The season of August
My Why audio version of this blog available here.
August. Sigh. It’s a mixed bag.
But I'll start with some fun facts about August.
It’s my sixth blog in this series and the half-way point of my ‘To everything there is a season’ series. Interestingly, it used to by the sixth month of the year too. In the original Roman calendar, August was called Sextilis, Latin for ‘the sixth month’. But then January and February were added and it was renamed after Rome’s first emperor, Caesar Augustus. In a standard year, no other month starts on the same day as August. But in a leap year, August begins on the same day as February. Whereas whether it's a standard year or leap year, August always ends on the same day of the week as November (and I’ll be honest, my brain can’t work out how that even makes sense!). August is also the only name of a month that features among the top 1,000 men’s names, April and June being in the women’s top 1,000.
When I went looking for poems, quotes and sayings about August, I found there’s two very strong themes, sadly neither of which apply to me much.
The first is - Heat. Nice weather.
I suspect for a lot of people in the northern hemisphere August is the peak of summer and that's certainly the impression you get from the poem’s I’ve read. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, I believe it’s the equivalent of February.
However, as you know if you’ve heard anything I’ve ever written, the weather over here in the UK is, to put it politely, changeable. We had the hottest day ever in the UK a couple of weeks ago in July, hitting 40 degrees celsius (104 fahrenheit), and since then we’ve had a lot of very cloudy grey days, with the odd drizzle of rain. On the first of August we did have blue skies and sunshine which was lovely and 24 degrees celsius (75 fahrenheit), which is a standard nice summer day for us. However, as I looked at my weather app that morning it was predicting a grey rainy week ahead, then when I opened the app in the afternoon I was looking at a nice, albeit cloudy, couple of weeks ahead, and that will be completely different again by the time this episode goes out. If I were to open the app and look at a reliable sunny holiday destination like Turkey, it predicts solid sunshine as far ahead as the app will scrolls and sunny temperatures in the 30’s (90’s fahrenheit). Lucky them.
For some countries August is indeed the peak for weather. In fact, according to the Met Office some of the hottest places to visit in August are: Las Vegas, Marrakech, Sicily, Kos, Cairo etc, which all get temperatures up in the late 30’s. And having visited Las Vegas in September, in what felt like it must be its full heat, I can definitely see why it’s the top on the list, I have never been anywhere that stayed so hot after the sun went down. Nor have we walked anywhere else in the world and we had to stop in almost every shop along the street just to get into some air conditioning for a break. Except Dubai, but that was so hot at 46 degrees celsius (115 fahrenheit) that we just stayed indoors, even the camera refused to open its lens outside of the air conditioning.
Here are some poem verses about August:
August, by Annette Wynne August days are hot and still, Not a breath on house or hill, Not a breath on height or plain, Weary travellers cry for rain; But the children quickly find A shady place quite to their mind; And there all quietly they stay, Until the sun has gone away,— August is too hot for play!
An August Cricket, by Arthur Goodenough When August days are hot and long. And the August hills are hazy, And clouds are slow and winds also, And brooks are low and lazy
The quiet August noon has come; A slumberous silence fills the sky; The winds are still, the trees are dumb, In glassy sleep the waters lie. William Cullen Bryant
These paint pictures of somewhere I’d like to spend a hot August, in the shade, with my feet in a brook - nothing to do - that’ll be my little patch of Heaven if anyone wants to come join me (but you have to sit quietly!). In fact 10th August is actually National Lazy Day.
However, despite the sun of August, there’s also a reminder there for us all.
August is that last flicker of fun and heat before everything fades and dies. The final moments of fun before the freeze. In the winter, everything changes. Rasmenia Massoud
August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time. Sylvia Plath
Beyond the next four weeks lies September, a month of new school terms, slightly cooler weather (although it can still be lovely in the UK) and hints of autumn heading our way. Reminding us that with every beginning, starts an ending.
But, we’re not there yet, and that's for next month, before that there is the second theme of August I found. If Heat is the first, Holidays is the second.
In August most of Europe goes on holiday. Tony Visconti
Now I know the school term times differ in different countries and hemisphere’s, which makes sense because summer changes depending on where you live. However, in the UK we run our school terms from the beginning of September to July. Therefore, August is the only month of the year where there are no school days.
The six week school holidays are held across July, August and into September, making it both a blessing and a curse for August birthdays.
Blessing - as a child you’re never at school on your birthday.
Curse - as a child you’re never at school on your birthday, meaning you watch all the other kids occasionally getting celebrated and miss out.
Possible curse - you’re one of the youngest in your year.
Blessing - as an adult you’re one of the youngest in your friend groups - so this shifts from not always ideal to very satisfying and smug.
Unless your parents kept you back a year from starting school, but that’s a whole other debate I’ll leave to parents.
As a July baby I only have good things to say about my birthday time of the year, unlike one of my friends whose birthday often fell on the first day back in September - got be the worst day for a birthday at school ever! Although she did love stationary and it is officially the best day of the year for new stationary, so you see, there’s always some good to be found.
So August is a time for children being off school and a few smug teachers floating around on their long six week break. And the knock-on effect of this second theme of 'holidays' is:
Social media and communication erupts into happy looking holiday pictures and family units spending time together
Friends with children are less free if you want to see them alone as adults, possibly more free if you want to see them with the children
Holidays or any kind of break is more expensive during school holidays, so even if it is the best time for weather, it’s not the best time to go away if you don’t have to
Annual leave is harder to book for some people without children because parents want/need it and overall the demand for August dates is high
Anywhere you might want to go and visit is waaay busier because it’s the holidays; tourist attractions, swimming pools, parks, zoos, IKEA etc.
And the one I find hardest, especially if I’m having a bad time with my hormones and noises are triggering me a bit. Kids outside screaming loudly. I do actually genuinely struggle with this at times. I have vivid memories of my mum telling us we had to play quietly in the garden because I quote ‘the neighbours don’t want to hear you screaming’. Turns out she was right. We don’t. I’ll show you what this has led me to - I actually had to hide under a duvet in the heat last week, with a laptop and a different microphone to try and record anything without screaming in the background. It penetrated closed windows and giant pieces of foam fitted into the window areas. Usually this happens at set times (after school and before tea time) but now it could happen at any time of day or all day. This summer and last summer I’ve tried to sit in my lovely new garden and enjoy the water fountain on the pond, but to do it I’ve had to wear noise cancelling headphones playing the sound of water to drown out kids shouting and screaming. And have I said anything to anyone about it - what do you think? I’m British.
So that's the main theme of my August research, heat and holidays. But I don’t want to be down on August, I really do want to tease out some of the beautiful things, and of course, there is a lot going on that’s amazing in nature at this time of year. Only yesterday Chris and I went for a walk locally and nearly stood on a snake, which was chasing a frog that had been bitten. Hmm. But seriously, the garden feels like it’s at a turning point, some plants that flowered in spring have stopped and are starting to die back, some that flower in summer are only just starting to bloom, the heat has caused some issues with other plants, but our pond is looking more settled than ever, which is great to see. The hedgehogs are visiting every night like clockwork and at least four or five come through the hedgehog highway with a small rattle of stones to announce their arrival (as in, that’s what they step onto, not that they are actually rattling stones in a jar or anything). We’ve seen Bullfinches in the garden and we now have a family of Goldfinches that visit, which is extra exciting because the name of our road has the word ‘goldfinch’ in it.
I love borders. August is the border between summer and autumn; it is the most beautiful month I know. Tove Jansson
So there’s a lot of good stuff happening, but even so…
If I had to pinpoint what August does in my world, I would say, unintentionally and through no fault of its own, as a childless person, August is almost everything you don’t want to be reminded of. Ultimately I've noticed recently this month feels like it tries to define me and creates questions I don’t want to look at.
August brings into sharp focus and a furious boil everything I've been listening to in the late spring and summer. Henry Rollins
So what do I mean by questions, well, it prompts questions in me like:
If I can’t enjoy my garden or do my writing or podcasting in silence - do we need to move house?
Are we enough as a two?
When I look at families on holiday enjoying time together. Are our life choices enough for us?
Will we ever get over what we’re missing out on?
Can we sustain the peace we have long-term or will watching what we don’t have, and living around it, eventually break us?
Am I less of a human because I don’t ever hear a child calling for me, or needing me in any way?
Am I more dispensable?
What does it feel like to have parts of your year change and your family be around you as a bigger unit during the day when they’re home from school?
Without the play element in our life of children, will we grow too serious and bitter?
Does it get worse when our friends are grandparents, because it’s an even better role than parenting to enjoy?
Would people invite us to do things with them more if we had children?
Are we missing out on friendships and connections because we don’t have children?
And for anyone that knows me well, you’ll know these aren’t needless questions that I pluck out of thin air and try on for size. These stem from watching the experiences of others with or without children. They come from places inside me that are desperately trying to stay soft and not harden up, while taking a pounding at the same time. They come from trying to walk the balance of staying involved as others have suggested, requested or even insisted we do, and being hurt more in the process.
Then there are the questions from others that come in August:
Are you going away?
Do you have any plans over the next few weeks?
What are you doing for the holidays?
These come with a side of other comments:
Must be nice to not have to go away in August.
Urgh, can’t wait till they go back to school.
It’s so lovely to have quality time with the children at home and us all together.
Nothing about August changes our household, but we live in a society now that seems to think the school terms apply to everyone. We even build communities around it. Since our childless journey started I’ve found it hard how communities like churches often work around school terms, with the assumption no one will be around over the school holidays, and I’ve known single and childless people leave the church for that reason.
So as things shift and get quieter in some aspects of my life and busier in other areas (like zoos and tourist attractions, that I will mostly avoid!) I feel like I’m left answering questions, for myself and from others.
Yes, it’s possible to have a full life without children.
No, I’ll never get over it and will carry the grief and pain of that to some extent until I die.
Yes, we have the freedom to go away when it’s quieter and cheaper.
No, we’re not going away this month - it’s just a normal working month for us.
Yes, if we had children we’d have more invites and things to do.
No, those friendships wouldn’t necessarily be built on anything but children getting together, but surely that’s better than none? (some questions create more questions!)
Yes, I may need to think about moving house at some point.
No, I won’t be making the garden child-friendly, it’ll be wildlife friendly with things that sting and things with spikes.
Yes, August causes me to question a lot.
No, I won’t let it make me bitter and sad.
Yes, this is a lot of statements you didn’t ask for.
No, this isn’t the last one.
Yes, I will finish on a happier note.
Well, I say happier note, I don’t owe it to anyone to find a happy note to finish on, but equally I never want anyone to believe there is no hope in a situation.
I’m beginning to understand Al Aronowitz when he said:
August is the month when wars start. It’s when the water dries up and the spirit begins to wither. Insomniacs pull down their shades and lock themselves in their rooms in August. Lifelong friends have fist fights. People feel like they’re going to burst. Sometimes they do. Al Aronowitz
There is always hope, even if we can’t always find it for ourselves, we can offer it to others. I never want anyone to hear my story of a childless life and for it to negatively impact their own in any way, or cause fear in anyone that worries it might be them one day. This is why I’m doing the podcast; listening to life stories of people who have been through trials, been heartache, pain, grief, but who have still got the courage to stand up and say - this is my story, it’s not easy, but it’s mine and I’m turning it into something that will help others. And that’s all the inspiration I need to keep going. Stories of loss and grief always inspire me, always motivate me, always help me, they’ve never depressed me. The only tears I’ve shed through meeting our guests are through feeling the pain of their situation and having been so touched that they’d want to share it with others to bring hope.
But equally I don’t have the answers to many of these questions I’m posing and that come at me.
I don’t know why children didn’t happen for us (in any form).
I don’t know why my health has struggled for so long.
I don’t know why, having a pretty good head on my shoulders, I haven’t found my niche in life or a career and I currently earn about £4 a month.
I don’t know how to just move past those days when I feel like a failure.
I don’t know how to find joy in other things or why the joy of a family is yet to be replaced with something else in our lives.
I don’t know why I finished my book the same time as the rest of the world during Covid and I have no idea where to take it next.
I don’t fully know who I am or how people see me, and when I come up against all the things I don’t know, I have to look at what I do know.
I do know that I love it when I catch a glimmer of blue sky and it’s more special because it’s rare.
I do know I love podcasting and helping people learn about loss and work through their grief, even if it takes all my hours and pays nothing back in money.
I do know I love to write fiction and one day, if I have to sit and print it and bind it myself, I’ll see it look like a book.
I do know I love my husband, my best friend, and he makes me laugh every day.
I do know I want to make him proud and so I will never give up on finding solutions for health issues, for a job I enjoy, to be the best wife I can be.
I do know I’m loved by God and, frustrating as it is at times, there’s a plan for my life.
I do know I appreciate you listening right now and even though I might not know you, I love you for it.
I do know I love strawberries and August is great for them.
I do know marzipan will always be there for me, even if I can’t always afford it.
I do know I could go on for longer but I need to finish this list.
So, rather than the lazy, hazy summer days most poems portray about August, I find it to be a time of questions, pondering, challenge and confusion, which is interesting in itself, because I’d never realised that before. And having come to this realisation it’s made me determined to find ways to enjoy August while it’s here, because it doesn’t last for long and I don’t want my inner turmoil to be what dictates my outer enjoyment.
What you do today can improve all your tomorrows. Ralph Marston