We had to stop at Staples the other day and we were surprised to find the aisles jammed. Excited kids were begging for 3-D dinosaur pencil tins and the extra-large pack of Crayola crayons — “It comes with a sharpener!” — as exasperated parents consulted their crumpled school supply lists. We were there to get a Medicare card laminated.
We had forgotten all about back-to-school shopping. It was not on our radar. Our children are grown, and so are we.
But we remember back when we were kids, this was the most exciting time of the year. We’d carefully choose a backpack — is the rainbow unicorn one cool? And then a new lunchbox, too. It had to be just right, not babyish, and not be passé by January.
Back to school always meant new shoes and new shoes meant sneakers. Back in the day, our choice was what color Keds we liked best. Our kids had Spiderman and Batman sneakers and then came all those light-up sneakers. Their feet grew so fast that it was hard to keep up. And after a summer of running around barefoot, it seemed that everyone was at least a size or two bigger.
Now, we don’t buy new shoes in September. We’re grown-up ladies. We browse when Nordstrom has its annual sale, and we buy when we get the DSW coupon in the mail. Thankfully we know what shoe size to reach for. Our feet are the only body part we can count on to stay the same size — and to stay right where they always were.
When we were kids, the seasons felt distinct, and we were excited when each one rolled around. Fall meant watching football and seeing our friends again. Winter meant snow days and sledding. Spring was for baseball, bike rides, and open windows. Summer? Weekends at the beach, chasing after the ice cream truck, and being allowed to stay up late.
Now the seasons seem to run together. Maybe it’s because the weather’s so unpredictable. Spring comes too late or too early; winter seems more like fall. Or perhaps it’s because sports no longer confine themselves to their “proper” season. Winter ice hockey ended on June 11 when we were having a summer picnic. You can watch Italian football on ESPN 872 in January.
Of course adults don’t enjoy all of the perks of the seasons that kids do. Grown-ups don’t get snow days; they have to make it in to work no matter what. When it snows, we automatically think of shoveling it rather than playing in it. Our kids’ saucer sleds still hang in the garage, but we know we won’t be pulling them out to slide down the hill with our husbands. We might wrench our back. Why risk it? Last winter we dragged out and cleaned off the old sleds and offered them to the boys next door, who gave us a funny look and said, “No one uses that kind anymore.”
While we still go to the beach in the summer, you’ll more likely find us on a lounge chair than riding the waves on a boogie board. We’ll go in the ocean when it’s low tide and warm enough.
Spring doesn’t have many benchmarks for us. We’re not tilling the field to plant a crop, migrating north to build our nest, or getting on the bus loaded with baseball equipment to go to spring training in Clearwater, Fla. We appreciate nature from a distance: “Oh, look, the robins are building a nest,” and “The daffodils are blooming.”
These days, not only do the seasons fly by, but so do the years. A friend asked when was our last trip to Italy with the kids. “Five years ago,” we said, and then realized that the “recent” trip was in 2005. We took our camera in to get the lens adjusted and were surprised when the salesman told us it wasn’t possible. “Do you know your camera is 13 years old? They don’t make those anymore.”
The years have flown by since we took our kids back-to-school shopping, and we miss it. We want to participate in the hoopla as much as we can. We’re going to buy some nice shiny notebooks and packs of pencils for the school supply drive, and we’ll buy ourselves a new pair of sneakers and enroll in a yoga class.
We’ll even treat ourselves to a brand new calendar and hang it in kitchen. We’ll mark everyone’s birthday, weddings, and trips, and the dates when our kids are coming home.
Perhaps if we take our time and turn every page, the year won’t fly by so fast.
This article also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/24/17