The Incredible Shrinking Summer

We’re not ready for back to school – and our kids certainly aren’t — but Rite Aid apparently is. It’s only July 27, and already the suntan lotion is pushed to the back and the pencils and notebooks are filling the upfront shelves.

This doesn’t make any child we know happy. Although we’re long past our school years, we have memories of sleeping late in mid-August and opening up the paper to read the comics only to have the ads for lunch boxes, book bags and notebooks fall out. Now our kids are annoyed at the same exact thing.

Maybe getting ready for school is more fun in other countries. At first we thought kids in a more glamorous location would have a more exotic back-to-school list: Doesn’t a Parisian school child need a lunch box large enough to hold a freshly baked baguette and freshly churned Camembert? And in Japan, doesn’t every kid need a USB flash drive that looks like a robot?

But a quick surf across the Internet found that school supplies haven’t changed that much over the years and across the globe. Of course it’s harder for kids in developing nations to have easy access to retail goods, but their lists look similar to ours: pens, pencils, notebooks  . . . Of course, American kids are looking for the latest fad: Snack Attack Fruit Scented Mini Pens.

Ever wonder why American kids are off from school for the whole summer? That’s because back in the day, they were needed to help bring in the harvest. We don’t grow much corn and soybeans in the suburbs anymore, but the need for children to help with the harvest still exists. In the Dominican Republic, kids attend school from January to September and then help with the coffee harvest at the end of the year. Imagine what our kids would say if we told them they had to help Dad scythe and bundle the 60 acres of wheat? The kids — What would Dad say?

School calendars are also affected by the weather. Everyone has memories of being stuck in a hot classroom in June and counting the days. In India they’re off in May and June because of the heat and then again in July and August because it’s monsoon season. And while we have a Christmas break in December, they get a Durga Pooja break in September.

Rushing summer to start school isn’t the only place where marketing is encroaching on our time. According to Nordstrom, Aug. 10 is the time to buy your heavy wool sweaters and leather boots, and the Acme believes that Halloween candy should be purchased and waiting by the front door by Sept. 20.

Don’t they know that if we buy the mini-Snickers that early, there surely will be none left? Of course they know this. That’s all part of the plan. Though early Halloween shopping is irresistible, no kid is in a hurry to buy school supplies. That’s why every year we end up in the long line of irritable parents and grumpy children at Staples – the day after school has started.

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2 Responses to The Incredible Shrinking Summer

  1. Lisa Markc says:

    Dear Word Mavens,
    There were two days of the school year that I loved, the first day and the last day. I loved to buy school supplies because to me, that was a new start, a frest beginning and new sharpened pencils smelled so good and ink pens etc. After the first day, every day was down hill for me for I was not a good student. That is why the last day was my relief. I remember halloween and spiced wafers and all the holidays and I loved the reminders that there was another thing to look forward, closer to June when school would be over, that is if I made it. Actually I did by the hair of my chinny chin chin (now of which there are many) and to make up for being a “not”good student, I find myself in school again at the age of 59. Oh vey!!!


  2. Sammy Dweck says:

    I love your brilliant take on this subject … it’s like how Christmas is no longer a season, but an entire fiscal quarter. Great read – thanks for making my morning fun!


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