tells his mom, “grammy made us a great dinner!” meaning she nuked the mac-n-cheese in pre-measured plastic bowls. I can look forward all day to 5 pm, not for faculty cocktails or the end of a work day, but to the explosive joy when a 20-month old barrels across the day care center, knocking over smaller children and yelling, “Gammy!” Not to brag, but I’ve measured just the right amount of gravel to voice Thomas the train engine for the 3-year old.
Once I was quite serious about my resume, listing every award and publication. Our society values achievement and by gum, I was an Olympic ladder climber. Now the tiny steps downward into being more fully human won’t be recorded. But a threshold beckons, mysterious as autumn in California.