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  • Kristan Higgins

New school shoes

Updated: May 6, 2022


Ever since I was a kid, there's been a melancholy associated with the month of August. Here in New England, around this time, the katydids start with their distinctive call: three buzzes, a pause, three buzzes. As a kid, these bugs alerted me to the fact that summer vacation was ending.

In June, I wouldn’t even think of the end of summer—two and a half months of freedom, of playing outside, seeing cousins, going to Cape Cod, reading whatever I wanted. We’d play in the woods, make forts, ride my horse. My sister and I would sit on the edge of the feed barrels in the barn and talk as we slid our bare feet in the cracked corn or slippery oats. Andy, our barn cat, might make an appearance. The goat would mill about, and the horse would swish away flies with her tail. Our feet were perpetually dirty, the sign of a life well-lived.


And then those katydids would start at night, and we were reminded that summer was winding down. Our mom would schedule a trip to Sears, where we’d get most of our back-to-school clothes: corduroys and sweaters, shirts with big collars, stiff new school shoes. In fact, that’s what those katydids seemed to say to me: “New school shoes. New school shoes.”

I’d reassure myself that summer was still flush, that I wouldn’t have to go back till September, and that I should put school out of my mind. But I also had to clean out my bureau, pass the clothes that no longer fit to my sister or cousins. Melancholy suffused on the air as thick as the August humidity.

Before my kids were school-age, I loved this time of year. Older kids would have to go back to school; I’d hear the hiss of the brakes on the school bus as the drivers practiced their routes, and I’d be smug with the knowledge that I’d have this time with my little ones. We’d go to the much less crowded Cape in September, not having to worry about making a left hand turn onto Route 6. No lines at Arnold’s or Ben & Jerry’s. Free parking at the beaches.

school bus

When it came time for my kids to go to school, it would take weeks for me to adjust to their absence. I would be excited for them, eager to hear their stories and watch them learn and grow. I’d remind myself that it was my job to raise them, not to keep them. I never wanted to be that mom who mourned that her children were growing. Still, I had an annual period of adjustment: the first half of September felt empty and strange until my writer’s brain kicked into gear. Digger, our first dog, would perk up exactly on time to go to the bottom of our long driveway and meet the bus. Autumn, the most beautiful season in New England, would seep into the leaves and cooler air.

flannery & declan

This year, the Princess starts working as an RN in a couple of weeks. After nineteen years of school, college, and graduate school, she has the career of her dreams. This is the first year in two decades when some form of school hasn’t been on her horizon.

Tomorrow, Dearest Son goes back to college for his senior year. We went shopping for his stuff the other day; he graciously lets me come on this annual pilgrimage, though he’s more than capable of driving himself and paying on his own. As we stood in line at Target, I said, “This is the last time we’ll be getting you back-to-school stuff.”

“Aw,” he said kindly. “Thank you for everything.” We hugged to the amusement of the check-out clerk.

Those dang katydids. They get me every year.


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