I’m going to let you in on a secret: September is the best month to be in Portugal.
You see, every year there is this strange phenomenon. On August 31 the beaches are packed, heaving with tourists from Portugal and abroad, the queues to the ice cream parlors wrapping around the block, all restaurants booked out. Then on September 1st, silence. Peace. The heaving masses are replaced by the occasional family waiting for school to start or pensioners making the most of off-season deals.
One explanation is that most schools in Europe start up around September. But there’s something else. For Portuguese people, summer simply ends with the last day of August. It might be just as hot as the day before, but as of September 1st going to the beach is no longer an option. It is now autumn and summer activities need to wait until the next year. I remember a few years when I came to Portugal on holiday how tourist office staff smiled indulgently at me when I asked about surfing lessons in September. Didn’t I know the summer was over?
Luckily for us, even though the Portuguese people believe the hot days are gone, the climate thinks otherwise. Most years (or rather every year except 2015 which is marked in everyone’s memory as The Wet September) the sun continues to shine well into October and the only hint of autumn is the cold breeze that makes you wish you’d remembered your cardigan on the way out. The skies are still clear, the beaches are still warm…and the Atlantic water is as freezing cold as always.
September is the month I remember how much I love living in Portugal. August can feel quite frenzied: too hot, too sticky, too many people. In September, Portugal returns to its gentle rhythm. Restaurants have time to take care of their customers and without a steady influx of tourists take more care over your order. The streets are empty. There is no holiday traffic.
But this is the first year I’ve noticed a downside. Along with all the tourists, the other children have disappeared from the beaches and parks. I don’t know where they’ve gone – some probably live in countries far away, others have gone back to their home town, schools and daycare centers. I don’t really miss them that much, but I worry that my son does. He is now 2 years old and doesn’t go to school. Although he seems happy just in my company and we of course have lots of play dates throughout the week, I miss the spontaneity of playing with a 2-year old from Germany at the water fountain or running after a group of Portuguese older kids at the park. And as much as I enjoy an empty beach, I miss seeing other parents out with their kids. September makes it all too clear to me how my decision to keep my son at home deviates from the norm.
Sometimes I question my decision. I see my friends meeting each other for kid-free coffees in town, their kids telling stories from daycare…But then my son and I manage to sneak out to the beach on an early weekday morning and put the first footprints into the pristine sand. And I realize that, for me, these moments are still worth 100 quiet coffees.
How do you feel about back-to-school season? Do you sometimes wish your kid didn’t have to go to school (or vice versa if you homeschool)?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Julie Dutra in Portugal.