July 28, 2013

Too soon for back-to-school bargains


---- — The first specials and displays began to appear right after the Fourth of July weekend.

Down came the red, white and blue bunting, the mini flags, the patriotic T-shirts, the sparklers, the George Washington and Ben Franklin life-size cardboard cutouts, all of the the “USA! USA! USA!” novelty items manufactured in China.

Up went the replacement displays. Three-ring binders. Notebooks. Protractors. Highlighters. Glue sticks. No. 2 pencils. No. 37 pencils. Pencils of all colors and sizes. It was a back-to-school sale, prominent enough to stop the heart of a young child.

My own son stared at it with wide, unbelieving eyes.

“But … but … but dad, we just got out of school, didn’t we?” he sputtered. “It’s not starting again, is it? Tell me it isn’t starting again. The pain! The pain!”

He then began to hyperventilate, while a store employee warmed up the portable defibrillator.

Understand that to this point we hadn’t had a day of summer sunshine, not a single 24-hour period of unfettered warmth. It was barely two weeks into what he thought would be a long, relaxing break from the rigors of academic study.

Instead, persistent offers of 50-cent discounts on erasers and buy one, get one free paper clips were infringing on his ability to relax.

I know that summer can be a rough time for advertisers. Once we get past Independence Day, there are no other holidays — not even one of those artificially manufactured ones like Valentine’s Day or Father’s Day — until Labor Day.

Unfortunately, what would be the point of advertising Labor Day sales items two months in advance? None. What kind of products would a store push for Labor Day? Come and get your work uniform specials? Fifty percent off union pamphlets?

I’ve tried offering up my August birthday as another potential advertising target — a bridge between holidays — but major retailers have been slow to embrace that idea.

So, as Christmas is unopposed in the sales circulars beginning the day after Halloween, Back to School sales are unchallenged from the first week of July through the early part of September.

It’s simply unfair to saddle young children with this kind of stress, unless stores are prepared to offer counseling services along with their loose-leaf paper.

Already my own son refuses to go into most stores. He’ll hang out in the oven-like car with the windows closed, terrified that I’m going to buy some 3-by-5 index cards and/or a calculator. His back-to-school nightmares are becoming more frequent. He often wakes up with the unexplained taste of paste in his mouth, and once I caught him madly waving a pair of safety scissors while walking in his sleep.

This weekend is still more than five weeks away from the start of school, but I bet today’s newspaper inserts are full of back-to-school specials. I, however, will be boycotting these sales until late August, and I urge all other parents to do likewise — no matter how low the price of pocket protectors goes.

In fact, for the balance of the summer, I believe retailers should restrict access to all school-related products. If you really need a stapler or a pencil sharpener or a dictionary, it’s behind the counter with the cigarettes, and you have to ask for it.

Or, taking a tip from the video-rental industry, a special dimly lit “adults only” room can be cordoned off behind a black curtain, where parents can buy rulers and erasable pens far from the probing eyes of their children.

Early back-to-school sales may save you a few pennies, but they are detrimental to the psychological well-being of our children. They’re not very pleasant reminders for teachers either. Please, don’t spoil summer.

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