back to school? I say, back off

I had an essay printed in the national Macaroni Kid newsletter for August (I never miss it and neither should you). Here it is: 

Last week, as temperatures on the East Coast flirted with 100 for several days in a row, I headed to Gap Kids to grab a few more bathing suits for the kids. I found, to my shock, not a single swimsuit in the whole store. Children’s Place? Nope. Kmart? All gone. “We’re doing back-to-school now,” the saleswoman told me, waving to an entire wall of backpacks and pencil cases. I suggested that they might have had more luck selling shorts than parkas this week. She seemed unimpressed by my line of reasoning.

Preposterous off-season merchandising is nothing new; there’s always a full-court Christmas press long before the Halloween candy is gone. But this back-to-school thing is kind of a bummer—while I can pooh-pooh it as premature, a quick look at the calendar tells me that my kids’ summer vacation is already half-over. And I hate that.

I may sing a different tune by Labor Day, particularly if the Heat Miser doesn’t back off a bit with the temps, but I love summer vacation. I love the relaxed pace, the firefly-catching, the “lazy mornings” in jammies until we feel like getting dressed. I love the time off from the pell-mell pace of getting three kids out the door in time for the 8:07 a.m. bus, of shuttling them to their afternoons chock-full of activities. Most of all, I love the time off from homework—though it seems that that is a vacation my kids are not supposed to be having. My kindergartener and second-grader both came home with extensive summer reading lists, book reports to write, lists of educational board games for me to purchase and math-skill-honing websites to let my children visit (with my constant, vigilant presence, of course). With every good mid-June intention, I stuck those lists in the kitchen drawer for ease of reference. There they have remained, untouched, ever since. I didn’t think I was opposed to the idea of my kids doing daily times table drills—what else were they going to do for almost three full months?– but with half of that time now gone, it’s clear that I need to either get cracking, or embrace the slacking off.

And I’m just not sure which way to go. Just when I think “aw heck, kids need a summer!” I’ll have a friend ask me if I can recommend a reading tutor for her kindergartener, “just so he doesn’t fall behind,” and a tsunami of guilt will wash over me. So then I’ll announce over 6 pm mac and cheese that the evening’s schedule of playing Math is Awesome!™ will preclude any television-watching, and let’s just say I won’t get a supportive response from those gathered.

And frankly, I think I’m with the kids: I don’t want to play Math is Awesome!™ either. But one of these days, I’ll get them to read a book or three, and on a lazy August afternoon, I hereby promise to get out the flash cards. Just as soon as we get back from the beach.