Digital illustration of a mysterious, dark figure looming over a small person.
Emily Schwartz/Daily

Ah, August: My least favorite month. The month that quietly torments me all summer. As the dog days go by, I can feel August’s distance close in, and thus, I feel the need to quicken my pace, to delay summer’s inevitable end. It’s no use, though; the month still reaches me, digging its nails into my anxiety-ridden body, and whispers, “change is here.” While not everyone shares this frightening experience, August’s arrival has personally never left me unscathed. 

When I’m deep in the summer, my worries about the upcoming school year get brushed off. That’s an August problem, I tell myself. Unfortunately, the month I burden with all my issues arrived again, right on cue. After the carefree bliss of June and July, after days of lounging in my hammock and nights reading in my bed, all of my August problems became my present problems.

My loathing of August is layered, but if I force myself to locate the true root of it all, I know that it’s my hostility toward change. Thus, the quintessential August activity — back-to-school shopping, the greatest sign of such change — has become one of my greatest enemies.

When I was younger, back-to-school shopping was a beloved activity: a time to grab cute notebooks, fresh shoes and colorful pens. My mom and I would spend a specific weekend crossing every supply off the list with delight. I looked forward to this designated shopping spree all summer. But, somewhere along the way, the idea of supply shopping lost the sparkle and optimism that once seemed to ooze from it. Binders became bland, backpacks were just boring sacks and sparkly pens were humiliating. I opted for the generic versions of everything to reduce the hassle and embarrassment of it all. 

Last summer, before my freshman year of college, my relationship with back-to-school shopping worsened even more. I was overwhelmed by the idea of living somewhere that was totally new. How was I going to get and remember everything I need? How was I going to store everything in an 11 x 12 foot room? Was I really about to move somewhere I had never stepped foot in before? These worries quietly haunted me all summer, but I, of course, pushed them away until August — and the shopping spree that would come with it. 

My mom and I began shopping a week prior to my move-in date. My whole house was overtaken by a red sea of Target bags and storage bins. This frantic debacle may have been avoidable with some planning, but procrastination is a stubborn habit. I started packing everything the night before I left and stopped at about 6 a.m. My mom and I showed up to my move-in slot an hour late, exhausted from the chaos that had occurred just hours before. Now, I laugh at the frenzied experience. But at the time, I told myself that next year would be completely different. I would adequately prepare and pack. I would make lists. I would stick to those lists. I would catch every discount deal possible and slowly compile my necessities over the summer.

As with any self-made promise, sticking to it is easier said than done. This year, August again came knocking. Two weeks before moving into my sophomore year apartment, I sat in my childhood bedroom with little progress made on my back-to-school shopping endeavors. 

It took my mother pounding on my bedroom door with a nagging list of must-buys to begin the miserable process. After being dragged into the car, I sulked in the passenger seat, worrying about the dreadful day ahead of us. Anyone who has stepped foot into Target during August knows the utter chaos occurring inside the bullseye building — the humid air, the headache-inducing fluorescent lighting, crying babies, bickering families, cluttered shelves. It’s simply an overstimulating nightmare. 

My mom and I entered the store, hopeful, leisurely scanning the section that is home to all of the adorable (yet unnecessary) trinkets: the dollar section. Starting small. But my lighthearted attitude slowly faded as we descended into the aisles of misery: the storage bins section. From there on, the air got hotter, my patience thinned and my frustration bubbled. I felt irritated by the excessive options for bath mats and silverware sets.

Every question and remark from my mom just fueled my annoyance:

“Have any of your roommates bought a vacuum?”

“You need to think about storage.”

“Will these bins fit under your bed?”

“Those sheets are not 100% cotton; you will burn up.”

“Where are you going to store your toilet paper?”

“Jenna, you need to make these decisions.”

After enough questions, enough snippy and rude remarks slung back and forth and enough painful aisles into our five-hour shopping spree, I reached my breaking point.

It happened when I placed two large bottles of shampoo and conditioner into our cart. 

“There’s a good deal on these,” I remarked.

“Okay.” About five seconds of silence passed as my mom stared at the enormous pink bottles. “Are you really sure you like those that much?”

I panicked. I didn’t realize how big of a decision I was making. They were large containers that were going to last me a long time. What if I end up not liking them anymore? I would be trapped. I chickened out of the long-term commitment. “Okay, yeah, I don’t need to get these,” I muttered.

“I feel bad. I passed down my indecisiveness to you,” she said.

“You should, you have passed down a lot of bad traits.” Immediate regret flooded my body when I saw tears form in her eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I was just kidding. I swear,” I choked. 

The speed at which those hurtful words escaped my mouth surprised me, and I felt horrible that I couldn’t seal them back up. My emotions were running high, and so were hers. We stared at the shampoo and conditioner on the shelf with watery, drained eyes, and then made our way up to the cash registers in silence. As a last attempt to fix things, I ran to the Starbucks counter nearby and bought my mom her favorite coffee. I handed it to her, and we exchanged a weary smile. The woman behind us in line watched our purchases getting bagged up. 

“School shopping?” she asked.

My mom and I nodded.

“Been there,” she sighed. 

August means back-to-school shopping as much as it means fighting with my mom. Is it the unbearable heat that makes me want to bicker with my mom over everything? It’s a possibility, but I have come to believe the increase in our trivial arguments is caused by something else: our love for each other. My mom and I have always had a close relationship — I consider her one of my best friends. That will never change. When I was leaving for school last year, I was worried about my mom. I knew that empty nest syndrome was going to hit her hard. While I was overjoyed to be entering a new phase of my life, I couldn’t shake a sense of guilt. My brother and I are my mom’s world, and here I was, her last child, leaving her. Maybe our arguments about bath towels result partly from the repressed sadness about our impending separation. More change.

Any life change does get easier over time. I miss my mom while I’m at school, but the sadness is not as debilitating as I originally imagined it to be. My mom misses me, but she still lives her life. The things we argued about while shopping become forgotten. The things I ended up purchasing did not hold significance to my well-being. The next time I find myself debating the purchase of value-sized hair products, I will remind myself of these simple realizations. Whatever I choose, everything will work out, and the decision will not haunt me at night. Rest assured, the trajectory of my life will not be altered by my decision about shampoo. 

Whether it’s changes in the seasons or in relationships, any transition can be uncomfortable. Anything unstable feels at risk for breaking. However, I take comfort in knowing that some things, such as my relationship with my mother, can withstand any change that comes my way. 

Change, dressed up as August, is like an unwanted house guest. When it arrives at my doorstep, I have the urge to slam my door, shut my blinds and hope it moves on to another house. However, I know that this avoidance won’t help me grow. I know I have to work on being a better host and warmly welcome uncertainty. When August comes knocking for me next year, I plan to less reluctantly invite it in and be more accepting of all the distressing adjustments, emotions and goodbyes it brings as luggage. Maybe I’ll even let it tag along on the annual, mother-daughter Target trip — it can pick out my shampoo.

Statement Columnist Jenna Hausmann can be reached at