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The Old SchoolRecently, I’ve had the revelation that—before our children can be accepted back into the modern, hallowed halls of elementary school for the commencement of fall classes—parents must be tortured first.

The modern institution of primary education prides itself in the mastery of the fine arts of parental subjugation—a process during which little or no mercy is shown.

In fact, if you ask me, in the last 40 years, the world of the care and edification of kids has gradually been driven to an extreme. These days, primary education is all jumped up the steroids of juvenile excess.

It used to be—during the bitterly cold winters on the North American east coast—parents would practically choke us on a spoon of cod liver oil with our morning OJ, before packing us off to the icy roads for a long walk to school.

In sum, that was our pediatric preventative healthcare plan.

As children, we figured it gave us legitimate whining rights. After all, the cloying flavor of cod liver oil had enough charm to last all morning.

In the final analysis, however, we never knew we had it so good.

Now parents are wandering, bewildered, through the virtual labyrinths of super-sized health food stores that offer the expanse and complexity of Roman Colosseums—each towering with an infinite and mind-boggling array of health-enhancing products for the benefit of young bodies and minds.

It used to be a couple of new outfits from the Sears catalogue, a pencil case packed with (what else?) pencils, a pink eraser and (if you’re lucky) a metal compass, along with a trip to the local barber for the obligatory hair-cut, comprised the complete send-off the week before the new school year began.

Now you need a rent a U-Haul just to deliver the contents of the “school supplies list”—just for one 3rd grade kid and a green, wet-behind-the-buttocks kindergartener—along with a winch to unload the crates into the classroom.

During the weeks running up to the school year, you’ll find zombie-moms—bearing supply lists and shopping carts loaded with bemused toddlers—crashing into each other like carnival bumper cars as they scour the aisles of K-Mart, Target, Barnes & Noble and local dollar stores on an endless treasure hunt for child-bearing chumps.

And, if you happen to be in an educational institution where the purchase of school uniforms is required, an aspirin diet—a prophylactic against cardiac arrest upon first glance at the price list—followed by a reverse mortgage to pay for them, are de rigueur.

In the 1960s and 70s, lunch came in a brown paper bag, with a white-bread cheese sandwich snugly encased in hand-folded wax paper, an apple, and maybe some potato chips or cookies. In fact, it was front page news in the auditorium when the school actually offered lunch milk for sale—regular or chocolate—at 15 cents a pop.

Forty years later, I have to hunker down, once a month, and painstakingly peruse, then translate, a school lunch menu while Alex gives me the thumbs up or down—with the bored indifference of a young mandarin—on which hot lunch he’ll deign to ingest, at the expense of his parents’ now beleaguered checkbook.

Frankly, it’s an insult that comes after the injury of a season keeping them entertained around the clock performing a single-handed sideshow of Swan Lake—while moonlighting as their social secretary—because the long lazy days of summer where the kids frolicked in the neighborhood under the comfortably loose supervision of mothers with other things to do, died a painful death somewhere in the 1980s.

Now there’s a pedophile on every corner and a rapist living on every block.

And once we get our children safely ensconced in school at last, we need to pause and take a deep, ragged and life-preserving breath before the next death-defying stag leap across the parenting stage because, baby, it ain’t over yet.

Gone is the era when children walked to school, or even to a friend’s house to knock on the door and offer a play invitation.

Now—in addition to all of the responsibilities of a past generation of parents—we must provide the new: private limousine service to and from school, and to all additional extracurricular activities our tykes find themselves in.

In 1966, the Rolling Stones released a song about “mother’s little helper (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Mother%27s_Little_Helper)”—prescription drugs that would take the edge off the stress of being a wife and mother, because “They just don’t appreciate that you get tired (http://www NULL.youtube NULL.com/watch?v=tfGYSHy1jQs).”

Well, it just sits up and begs the question, doesn’t it?

If they needed to self-medicate just to survive demands of motherhood in the 1960s, what’s it going to take for us to roll down the hill into the old folk’s home a generation from now while still alive and in possession of a complete set of marbles?

It’s not enough for our children to go back to school. The whole family needs to go back to simpler times.

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