Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year. For the month of September, my family is blissfully on time in the morning. My four children are eager to learn and tend to get their homework done without much screaming or insistence.
The weather is crisp but warm – multicoloured leaves crunch under our feet as my husband and I hustle the children to school. I pray that whatever was thrown into their lunch bags is fresh and healthy and I insist each one take a sweatshirt that I know will end up on the floor of a classroom or at the bottom of a locker before long.
These hectic mornings are a little bit of stolen time. My children – 17, almost 16, 13 and almost 12 – are growing up so fast. I've been reminiscing on what we used to do during this time of year when they were younger, activities that I still enjoy but that they're growing out of.
My God, I loved our fall outings. I loved dressing my babies in matching Lopi sweaters and then heading off to farms and orchards. We would buy root vegetables from the farmer's market and collect overpriced apples in bushels that I would later frantically peel to make into applesauce that no one ever ate.
I vowed to use it in baking (though I don't bake), then leave it to collect in bags at the bottom of my freezer before falling into the same cinnamon-scented cycle the following year.
I had four children in five-and-a-half years and truthfully, a lot of those years are fuzzy. But I have sharp memories of tasting hay as I fell chasing a sprinting toddler through a cornfield maze, of hot apple cider being spilled on my jeans by pudgy little hands, of squeals of excitement when we visited an animal farm and the baby goats began eating the children's jackets.
It was sunny and happy and I felt like one of those outdoorsy parents, the ones who shop at Mountain Equipment Co-op. I felt connected to the earth and to the environment, and my children seemed to enjoy these times and the freedom of the outdoors.
They collected walking sticks and waved them dangerously in important lightsaber duels. Kind, suburban people with beautiful dogs walked past our rowdy crowd and greeted us politely.
I knew these special trips were coming to an end a few years ago, when my then-12-year-old daughter got dressed for a fall walk with her grandparents by putting her hair in a stylish high bun and donning something out of an H&M catalogue, choosing a pair of my boots to complete her outfit.
"You are serious?" I asked her. "Of course," she replied defiantly. At least she was interested in coming, I told myself. But when we got to a breathtaking viewpoint overlooking a wondrous array of multicoloured foliage, she ignored us to take about 17,000 photos.
I began to understand. This wasn't about her love of family adventures. This was for her Instagram account.
As the children grow older, their schedules and priorities change. I used to be activities director and chauffeur; now they scurry to sports tryouts and music clubs on their own after entering their commitments into our shared family Google calendar.
I haven't asked my children to come apple-picking with me in a while and it pulls at my heartstrings. My fall buddies have outgrown our fun in the leaves. My husband enjoys walks but hates cold wind and I was hesitant to go by myself because it feels like defeat.
Then I remembered how I craved alone time when things were more chaotic. I reminded myself that these days, when I see parents with young children, I thank my stars that the car-seat era is over and the only spills in my vehicle are my own.
I decided that it might be lovely to sit and enjoy a hot mug of cider in silence for once, so yesterday I went out to get some fall goodies by myself.
One of the things I brought home was a big bag of apples, to make an apple crumble with nutmeg and brown sugar, topped with extra French vanilla ice cream. It's something that I know my kids will dive into happily, eventually, when they get home.