It is 7:30pm, it is dark, and, unbelievably, it is 108 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 42.2 degrees Centigrade for my friends back home – and no, dad, I didn’t do the mental arithmetic the way you taught me. I used bloody Google). I am hot. I am bothered, and I just don’t understand why we can’t wait for September to send our hot and sticky children back to school. Late September.
My friends on the East Coast tell me that schools there start after Labor Day, which, at least suggests a break in the calendar, a new season, a time for a Fall into something cooler. While there was no Labor Day in Northern Ireland, we all knew when our summer holidays ended – right before school started. In September. Along with September came new leather school-bags, warm duffle coats, and even boots if we’d had a wet summer. September was the harbinger of Autumn and the Harvest Home, “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” with leaves all bronzed and brassy and horse chestnuts filling our pockets for games of conkers that may even have involved some gambling. We were certainly not running around in flip-flops and shorts or boiling in our cars, searching in vain for a tired Chilean mesquite to park under.
In spite of the heat, the high pollution advisories, and the lingering humidity, the Fall semester is underway for most of the 600 schools in Maricopa County where I live. Everybody is hot and cranky and ready for the respite that’s dangling at the end of October when the nights are cool, and we can again fill our flower-beds with petunias and snapdragons and hope that the adorable little trick-or-treaters don’t walk over the newly seeded winter lawns.
For our daughter, it is Week 3 already. The Thornton Wilder summer reading is out of the way; tests have been taken and passed in anatomy and geography and other subjects where I am of no use whatsoever. There’s even been some after school-tutoring in math. Already. On a lighter note, she has finished her first multi-media project, aptly entitled “Rainbones” by one of her classmates.
The Valley of the Sun is too hot for school. In August. Too hot for uniforms and yellow buses without air-conditioning, too hot for memorizing the Periodic Table and the names of infinitely colder countries that didn’t exist thirty years ago. As for running around at recess or standing still or just leaning nonchalantly against a hot wall trying to make a cool impression on a boy you like? All possible, but not without sweat.
And, it is too hot for back to school shopping – a multi-step process that involves various degrees of heat – getting in a hot car, driving to the mall and parking in its bowels far away from the sun, and cajoling my daughter into buying things I think she needs. (All of which would be easier without, you know, the internal heatwave that comes courtesy of whatever aromatase inhibitor I’m taking now to keep the cancer at bay).
Admittedly, I used to love Back-to-School shopping, back when it was An Event on my calendar. Not in the same league as a visit with the Easter Bunny or Santa, but the kind of outing that used to require, minimally, some maternal hovering.
Our daughter, progressing as expected down what Whoopi Goldberg brilliantly describes as “the teen tunnel,” announced that, to be ready for this new school year, she needed only two things: Thorton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey and liquid eyeliner. Liquid Eyeliner.
Smelling disapproval, she quickly added that she could also use a new composition book and some graph paper. What about a new backpack, a lunch box, a protractor? No, no, and, emphatically, no. Duly chastised, I tried to appeal to the digital native in her. Taking the 21st century and tech-savvy tack, I suggested she go paperless and offered to buy a stylus for her iPad. Impressing only myself, I prattled on about the benefits of using the Notability App which eliminates all that bother with binders, loose-leaf paper, and hole reinforcers. I should have known this would be an epic fail that provoked only indignation at the pretentiousness of using an iPad to take notes along with an eye-roll that somehow involved her entire body:
“Mom. Seriously. I just need eyeliner.”
On a purely economic level, this should have thrilled me. According to the National Retail Federation, the cost of outfitting a student for going back to school (complete with gadgetry) is $630 – enough to keep a gal in liquid eyeliner for a lifetime. But, no. I was deflated and momentarily defeated, convinced that the bewitching winged-eye look would lead my girl down the very path taken by Amy Winehouse. So I summoned up every ounce of motherly reverse-psychology and took my daughter to Sephora.
For the uninitiated, Sephora is the mecca of make-up for those among us who take their lipstick seriously. (I always feel a bit sorry for men sitting on the bench outside the shiny Shangri-La of cosmetics, especially when their girlfriends and wives re-emerge looking significantly different than when they went in an hour earlier). I know whereof I speak, having gone into Sephora on a 110 degree day, my hair a-frizz, my face shiny, seeking merely a touch-up, and coming out in a cloud of perfume, made-up for a night out in Antrim circa 1984 when a local bar, The Bailiwick, attempted to transform an evening at the pub into an Arabian night, calling it Club Sahara. I remember the owners even paraded a poor camel around the courtyard to promote the idea. I don’t remember how long Club Sahara lasted, but it was doomed from the start. Not enough heat . . .
Anyway, back to the desert and a mall in the middle of it. And Sephora. One of the most appealing things about the self-proclaimed “beauty authority” is that you can test everything, and at the end of every aisle, is an artiste, clad in black with an impressive array of cosmetic brushes peeking out from a low-slung tool-belt. We didn’t have to wait long before we were swept away by a flamboyant Oliver who knew just the eyeliner we needed.
If I say so myself, I delivered an Oscar-award worthy performance as Non-judgmental Mother, nodding supportively as Oliver placed in my baby girl’s hands the Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner and schooled her on how to achieve the cat-eyed look that will somehow ensure a successful Junior year. He even gave her his business card in case she had questions. For a mere twenty bucks.
If that’s all it takes, then I have nothing to worry about. Right?