Jackie Gingrich Cushman

The ancient Romans coined the phrase “dog days” based on the period of time that the brightest star (Sirius, the Dog Star) rose and set in conjunction with the sun. The Romans believed that Sirius radiated heat to the Earth, causing the hottest part of the year as it traveled with the sun.

The “dog day” dates vary based on the source. The Old Farmer’s Almanac refers to the 40-day period that begins July 3 and ends August 11. The 1552 Book of Common Prayer refers to the period from July 6 to August 17. Many references extend the “dog day” period into September.

The dog days are popularly believed to be a time of agitation and unruly behavior. Anyone who has experienced this period of time in the South can understand why people might have been driven to madness and lethargy before the advent of air conditioning. Possibly this was why, on occasion, Southerners were termed lazy. After all, it is hard to work in heat that exceeds 100 degrees.

The dog days of summer are inevitably followed by fall. It is just a question of how fast the weather and people’s focus will change from vacation, playing and fun to work, school and seriousness.

For many people, the change in focus coincides with the beginning of the school year. This signals that the fun of summer is over and the seriousness of learning is beginning. Family vacations come to an end and routine sets in. For most schools, this start occurs between mid-August and mid-September.

For other people, the start of football season, budgeting season at work or baseball playoffs may signal the change. Each of these provides the signal that summer is over and fall is about to begin. And with fall comes some serious work until the Christmas holidays.

This past week, our family focus changed with the end of our summer trips and the start of our children’s school. It was an even greater transition for us as our youngest child started kindergarten.

Many teachers recommend the rapid-transition approach. Starting on day one, they enforce rules governing the behavior that they expect of their students. For instance, our daughter’s second-grade teacher has the children in her class sit in the hallway and read books from the time they arrive at school until 7:45 a.m., when classes begin. This activity began on the first day of school.

Our family is using this same rapid-transition strategy with our children’s homework habits. Our rules are simple, but firm: no TV during the week, and homework first. There has been a bit of pushback this week, but it diminishes each day.

I hope that, soon, there will be no more questions regarding expected actions and the habit of homework first will be ingrained in them and help them throughout life.

The beginning of the school year, and fall have commonalities: each allows us to begin anew, to plant seeds in anticipation of what might sprout and blossom in another season.

This may also be the time to go back to our roots, as a gardener might say, to practice those habits that can lead to success. They include taking personal responsibility, working hard, taking civic responsibility, helping others and viewing the world with optimism. These become habits only after repetitive, deliberate practice.

Learning is not always easy or fun, but it is what helps us move forward instead of becoming stagnant. Often, when we have trouble learning, we want to give up rather than try again and risk failure. Next time this road block occurs to you, you might want to remember Aristotle’s insight: “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

In other words, do not worry if you will fail, for we all fail. Instead, worry that you might not act and therefore stagnate. Just remember that, since repeated actions lead to ingrained habits, we should act in ways we will want to repeat.

Charles Reade, an English author, said, “sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” Beginning this fall, begin to act, creating a habit that will strengthen your character and shape your destiny.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.


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