Back to School

Category: Weekly Columns

Recently, I saw a really funny commercial showing a man leaping with joy as he pulled something down an aisle.  It was revealed to be a couch, with his two sullen kids sitting on it, and the background music was the famous Christmas song which extols, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  It was a back-to-school ad and that dad was jumping for joy.  It was very clever, so kudos to Staples.  Yes, the kids are going back to school. We parents get our lives back–especially our evenings.

The job of parent revolves around the school calendar.  Our chauffeuring responsibilities are different during the school year than during vacation times.  One of the big differences, from my perspective, is the bedtimes for the boys.  On “school nights” they have a curfew that gives us some quiet at night.  However, during summer, the boys are allowed more freedom and Will, my almost-16-year-old, loves to stay up late and sleep late.  At least I get quiet time in the summer mornings.  It’s said that the more they sleep, in the summer, the more they’re growing.  Will is 6 feet, 2 inches already!

Television watching of any kind is also limited during the school year.  In fact, none is allowed on school days.  This policy has been in place ever since the boys began school, as I believe television is the biggest waste of time for everyone, let alone a total distortion of reality and an assault on many of our values.  This is ironic, given my former career was in television.  But during summer, vacations, and weekends, they’re allowed to watch.  That means a lot of television in the summer.  This, too, will end when school begins.

Summer also usually means a family vacation.  Family vacations mean vacation for the kids and torture for the parents.   It means fun, fun, fun for the kids, and exhaustion for the parents.  It means eating, running around, amusement parks, cruises for the kids, all of which they love–but an empty bank account for the parents.

Summer days means the boys are often hanging around the house, with or without friends, and always underfoot asking “What’s for lunch?” or “What are we doing today?”  It’s like we’re the entertainment directors on this particular cruise of life, in our home.  But with school, they have to be somewhere every week day.  They have homework.  They have to go to bed before we do.  And, as a result, we get some of our lives back.  So, like the dad in that commercial, I’m doing cartwheels with anticipation and joy at the forthcoming end of summer.

School, of course, has its own challenges.  How much should we push our kids for grades?  How much independence do we allow them (with their schoolwork, choice of classes, etc.)?  When do our expectations exceed their capabilities or desires?  How important is college for every kid?  Clearly, these are questions which I’ll address another time.  In my case I have two different kids with two totally disparate approaches to school.  So, consequently, I have to approach each of them distinctly and respect their individual strengths and weaknesses.  And, of course, I have to remember that they’re not me. They don’t have my specific interests, nor my work habits (good and bad).

I remember with such fondness and irony how I viewed summer when I was a kid.  The moment summer began, I not only rejoiced, but I saw this gigantic ocean of freedom and fun ahead of me.  However, when school began again, I felt as if my life was over as the interminable school year began, my prison sentence resumed, and it felt like forever till the next summer would come around.

My attitude towards time has changed as I’ve grown older and I now see summer as a blip of time. Our perspective on time is subjective, in my opinion.  That is also why, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more patient waiting for those things I’m looking forward to doing.  A vacation in six months doesn’t seem that far away while, when I was a kid, the weekend felt distant every Monday.  And, like me before them, my boys do a countdown to summer and a sadder countdown to when school begins again.

So, it’s back to school and back to a regular routine and that is the comfort of the school year for me. For me, it’s like having that assigned seat in “homeroom,” where at least I could count on one thing being within my control during my own tumultuous school years. I know what’s expected of me, as dad, and the boys largely have a schedule to follow.  My wife and I can watch a movie at night without interruption and life feels normal.  Until next summer.