What Does ‘Back to School’ Mean Now?

By | September 3, 2020

Welcome. It’s September and for many of us, that means a return to school, grappling with a changed schedule, in-person or remote or a hybrid of the two. Even for those who are not physically going back or sending children back to a classroom, the arrival of September is forever tied to a back-to-school mentality: new shoes, school supplies, waiting for the bus, a nervousness indistinguishable from excitement, the formless summer days traded for a little more rigor, a knuckling down, hours with a distinct armature to them.

This year, of course, is different. The view may be changing but the window is, for many of us, the same. We’re still at home, still reckoning with a world whose rules and realities are constantly shifting. The back-to-school mind-set arrives on time, but we’re still figuring out how our calendar-conditioned responses will function now.

Some would argue that the week before Labor Day is the true last gasp of summer, the final fling. It is, however you’re experiencing it, a good time to take stock. How is it going? What are you doing right now that you want to keep doing? Which habits do you want to continue, and which do you want to change? To the extent that you feel you can make plans for the fall, what do those plans look like? Tell us, please.

Thanks to all who wrote in to tell us about the people in their lives to whom they feel they should be “paying admission.”

  • Terri feels that way about her brother Jon: “He always makes me feel young, carefree, and the most me I ever am,” she wrote.

  • John wrote of a dear friend, “Knowing Dawn is like having an entree into a world that I feel is closed to the average person.”

  • Jane, on her friend Kim: “Time spent with her is freighted with the expectation of something magical in the offing. Like when you hear a new piece of music and know there’s going to be a thrilling syncopation or crescendo coming and you don’t know where — part of the thrill is the getting there.”

  • Lana would pay admission to know Dr. Smith, her family physician for 40 years.

  • For Tricia, it’s the policeman who investigated her daughter’s death and became a close friend.

  • Of a friend of her husband, Joan wrote, “Sitting at his feet is a huge privilege and a grand adventure, even though he occasionally makes me pee my pants.”

  • Taylor, on her friend Christina: “Even though I know she loves me, I often feel unworthy of her love because she loves so flawlessly.”

  • Amalyah, of her friend Sarah: “She is like if Cinderella’s fairy godmother was played by a Catholic Bette Midler and had the education of a man who ‘rowed at Oxford.’”

  • Lara leaves every conversation with her friend Anoush “armed with new knowledge in a subject I hadn’t anticipated discussing. She is my village.

  • And Zoe, in writing about her best friends, summed up what I think most of us feel about those people we would pay admission to know:

I think that at first, I felt like I should be “paying admission” because I felt unworthy — like what I could offer to them would never measure up to what they were giving to me, like I wasn’t fun enough or kind enough to be worth their time. I felt guilty, like I owed some kind of debt.

But I can see now that the beauty of the people that we feel we should be paying admission to know is that they don’t charge. They give, and they make us better for it. They love without thinking about what we might give them back in return, and in doing so, show us what we’re worth.

As always, more ideas for living a good life at home and near it appear below. Please write and let us know what you think and what you want to know: athome@nytimes.com. We’re At Home. We’ll read every letter sent.

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Credit…Carlos Zamora


Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Rebecca Jurkevich.
  • Yes, sandwiches are a mainstay of many a picnic menu, but there’s a wide world of portable, hand-held foods that are equally worth a spot on your checkered blanket. Try our recipes for calzones, Turkish pide and Eastern European piroshki.

  • If you have some stone fruit that’s about to go soft, Jerrelle Guy has a no-recipe recipe for an easy crumble that uses graham crackers or other cookies you have hiding in your pantry.

  • And Melissa Clark has created a summery meatball recipe served with a tangy pan sauce of ripe peaches and lime juice.

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