A few years ago, a national office supply chain got some chuckles with a back-to-school TV ad in which a father strolls through the school supply aisle singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . .”
Maybe lots of parents feel liberated when their kids return to campus for the fall, as mine are doing this week, but the other truth about summer is that when children get a break from school, parents tend to get a break, too.
Henry James famously suggested that the two most beautiful words in the English language are “summer afternoon.”
I have an alternate nomination: “No homework.”
I know that in June, July and part of August, no one will tug on my sleeve after dinner and ask me to drive to the craft store for white glue, wooden dowels and pipe cleaners — the necessary ingredients, apparently, for scale models of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria that are due in Social Studies class the next morning.
I like settling into an armchair on summer weeknights and remembering, with a shiver of pleasure, that I have not been summoned to a Scout meeting, PTO gathering or music recital. My evening, blessedly, belongs to me.
In summer, I must confess, I don’t miss glancing at the clock on Sunday night and realizing that neither my son nor my daughter has a single clean uniform — and that every school blouse or shirt in their wardrobe is, in fact, scattered across the floors of bedrooms and bathrooms, in much the same way that the contents of the Titanic once graced the seabed of the Atlantic.
I have never, in all the summers I’ve passed as a parent, longed wistfully for the joys of the carpool line, that glacial automotive experience in which one’s car travels as slowly as a donkey through the innards of a boa constrictor. I usually pinch myself with delight around the Fourth of July, when I remember that the only long car line I’ve been in all summer is the one that snakes around our neighborhood snowball stand.
In summer, I no longer trip on bookbags on my way to the kitchen. In summer, I will not, even once, be recruited to sell bars of chocolate or candied almonds to long-suffering in-laws, co-workers and friends, all to benefit the campus cause du jour. What else is absent from our family each summer?
Questions about algebra, for one thing — a perennial source of embarrassment for a father who barely grasped long division. As parents, let’s also cheer the summer respite from report cards, permission slips, cafeteria bills and urgent notices about the school play, usually found weeks after the fact feathering the bottom of a knapsack.
That respite ends for our family on Monday, when our son and daughter rub the sleep from their eyes and report to class.
They’ll be griping about it, I’m sure. But as I like to remind them each August, I’m the one who should be crying.
Danny Heitman’s “At Random” column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.