Back To School: Is It Still “The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”?

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This commercial first aired in 1996. It actually holds up pretty well, but I don’t think any self-respecting dad would be caught dead wearing white socks and black leather slip on shoes.

I bet dollars to donuts most of you remember a certain Staples television commercial featuring the cheerful Andy Williams Christmas carol: “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”. Of course you do! The TV spot has been running during every back to school season for over two decades.

But, if you’ve been living under a rock for twenty years, or are simply a youngster who has no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll provide you with the Cliffs Notes. A positively gleeful dad is dancing, or rather PRANCING through the aisles of Staples. He’s filling his shopping cart with back to school supplies while the most “wonderful” soundtrack punctuates his joyful jaunt through the store. Meanwhile, his two clinically depressed, nearly catatonic kids slowly trudge behind him, hit by the crushing realization that their coveted summer vacation is almost over. (Oh geez, I just realized that young people may not know what Cliffs Notes are either, but I digress.)

It’s not only funny, but it’s a very memorable ad, and for many years it perfectly encapsulated my own feelings of elation, relief and triumph after I survived another summer with two very demanding kids constantly underfoot. You see, as a stay-at-home parent, I truly believe those first few years with toddlers and crawling babies squirming between your legs are the years where we really earn our keep. When I’m having a particularly lazy day, I’ll think back on those first five years of craziness, and I’ll say to myself: “self, don’t sweat it. Don’t feel guilty, you’ve earned this.”

So, when both of my kids finally reached the golden age of six-years-old, it really felt like a gift from God. Hallelujah! Abby and Daniel were at school, five days a week, from 8:30AM to 3:30PM. It finally felt like I had regained some semblance of my OLD life  – you know, when you could run errands without carrying a kid on your hip, when you could visit a friend without bringing extra diapers with you, when you could go grocery shopping without having to referee a shoving match taking place inside the cart, or simply go for a coffee and just read the newspaper for twenty minutes… uninterrupted.

Of course, 3:30 pick-up at school always seemed to come WAY too quickly, and my life would go back to normal, with my primary caregiving responsibilities once again taking centre stage. That’s why summer vacation was always a time I never really looked forward to. Yes, we would always take a couple of weeks for a fun family getaway, and with Lianne off work, it was always a special treat for me to have both of us on full-time parent duty. But, after that all-too-brief respite was over, it was back to the grind… a grind that I was no longer accustomed to after the precious ten-month break school provided me.

As any parent knows, when kids are young, they still like to get up early… WAY too early. They don’t care that it’s summer. They also want food. They also get bored. They also need sunlight and fresh air once and a while. Let’s face it; Abby and Daniel were totally cramping my style. They were completely squashing my newfound freedom!

Summers were always filled with exhausting trips to amusement parks, the science centre, the zoo, water parks, pools and sporting events. My kids wanted to do stuff! Always so much stuff! Why did they always want me to take them somewhere fun? Dammit, I wanted my 8:30AM to 3:30PM “Greg Time” back in the worst possible way! I needed it! I missed it! My body ached for it! But alas, summer time was not a time for lazy lattes and stress-free shopping. Summer time was a chance for the kids to have fun and go nuts in the absence of rigid school rules.

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Imagine in your mind’s eye, a cheesy 1980’s-style movie montage, scored with the equally cheesy but very catchy 1980 Kenny Loggins hit song, I’m Alright. Picture the montage… several scenes of me running around all over town with two crazy kids in tow, then periodically cutting to me wiping my sweaty brow and marking giant red X’s on my “countdown to back to school” calendar. Just imagine it already. What’s the matter? Don’t you have any imagination? C’man.

While I am exaggerating my aversion to actual parenting just a tad for “entertainment” purposes, I could totally relate to the dad in that famous Staples commercial. He was simply giddy with the thought of punting his kids out of the house and back to school for another ten months. I think that’s why the TV ad struck such a chord with me for so many years.

However, I have to admit… this year is different.

Starting today, both of my kids are now in junior high, and I gotta be honest: there is no feeling of elation, no feeling of relief and most certainly no feeling of triumph. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I’m actually going to miss them. You see, these kids of mine have been sleeping in until almost noon every day and they can usually make their own breakfast/lunch. They both express very little interest when I ask them if they want to go on a bike ride, or walk with me to the coffee shop, or go to the mall for a few hours.

I guess they have better things to do than constantly hang out with their dear old dad. There are YouTube videos to create, Xbox games to play and friends to text with. While the three of us did manage a couple fun outings this summer, most of their vacation days have been spent in their respective rooms, doing their own thing.

That’s why spending the day with my kids at an amusement park a couple of days ago brought back a flood of memories. It’s funny, but all of a sudden I don’t seem to remember our summer trips to the science centre, the zoo, water parks, pools and sporting events being all that exhausting.

At the time, I felt like the kids constantly begged me, bugged me and harassed me to do fun stuff with them, but now… I ultimately see it in a very different light. They weren’t tormenting me, they were counting on me to do fun stuff with them.  And dammit, do fun stuff we did, summer after summer after summer.

Looking back, one might even say those summers spent with my kids could be described as the most wonderful time of the year.

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