The other night, we were at a student art exhibit where my daughter's work was on display when a man spied my 9-year-old son sprawled on a couch in the lobby, examining his thumb. My son put himself on the couch in a sort of protective custody after realizing he had just exhausted his parents' patience by asking for the sixth time in approximately six minutes when we'd be leaving. So there he was, safe from my short temper, inspecting his thumb for any changes since the last time he was mortally bored, when a pleasant-faced man on his way out the door called over his shoulder, "So, what do you think of all those commercials on TV telling you school will be starting soon?"
My son, realizing the man was addressing him, sat up straight and asked the man what he'd just said. The man repeated himself. I watched my son's expression rearrange itself from one of polite curiosity to acute anguish. The man might as well have approached my child with a pair of pliers to remove his fingernails.
I don't believe the man was purposely being sadistic. But it would help if people like him remember what it's like to be a kid in August, clinging to those last free days with the kind of frantic joy that comes from knowing each one is numbered. It's hard enough to be a kid (what with being dragged out to your big sister's boring old art exhibits and having your parents get all grumpy on you when all you want to know is when you'll be going home). The last thing you need is some adult ruining your day by cheerfully reminding you just how soon those numbers will run out.