We’ve all faced that decision numerous times in our lives, having to choose between usually two things, neither of which is good.
I had never heard of that phrase – and wouldn’t for quite a few years because I was way too young, just 9 years old – when I had the first "pick-your-poison" moment of my life.
I had misbehaved at home one evening– who knows what I did that particular time, for there were so many of those instances that they all start running together, especially now decades later – but my dad gave me plenty of opportunities to simply own up to my mistake, apologize for it and move on unscathed. Sounds fair enough.
But that male pride, something that all little boys have plenty of from the moment they’re born – kept me from taking the easy way out.
No surrender, no capitulation. This was a confrontation, and I wasn’t backing down. In fact, I told my dad so.
I forgot that I was having this standoff with another male, one who was significantly bigger, stronger and smarter than I was, and just as determined and stubborn, however you want to term it.
"OK, then," my dad said, "I want you to come over here so I can give you a little whack on the rear end."
Today a kid, even one in the third grade, would pull out his iPhone, call Family Services, the police of perhaps even the president and have his dad arrested, handcuffed and sent off to prison for 20 years for threatening such a heinous thing.
But this was the mid-1960s and at the very moment I was on the verge of getting my fanny tanned, as we used to say, there were probably 10 other boys in the neighborhood – my comrades in stupidity, as it were – who were also facing the same dreary fate. Perhaps even the church pastor’s son and the police chief’s boy were getting their comeuppance, so calling out to the purveyors of protection in the community wasn’t going to help me one bit.
"No, Dad, I’m not coming over there," I said.
"OK, then, whenever you decide to come over here – and you will decide at some point that you’re going to do that – you’ll get whacked," he said. "You can either get it now or later. It doesn’t matter to me."
He had me, and I knew it. His recliner in the living room, the one in which he was sitting, was positioned directly in the one and only path to my bedroom. He would simply wait me out. When I got tired enough and the Sandman was delivering roundhouse punches to my eyelids, I would have to give in.
But I couldn’t wait until then. I wanted to get it over with already, so I glumly headed off to Death Row and took my punishment, which, looking back, wasn’t much of a punishment at all. It was just one semi-hard whack. Big deal.
That – picking our poison – is exactly what’s going on now all over the country as kids begin heading back to classes for the start of a new school year. The kids in my neighborhood – the same ones who were getting those "love taps" from their dads – dreaded this time of year. The days immediately before school reopened was like a wake. The only the missing was a body, and the way we dragged around with our heads down, we were actually supplying that as well.
Not all children loathe school like we did, but I would imagine that the vast majority still would rather that summer never ended. Frolicking in the yard with friends, going swimming and catching a movie is sure a whole heckuva lot more fun that sitting in a geography class.
Back in the day, most kids, especially those in our area and throughout Ohio and much of the rest of the United States, really, started school a day or two after Labor Day and got out sometime in early June. Now kids begin and end the school year at all different times.
For instance, students in some states in the South have already been back for a week or two. Many students locally will begin classes next week. But children in some states contiguous to Ohio won’t return until the traditional post-Labor Day time.
So, then, again with the belief that many students would much prefer to stay in vacation mode indefinitely, what would they choose if they could pick their own poison? Would they rather start earlier – in late August – and get out at the end of May? Or would they want to start later and get out later?
Those are good questions, for which there are no perfect answers.
By starting early, students are giving up those always-warm last two weeks of August – by the time Labor Day rolls around, summer vacation is nothing but a distant memory – but they are gaining that time just after Memorial Day when the weather finally turns nice for good in Ohio.
By starting later, they gain August, but on the downside – and a big one, at that – they are still in school just two weeks or so short of the Fourth of July, which signals the unofficial midway point of summer.
The problem is, students don’t get a choice in this matter. The school schedule is put together and finalized by adults.
And, as always seems to be the case with adults, they can’t agree.
Those who run summer entertainment venues such as amusement parks, swimming pools and pro baseball teams like to have their support staffs available to work through the Labor Day weekend, which is the traditional end of summer.
Some schools that begin early do so, in part, to have students back to attend the opening football games of the year. Football is the biggest sport for most schools and attracts the biggest crowds. That much-needed revenue is used throughout the athletic department.
It would be great if summer vacation could last the entire so-called summer season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but it’s just not possible. With all the holidays and days off during s a school year, there aren’t enough days left to fill out the required, state-mandated school schedule. To the disappointment of a lot of people of various ages, there simply has to be some school attendance from the end of May to the beginning of September.
As such, school districts, areas, regions and states have to pick their poison.
Maybe the answer is year-round school.
Or maybe not. People might choose to take a whack on the backside instead of that.