I Am a Better Mom in the Fall

The other night, I stood at my back door with my face pressed up against the screen, inhaling deeply. It was a perfect crisp fall night, and the air was thick with the scent of fallen leaves and woodsmoke from a neighbor’s chimney.

“Theo! You gotta come smell this!” I yelled.

My six-year-old walked over reluctantly and gave a quick sniff. “Yup, that’s fall, alright,” he said, then turned to go back to drawing sharks or whatever.

“Wait!” I said, yanking him back and practically shoving him out onto the deck. “I mean really stick your head out here and breathe it all in. Isn’t that just (sniff) the most magical smell (sniff)… ever??”

“Smells like decaying leaves,” he said.

“Exactly!” I said, and returned to my sniffing.

Yes, I’m one of those—the fall-lovers. The annoying people who cheer at the first sight of a turning leaf and start posting memes of cats wearing scarves. As soon as the temp drops below 70,  I magically transform into Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, strolling through an autumnal fantasy land version of Central Park in my wool blazer and chunky-knit sweater.

I love the weather and the colors and the fact that I get to finally pack away my bathing suits and stop sucking in my stomach. I love apple picking and pumpkin picking and hayrides and Halloween. (The only thing I can’t get behind is pumpkin spice—not in my coffee or my body lotion, and especially not in my hummus. Sorry, fellow fall-lovers.)

If liking fall makes me basic, so be it. I am the mother of two young children and I haven’t left the house since 2012, so I’m proud of myself for even knowing that that’s a thing.

And speaking of being a mother, I am a GREAT mother in the fall. The best. Want to spend all day decorating the front yard with skeletons and fake spider webs? Let’s do it! Break out the Trader Joe’s Haunted House Chocolate Cookie Kit at 7am? I’m in! I’ll even look the other way while you squirt half the decorative frosting directly into your mouth. It’s fall, kids, and mommy is FUN.

A masterpiece!

I think the reason for this is primarily because I am just so glad to no longer be hot. Summer is ostensibly the “fun” season, but I, for one, find it really difficult to be a fun mom when my underwear is sweaty.

I often feel like a terrible mom in the summer, because I know I should be outdoors, doing fun outdoorsy things with my children. But some days I can’t even bring myself to push them on our backyard swings because it’s so. Freaking. Hot. My favorite summer activity is to send them out onto the deck to play with the water table while I sit in the air-conditioned kitchen looking at my phone.

Fall is when I come back to life and get a chance to redeem myself after my lazy summer parenting. And this fall I think I’ve been doing a bang-up job—possibly because this fall has been more stunning and magical than any in recent memory. Just about a week or so ago, the trees in our area really starting going for it, and the world has become distractingly beautiful. It makes me want to listen to Nick Drake while wearing all of my turtlenecks.

The yellows and reds are brighter than I ever remember seeing them (or do they just seem extra bright against the dreary backdrop of our dark, dark times?). Driving through town, I have to force myself to keep my eyes on the road and not get too caught up in the splendor of it all. It’s like a super-slow-motion fireworks display, or Cher’s Las Vegas show. Several times, I’ve wanted to pull over to the side of the road, get out of my car, and applaud.

And the pièce de résistance was yesterday, Sunday, which was as glittering and colorful a fall day as they come. Warm sun, clear blue sky, air cool enough for my cute new fall coat. Steven and I took the boys to the grounds of an old estate, whose terraced garden is like something out of a fairy tale. It’s all moss-covered stepping stones and grottoes and secret nooks, with lichen-splotched statues of lions and greyhounds overseeing it all. Walking through, I kept expecting a creature from Labyrinth to come bursting through the boxwood.

The boys frolicked along the paths, running and laughing and not whining even a little (kidding; there’s always whining). Later in the afternoon, we went to a park near our house to fly a remote-control airplane. As my husband made the little plane dip and soar over the hill, the kids ran back and forth following its path and laughing up into the sky. The setting sun cast long shadows that chased after them as they ran, and the trees glowed fiercely in the background. It was almost too much.

Fall is fleeting. Maybe I like it because I have a short attention span. Maybe it reminds me of the ephemerality of life and beauty, and it forces me to live in the moment. It’s so much like childhood; my boys are changing every minute. I have to pay attention, fix each moment in my mind, because the next time I look, they will be completely different. The babyish pronunciation will have vanished, the little curl at the back of the head smoothed out. Or maybe it’s just because I like wearing boots. It’s probably a little bit of both.

In any case, I figure I’ve got at least another week or two of peak parenting until the real cold sets in and holiday angst begins (when my mission to make Christmas magical ends up turning me into a monster). Hopefully my children will look back on our halcyon days of autumn with fondness, and forgive me for my flaws during the rest of the year.

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