Back To School

Growing up, I always enjoyed the up and down patterns of work and play.

Back to school in the fall, a solid winter break, back to school for winter and spring, and then a long summer break.

Just as you were getting burnt out on school, a break would come along.

By the end of the summer, you were ready to go back to school and there was an excitement about it.

That doesn’t exist so much in the adult work environment unless you live in parts of the world where a long summer break is part of the picture.

As The Gotham Gal and I have moved beyond our child-rearing years, and found a way to work from wherever we are, we are recreating that childhood rhythm for ourselves.

We are wrapping up our summer today and heading back to the fall season in NYC.

It’s a bit like that back to school feeling, with a new lunchbox, some new clothes, the possibility of some new friends, and an excitement about all of that.

#life lessons

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    Love this.The patterns that enforce the seasonality of it all.It’s beautiful in NY this morning.

  2. JimHirshfield

    Have a good breakfast and sharpen your pencils. Safe travels.

    1. Pointsandfigures

      The kids today just use a stylus. Pencils are passe

      1. JimHirshfield

        Yes. You put your finger on it.

        1. kenberger

          you make a sharp get the lead out.

  3. William Mougayar

    Work is a bit like school, except that you get paid for it. But at work, you are your own teacher.

    1. Mac

      My grandmother grew up on a large dairy farm in Edmundton. Later in life, as an artist, she painted beautiful scenes of the Canadian Rockies depicting the seasonal changes. She often spoke of the bitterly cold winters, the freezing school rooms and the very brief relief summer brought.

      1. JamesHRH

        Grandma must have been getting cranky in her old age.Spring and summer in and around Edmonton are spectacular: some heat, some big storms and nothing beats the surge of spring green after winter.

        1. Mac

          Ha! She loved it. Reflected in her paintings. As a child, growing up on a large dairy farm in the early 1900s, she enjoyed telling her grandchildren the stories of doing chores in the winter months. Eventually, her eight siblings started wintering in Arizona.Even though she moved south in the 20’s, she continued to go back and visit. Always proud of her native home. It is a beautiful part of Canada.

    2. LE

      Well one big difference though is if you work for yourself. With that you don’t have someone else setting the agenda or deciding what you should do with your time. It’s all self directed and self motivated. That was actually a big goal of mine in life which I was able to achieve right out of college. . To essentially not have someone else deciding what I should be doing with my time. And to be able to pretty much (with rare exceptions) do what makes me happy. Sure you have deadlines that exist but they tend to be ones that you have decided on your own you want and most importantly you only answer to people who are customers. And in the right business none of them are so important that you have to make yourself unhappy catering to any one individual customer. You can say ‘go away’ if you want (wasn’t the case in my first business so I worked to not be in that situation again..)I work all the time. Like every day. But it’s of my own choosing. Nobody is making me work on a particular day or any amount of hours. As such I am able to feel as if I am pretty much fully in control and that type of control (at least for me) leads to a great deal of happiness and pleasure.And I don’t think that pay has a great deal to do with it. You couldn’t pay me to be happy sitting in synagogue. You couldn’t pay me to be happy sitting through a long ceremony and listing to speeches. For that matter you couldn’t pay me to write disqus comments either although I do that w/o pay. But I decide what motivates me and go with that. I get paid now for doing something that I started doing at no charge because I enjoyed it so much.To me at least I was never happier than when school ended. And to your point I have to say that being ‘your own teacher’ is a really large part of that happiness at least for the ways that I typically learn things. Hated the classroom. Hated assignments. Hated all of that. (But that dislike ended up being a great motivator).

      1. William Mougayar

        Yup. self-employed = self-taught of course. Freedom is amazing once you taste it.

  4. Alex P

    There’s a short essay I really love on this topic. It challenges our achievement-centric, always-on culture with a more naturalistic outlook:”It’s normal to not have the same level of motivation in winter as you have in summer. There’s a reason that bears go into hibernation, rodents burrow underground, and old animals die this time of year.From a symbolic perspective, winter is a period of death. This is terrifying to our culture as most people are terrified of death and don’t want to talk about it.I’m going to try and paint it in a different light.Throughout Spring, Summer, and Autumn, we spend a lot more time doing things, accumulating experience, and hopefully learning. But to learn, a part of you has to die. You have to let your old understanding of the world die so that it can be updated to fit your new experiences.”…

  5. Thierry Ascarez

    Love this feeling too, change is good and new excitements to start again.

  6. Mac

    Seasonal changes are some of the wonderful anchors of life. Hope it’s been a good summer for all.

  7. Tom Labus

    Summer always seems to slip by so fast. This cycle is very ingrained in all us regardless of age.

  8. Pointsandfigures

    Did you get some new khaki’s a and a couple of new shirts?

    1. JimHirshfield

      Knee high white athletic socks, NY Jets logo.

  9. kenberger

    I love the cycle concept you mean, as an adult in the 2010’s, where I can and do move my family to change the weather and we indeed custom make our own schedules, like you describe.But I HATED the “Back to School!” phrase and everything about it, growing up on Long Island in the public school system. Insult to injury as a TV-centric kid, hearing all the commercials starting in the middle of summer.It meant: the coming of cold, and then brutal cold. And darkness. Loss of freedom. And the mostly awful experience that 70s and 80s public schools was. And I went to certainly one of the *better* ones.School is in need of a MAJOR disruption/overhaul, etc. Bright side is there is innovation happening around that. Can’t come soon enough to shield it from my child(ren).PS: anyone listened to The Smiths’ “The Headmaster Ritual” knows what I mean:Lyrics:…Video:

    1. LE

      But I HATED the “Back to School!” phrase and everything about it, growing up on Long Island in the public school system. Insult to injury as a TV-centric kid, hearing all the commercials starting in the middle of summer.100% agree on that one.It meant: the coming of cold, and then brutal cold. And darkness. Loss of freedom. And the mostly awful experience that 70s and 80s public schools was. And I went to certainly one of the *better* ones. Once again 100% agree. Funny how things have changed though. My kids are already out of college. But my stepkids are in middle and high school. The high school kid started today. But he was up very late last night (checked on him with remote screen sharing; he thinks he is a genius and is hiding it from us) watching gaming videos (others playing Fortnite). I can’t even imagine doing a similar thing when I was in school. Both kids do very well in school and have no anxiety about it at all that I can tell. Loss of freedom? He is 16 and isn’t even interested in getting his learner’s permit and starting to drive. Back in my day we counted down until we could drive. I my license less than a week after turning 16. I was practicing prior to that date and would constantly bother my Dad to take me to parking lots. It was a major life change to be able to drive.School is in need of a MAJOR disruption/overhaul, etc. Bright side is there is innovation happening around that. Can’t come soon enough to shield it from my child(ren).Major agreement on that as well. They are stuck in whatever they have been doing for the last 100 years. It’s like there is this entire new world and information.

      1. kenberger

        Re the driving: same here. Any theories on why the change, *IF* you think your son is indicative of these days.Rise of ride sharing?

        1. LE

          Rise of ride sharing? Nope. Rise of parents of a different mindset in terms of how they relate to children. As a group of course. Because the group always will determine typically what an individual parent will be doing.Also how they spend their time to keep busy very important they are ‘occupied’. Online attractions. And it’s terrible.For whatever reason parents think of computer usage differently than our parents thought of watching tv. I grew up w/o a tv in my room. When my stepkids were younger I got my wife to agree to remove the tv’s from their rooms. That was replaced a few years later with laptops and iphones and ipads (used for and issued by school). And those aren’t policed the same. That’s not me btw. If I was making the rules I would police it. But my wife (a generation younger or more) thinks differently about these things. And since she was ‘raised by woves’ and ended up being a high achiever she thinks things will just work out. This is also bolstered by the fact that they do so well in school. Like really well. That wouldn’t matter to me though. I’d still bust them if it didn’t create the potential for fights in the family (and me being viewed as the bad guy). Why bust them? Because if they have that excess capacity they should be using it for more than fluff. Fluff will not keep them going later on in life. Stupid sitcoms and stupid online games.The thing is there was no plausible deniability with watching TV. But with computers/laptops/cell phones there is. It’s not in your face in the same way. It doesn’t (important) disturb anyone else). So it’s below the radar of the house.Oh my point I forgot to make. So since they are so occupied with social media and entertainment devices they are less likely to get bored and want to escape ‘the zone’ they are in. They are fully occupied just like a person at the Casino table ignoring the sunny weather outside (or a man watching the tennis game).Now when I was growing up it was grey and there was little tv watching and so you got bored and then you tried to fix that boredom. I did things like photography and so on. Or you tried to earn money. Why? Because your parents were cheap and didn’t spoil you. And your parents were not catering to your ever need. You had to find a way to do things. Plus parents (at least the ones that I knew) were not your friends and didn’t cater to you. So sure you wanted to escape that and one of the ways was by driving. So my point is that kids have less reason to escape at least the ones that I observe and interact with. And even more important the vast majority of other kids they observe aren’t rushing to drive because they are feeling pretty good day to day with Mom and Dad making it ‘all about them’. That is the way I see it anyway and I have to say I think I am correct about this.Adversity that we had growing up (or at least I had) doesn’t exist the same way it did. No way. Meanwhile the world is actually long term going to be a harder place.Just read about the decline in NFL TV watching and its being driven by lack of interest by young people and more or less agrees with my theory here.To anyone young out there. How boring was it? People had stamp collections and coin collections and train sets in the basement. Can you imagine that today? But that boredom actually served as a motivation to go and do and have a more exciting life.

          1. sigmaalgebra

            Suggestion: If the kids are going to watch stuff online — news, interviews, games, video clips, old movies, etc. — say that for some fraction they should write an essay on what they noticed that was special in what they watched, e.g., why the game went as it did, what was going on one level deeper in the news or interview, why a movie was good or bad as art, e.g., as above How Green Was My Valley. Sure, you and your wife review the essays but also get some English teachers, HS or college to review some of them, too.So, teach some about thinking what are seeing, art, and writing to describe what noticed — learn more about how to see and communicate, STEM fields, okay, but, really, especially about PEOPLE.Just a suggestion.

          2. LE

            they should write an essay on what they noticed that was specialI already tried that (a few variations actually) but my wife would not support the initiative unfortunately. (Remember also that I am the one who gets the kitchen cleaned by the kids and other chores so it wasn’t for lack of wanting to do battle. But this is one I wasn’t willing to fight against the other decision maker).

          3. Jim Peterson

            Lots of good nuggets in here.

  10. François Flt

    Feels good to remember that childhood’s cycle and that excitement before discovering your new teachers and new schoolmates. But honestly I do think most of us didn’t really enjoy the “back to school moment” – lots of unknown people, requirements and so on.On that topic, what’s your policy in terms of work/email/social media during vacation time? How much do you really disconnect and what connection do you keep?

  11. Girish Mehta

    Autumn (The Four Seasons, Vivaldi). Julia Fischer. Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Thanks. A good find. I’d found only her performance, with a different orchestra, of “Winter”.On that performance of “Winter” and here her playing is really good except in many places excellent.Good violin playing is tough to pull off: First have basically to find the notes and sound them in time and in tune. On challenging solo violin music, often the in tune part is tough — some of the world’s best violinists struggled with intonation all their careers. Second have to make it all actual music, that is, good art. Here violin shows its huge advantage — it’s by far the closest to the expressiveness of the human voice. E.g., if want to scream out the passion of the human spirit but don’t have a singing voice, then violin is an alternative! Third, apparently something like handwriting, in the end a lot of the art is just individual from practice, yes, but also from just subtle things about personality only partly under the control of the violinist. That is, some of the best violin soloists sound individual apparently heavily just from their personalities; tough for a solo violinist to hide all their personality.Fischer and the video provide a good, first lesson in violin, especially on some of the first challenges for a student: How to hold the violin at the shoulder, what to do with the left hand, both holding the violin and fingering the notes, how to hold the bow, how to use the right arm and wrist to control what the bow does on the strings, how the bow looks on the strings close to the bridge, how to stand (there is a common curve to the lower back, standing or sitting) — all really good stuff. E.g., can see that the first joint in the left thumb is curved toward the palm of the hand, that is, is NOT bent back. Also the violin is mostly held at the shoulder, NOT with the left hand or left thumb. Want the left hand to be quite free to move up and down the strings, including at times over half way to the bridge. For holding the bow, she varies, which is unusual, between essentially Russian and German: The German approach has the fingers essentially perpendicular to the bow; then the little finger is in good contact with the bow. The Russian approach is to have the fingers at an angle to the bow so that the second joint of the index finger has good contact with the bow and good ability to press the bow onto the strings but the little finger has a tough time being in contact with the bow or helping lift the bow from the strings. Also by rotating the bow about its long axis, get to vary the width of the bow hair in contact with the strings. She is using a shoulder rest of a style that became popular less than 100 years ago. It’s a DARNED good idea. The ones I got were from Sweden; maybe most of them still are; maybe they were invented there. You get to hear the character of the sound she makes; nicely complex and warm instead of just brilliant, and a little about how she achieves that sound. A lot of this sound is, of course, from the violin itself but quite a lot is from the strings (brand, construction technique, diameter — get to select different diameters), bow rosin, and bow speed and pressure. If listen carefully, will hear how she modulates the sound of each note, the start, middle, and end of the note, and sometimes modulates within a note — all part of the expressive possibilities for a good violinist. And get better than a front row seat at how she creates and uses vibrato. In at least one place, get to see, with some quiet music, the little piece of black rubber clipped on the bridge. Otherwise usually it is just stored close to the tail piece and between the two center strings. GOOD first violin lessons!!!The next lesson for a beginning student is to know what strings make what notes. From low to high pitch, the notes are G, D, A, and E, across the violin, with the G to the violinist’s left and the E to the right. Then the student needs to start to understand the crucial role of some ratios of small whole numbers, especially 1/2 and 1/3. The next are the scales — D major, A major, and E major to start, then G major, that is, for each of the four strings, the major scale starting on that string. Getting the intonation right for the scale of F major is harder! Then with some good equipment, encouragement, examples (this video is an excellent example), desire, practice, music the violinist really loves to work on, maybe The Four Seasons, some hours a day for some years, some talent, some other student musicians for occasional, small concerts, and then some MUSIC!!!!It should be fun for the student, a LOT of fun!! Once at Christmas I was practicing the Bach Chaconne and a niece, middle school, brilliant, came to watch. I put my violin in position on her left shoulder and helped her make a few sounds. The next day her father asked me “How much is a violin going to cost me?”. Her parents had been trying for years with zero success to get her started with music, e.g., piano — MUCH easier to start — and I was successful right away. What she saw with me, but not from her parents, was that I REALLY liked the music AND the practice toward making the music. E.g., the music in the Bach Chaconne is so good that each few notes or bars learn to play, certainly a whole page of the five in the sheet music, is more fun than should be legal!!!!Besides, tend to meet some relatively nice people playing violin in classical music!!!! Some parents, and maybe Vivaldi himself, have noticed that getting good with violin can keep a teenage girl really busy at activities MUCH better than some common alternatives — good for the boys, too.Besides, when can get to play a piece reasonably well, it’s a LOT of fun!Vivaldi was early, before Bach, Mozart, …, and is not the most challenging, expressive, or passionate violin music. Still, the Four Seasons done well — and Fischer does them well, clearly one of the best, not easy to do — is darned good music.Once at a nice dinner party, the question was what do we like. My answer about being 70 miles north of Wall Street was the four seasons, not really Vivaldi but the actual weather. It’s still nice.

    2. JLM

      .Great stuff.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  12. Adam Parish

    In the middle of school rearing years. Glad to see others that made it. Some days, even at the start of a new cycle, can be exhausting.

  13. DJL

    Very poetic. I am still in child-raising years, but getting them back to school makes it feel like Fall – even when it is still 95 in the shade!

  14. Chris Walton

    This post made me smile, thanks Fred.

  15. sigmaalgebra

    That you and GG do that so well together still now makes everything you or both of you have done with USV at best a distant second. Congrats.

  16. Jeremy Shatan

    I’m in the “college drop-off” years and am still somewhat exhausted, mentally and emotionally, from last month’s activities! But it’s all part of getting your kids where you want them to be and they are both making me very proud.My “Birth School Work Death” playlist has some appropriate songs for the moment:

  17. PhilipSugar

    Since we are doing songs Darius Rucker who now sings country has this great song. I walk the dog every morning and today as I went past the Elementary School I watched Kindergarteners clinging to their parents legs and crying as they went for their first day. Brought a tear to my eye:

  18. jason wright

    i saw a squirrel burying a nut at the weekend. a sure sign…that it has no faith in a Brexit Britain and is planning accordingly.

  19. Lawrence Brass

    Echoes of childhood can be very powerful.In this part of the world, the thaw came two weeks ago, it brought the bloom to the cherry trees sprinkled throughout the city. The perfume, the warmth of the sun. Still chills under the shade.Some 40 years ago I was walking this same streets going back home, the perfume of the trees mixed with the scent of onions frying in a distant saucepan. Far away a dog barked. Neighborhood, Family, Mom, Love.It takes a walk at sunset in this season and if I am lucky, I can get it again. It never fails to take me back there and making me happy.

    1. Girish Mehta

      Wonderful comment Lawrence. From the seasons of the year — to the seasons of life.Your phrase “Echoes of childhood”…John Ford captured that feeling here.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        That’s a tough movie to watch. That Ford saw that story, understood it so deeply, and got it up on the screen so that millions of other people could see it is amazing — his insight into the human condition was astounding.REALLY nice choral music at the end! And with Maureen O’Hara, one of Hollywood’s best. The dark fence posts, the grandfather and son — art that even a mathematician can like. The challenge, of course, was getting all that up on the screen.Note to Netflix and people interested in AR and VR for entertainment: Tough, super tough, to improve on John Ford and the rest of the best of those years in Hollywood. In one word, the issue is the art. So, all the fancy stuff is highly optional or even distracting: E.g., that clip is in just black and white and in a small window of a Web browser but, still, is about as good as it gets. John Ford, etc. REALLY knew about people, emotions, and art as in “communication, interpretation of human experience, emotion”. In his time, without FX, AR, VR, he had everything he needed to do that art. The basic nature of that art has not changed, and doing better at that work than Ford, etc. won’t happen very often.

      2. Lawrence Brass

        Thank you Girish. Isn’t language beautiful? The fact that it can be used to share emotions thrills me. I wish I had the time to read more, to write more.. other than code that is.AVC is enjoyable to read thanks to generous writers as you.So its 5 AM and I am watching the movie.

        1. Girish Mehta

          I think you might like it.

    2. JLM

      .As an Army brat, I didn’t have a huge connection with anywhere, but I remember my first day at VMI.I had taken the bus from Asbury Park NJ. I had been sick in every little town in the Shendoah Valley from Winchester to Lexington. Combination of nerves and motion sickness.One of my soon to be Brother Rats (classmates) held my head out of the toilet on the bus for about 200 miles.I was the first Rat to matriculate – sign the book. For an hour or so, the only Rat the upperclassmen had to torture was me.The parade ground had just been freshly mown and the air was rife with the smell of the fresh mown grass. It was like perfume.By noon, I’d likely done 300 pushups – they could only make you do 10 at a time. After noon, I probably only did an additional 100 or so because there were another 400 Rats requiring a bit of torture.Whenever I smell fresh mown grass, I instinctively get ready to do pushups. Then, I laugh and realize I am not 18 years old and at VMI in the Shenandoah Valley, but I remember it.It was a turning point in my life. I was nudged in a direction which changed my life.Fresh mown grass. Every. Fucking. Time.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Lawrence Brass

        This is the chapter opening of your life in the Army! I enjoy your life stories very much señor Jeff. Looking forward to write a chapter together.Fresh mown grass is so good. In my head it has to do with Mondays.

        1. PhilipSugar

          For me it brings back memories of my first business.I just cut the grass last night. People wonder why I do it. There is nothing better than trimming the perimeter, cutting in perfectly straight rows, and using a blower to clean up, then go take a shower. Slept so well.

      2. Girish Mehta

        That smell is a distress signal. It activates defensive compounds as well as summons help.Apparently there is some research happening in College Station -…

  20. LE

    By the end of the summer, you were ready to go back to school and there was an excitement about it.Excitement? We need to do a poll on that one.

  21. Dan T

    Unless you really love the beach and/or watersports, you should not live in Florida year-round – like I do. I never realized how much I would miss the seasons. Making up for it by visiting my kids at college outside the state and other trips.

    1. LE

      Don’t say that. Please don’t say that!And by the way you are doing what people often do years later upon breaking off a relationship. What is that? Remember the good and forgetting the bad.Nobody said that having nicer weather more days of the year was going to make you happy. But avoiding days that are bleak and dreary I would imagine goes a long way.One other thing. The summer here is so short that you end up only having a nominal amount of nice days and then it’s waiting another 7 or 8 months for the next summer to come around. And if you have a shore place it’s a big expense for the amount of days you actually get to use it (when no important events prevent you from using it my personal peeve).In support of what you are saying though I have to admit that there is quite a bump that you get after suffering through rainy weather or cloudy weather etc. Of course Florida has a great deal of rain. But in the course of a year I would imagine that you end up with enough nice weather that it makes less of a difference than it does further up the coast.

      1. Dan T

        There is a lot of Florida I like: tennis and golf all year long, beach rugby, awesome seafood (best from friends that catch more than they can eat) and people visit here a lot. I’m happy here, just miss seasons and look forward to spending PART of the year not here – especially summer 🙂

      2. PhilipSugar


    2. sigmaalgebra

      I was born in Florida, and for years Mom told me lots of really special things about the place, things she remembered most strongly: Sand, lots of sand. Heat and humidity, e.g., double 100s, 100 F and 100% — then as a result, frequent summer thunderstorms. Due to all the rain, there’s water everywhere, a lot of it flowing toward the oceans. Insects, lots and lots of really big, aggressive, everywhere insects. Molds — anything wet for more than an hour gets a layer of mold. Then, worms, shellfish, fish, reptiles, birds, e.g., snakes, some really big, alligators, some really big. But don’t forget the scenery — lakes, rivers, and swamps, especially swamps. For some of the swamps, commonly people entered in a small boat and were never heard from again, not even the boat. Did I mention insects, flies, wide variety, and mosquitoes, apparently millions of tons of mosquitoes, it seemed like half of them in our back yard! Then there is the geology — that is, underground rivers and lots of sinkholes. Basically the whole state is just a sand bar. But are never quite sure just what the boundaries are because the oceans keep moving the sand. Yes, the thunderstorms start in spring — can do tricky things with parked airplanes and roof shingles, but the real fun is later — hurricanes, and one of those can do tricky things with whole roofs, for the whole neighborhood along with the garages, trees, and houses.Dad found three things to like: Seaside seafood restaurants, Bass fishing, and catching shrimp 40 gallons or so at a time. In the early evening, find a good place on a dock, light a lantern, throw in a big, fine mesh, weighted net and some dough balls, pop some brewskis, tell some fish stories, pull up the net, dump the contents into a big washtub, and repeat. Go home when have no more washtubs or no more beer, whichever comes first!There were three things I liked, hush puppies with butter in the seafood restaurants, grapefruit, and, best of all, orange juice, the last two sold fresh off the tree in the handy one bushel size!Here in NYS, at my local convenience store I still have a tough time passing up the small, convenient, single serving 1 gallon size carton of orange juice!!! Successfully resisted yesterday but last week guzzled one in a few minutes. GOOD!!!

  22. John Revay

    A new lunch box #priceless

  23. MikePLewis

    Fred – would love to hear more about your yearly cadence and where/when/why you move around. Sounds like West coast in the winter and somewhere else in the summer. Am curious

  24. David Albrecht

    I’m sure many already know this, but the French have “la rentrée” – the reentry – a society-wide celebration of “the time when the kids go back to school”. It’s a sort of mini new year, when new things start, new initiatives get kicked off at work, and folks take a moment to take a “fresh start” and get off on the right foot.I’ve always liked that, even though I’m American.

  25. Donna Brewington White

    New school clothes. Yassss!I am in France. The clothes here are absolutely amazing! But this is not a shopping trip.

  26. Chema Echanove

    Mr. Wilson, Fred, mate …. you inspires …. much more beyond a clever post. Inspiration is beyond that ! Bless you