postcard-from-l-a: As a new school year begins, this dad laments a culture where ‘too soon is never soon enough’

(John Ehlke / AP)

True confession: I absent-mindedly punched my phone password into the microwave the other night. It’s a password that I enter into my iPhone 50 times a day. There I was rushing around, and just out of habit — or muscle memory — I punched 8-4-6-3 into the microwave when what I meant to do was punch in the time it takes to cook a corn dog.

The microwave merely blinked at me and said, “Huh?”

Look, just kill me now. We’re back into the demanding autumn grind, the kids returning to school — too early, of course, because that’s how public education rolls these days — everything to excess, to a degree that defies common sense.

America: Sensible people need not apply.

They start school in early August now, you know. Like a Mayan apocalypse, summer never quite comes about. For us, there was summer school and there was baseball, and just as we exhaled from all that, along came seventh-grade orientation on the fifth day of our eighth month.

As if anything could prepare you for seventh grade. What’s the orientation agenda for that? Keep your eyes straight ahead? Don’t provoke the other inmates? Beware of wedgies?

Anyway, it’s not like me to start any arguments. Besides, I have my hands full with this microwave and a brand-new seventh-grader who stands before the mirror each morning trying to smother a nest of cowlicks, first with water, then with some sort of hair goop. Paa-piiiiiiiing, back they bounce.


Some things never change, fortunately, and a boy going off to seventh grade will forever be licking his fingers and trying to tame car springs of very stubborn hair.

This is my fourth time sending a seventh-grader off to war, and it never gets any easier. Especially if you love the kid, as occasionally happens.

A buddy was giving me a pep talk the other day — just called out of the blue to lecture me, which I always appreciate in good friends. One of the topics he talked about is how we always love our children more than they love us.

“Otherwise they’d never leave,” he explained. “They’d stay around forever.”

Well, they seem to stay around forever, some of them. But his notion makes sense: We love our children more than they love us. As it has to be, so we can eventually let them go.

Our suburb is a bit shellshocked over that lately. Many of our friends are just now returning from the weepy task of dropping off their firstborns at college — a milestone, a heartbreaker, a shiv to the mortal soul. As usual, the dads cried more than the moms.

One kid’s going to Brown, one to Stanford, two others to Cornell. What’s with these teenagers, all that overachieving? In my day, we were so much cooler about college. I don’t think we even applied. You showed up wherever you wanted to go. All you needed was a check from your parents, a Peter Frampton album and a stereo the size of a logging truck. In six or seven years, you graduated, then went off to run your father-in-law’s business into the ground.

It made for a very full life.

College is a bit more complicated now, starting with pre-algebra in the seventh grade, so you can later lock in a 4.6 GPA, which is what high school grads seem to need to get into any decent college anymore.

One exasperated friend was telling me recently that her daughter was in tears because she had “only a 4-point average.” To the kid, it was as if she were flunking.

America: Where straight A’s aren’t good enough anymore. And B means bad.

“Maybe you should declare a major,” I told the little guy the other day.

“What’s a major?” he asked.

“Don’t worry, just declare one,” I told him.

I ran into another parent a while back whose 11-year-old had started his own foundation to feed the hungry in Africa — or, at the very least, provide iPads to Portugal.

To be honest, I can’t remember what the young man’s foundation was doing, but the 11-year-old had already started one, of that I am absolutely certain.

“I am not making this up,” as Dave Barry used to say when coming across some preposterous occurrence.

So, in such a remarkable world, the little guy should at least be the first among his pals to declare a college major. Come January, we’ll probably start visiting a few of the better schools.

Because these days, too soon is never soon enough.

Twitter: @erskinetimes


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