Thursday, August 29, 2013

When Did Back To School Become Its Own Season?

I knew it was going to happen eventually, starting a post with the phrase, “Back when I was young.”  So, here goes:

Back when I was young, we didn’t set aside the final three weeks of summer to focus solely on going back to school.  We just didn’t. 
Sure I remember buying some #2 pencils, and digging through my older brother’s dresser drawer to see if his school shirt from last year fit me.  We had to make sure it didn’t have too many stains, or that yellow tinge from the rusty water in our well.  But we’d usually do that the day before school started. 
What was so important she couldn't make it three feet
from the mailbox before opening?  Teacher Letters.
My kids, on the other hand, have been talking about back to school-related rituals and procedures since early August.   It began with the hype in advance of the so-called teacher letters – so-called because its from their new teachers, telling them which class they’d be in for the coming school year.  And, this year, two of our kids are moving up to new schools.  So it's a big deal, no doubt.  But, come on people. 

There were actually internet-based rumors in our town about when the local school would mail the teacher letters.  Vacations were scuttled so that families could wait by their mailboxes. 

Not us.  We happened to be out of town on the Saturday the letters finally arrived.  My wife and I got a text from a neighbor that the “letters have landed."  We decided it best not to tell the kids, to avoid them begging to go home early the rest of the weekend.  We told them on the drive home.  You’d swear we said Santa was waiting in our living room.

“Drive faster, dad!”

The letters are just the start.  Next, you have to read all that stuff.  Then comes the detective work determining which friends are in your class.  I almost needed another phone line to handle all the calls.

And the letters, of course, have within each a supply list.  That's when the real shopping starts.  Which is followed by the school meetings and tours.  Then more shopping.  There's more, but that's all I care to recall in my current back-to-school-season frazzled state.

Is there a Hallmark card for going back to school?  Maybe they’re behind this?

Or, maybe it’s a public school thing?

Growing up, we went to a small, private school – which was not nearly as fancy as that sentence implies.  It was very small, and not exclusive.  We went there because my dad’s family had a thing for Catholic school education.  And because the public schools near our suburban-D.C. home were too big and not known for being particularly good at educating children.

My parents may have been concerned about us falling in with the riffraff at the public school.  As it turned out, we were the riffraff at our private school. 

As school started, sure we’d do a bit of back to school shopping.  But we didn’t have some big, all-hands-on-deck, multi-store trip, where everyone got new clothes, sneakers, new book-bags and more erasers than even my kids could ever need. 

For one thing, we had uniforms.  We made, maybe, one trip to JC Penney’s to get a pair of khakis and gym shoes.   That was it for clothes.  And we’d be lucky if we got some new, lined loose-leaf paper, a few folders and a lunchbox that didn't smell from being closed all summer.

We also had small classes at our schools.  So we knew in advance who the teacher was going to be, usually the same teacher that had been teaching that class for decades -- Sister something-or-other.

The school year would start when we’d pull up to said school, get out of the car, and our parents would pull away.  There were no big, instruction-filled teacher letter packets that I recall.  No orientations.  No soft-grand-openings.  No two-page long lists of supplies.  Okay, maybe once I remember getting a Trapper-Keeper.  But only the once. 

Still, I'm pretty certain it wasn't quite like things are today.  My mom may remember it differently.

Am I wrong?  Or am I just getting old?

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