The changing of the cleats means autumn is closing in

August 28, 1999|By Rob Kasper

SENSITIVE SOULS mark the approaching end of summer by noting subtle changes in foliage.

Not me. As a beleaguered parent, I sense that summer is almost over when I find myself in the shoe section of a sporting-goods store, getting ready for the changing of the cleats. This is a seasonal ritual in which a parent shells out money for yet another pair of cleats -- athletic shoes worn by his sports-playing offspring.

This time of year, the cleats being purchased are for football or soccer players. But back in the spring, the beleaguered parent was in same store buying baseball or lacrosse cleats.

The changing of the cleats is just one of several ways beleaguered parents detect seasonal change.

Another sure sign that summer is ending is when a missing pair of goggles is found. Typically, these goggles are given to a young swimmer early in June at the beginning of the summer swim-team season.

Typically, they disappear a few days later, and their loss causes much lamentation. And, typically, there is an epidemic of disappearing goggles at the neighborhood pool.

Swimmers who can't find their goggles start to borrow some from their friends and siblings. Soon the goggle-swapping practice is so widespread that lines of ownership are lost. By July, communism flourishes on the swim-goggle front.

Then late in August, as the beleaguered parent is cleaning out the car after the family vacation, he finds the missing swim goggles. They are in the car trunk, tucked next to the spare tire. There are several possible explanations of how the swim goggles got next to the spare tire. The most likely one is that the goggles were tossed in the car trunk at the conclusion of an away meet.

There are two kinds of swim meets, home and away. At both, parents stand in the blazing sun on Saturday morning for about four hours and watch their kids swim. At away meets, parents must spend an extra hour or two driving their kids to and from a far-flung pool. Both home and away meets turn parents' brains to dust. After an away meet, you leave in a hurry. So things get lost, including goggles and most of Saturday afternoon.

So when a beleaguered parent finds a pair of swim goggles in the car trunk, he is pleased, for two reasons. First, it means that something that once was lost has now been found. That always makes any parent happy. And second, from experience the parent knows that the missing goggles only appear after the swim-meet season -- when parents fry -- is over.

Another sign of the approaching end of summer is when the older kids at the neighborhood pool start worrying about their summer-reading lists. When the teen-agers start toting Orwell novels, the beleaguered parents know autumn is just around the corner.

Finally, a beleaguered parent knows that summer is almost over when he hears what really happened at the one-week camps he had shipped his kids off to.

One son, for instance, tells him that during the basketball camp he attended in College Park, a counselor nicknamed "Dorm Daddy" roused him and a floor full of campers in the middle of night. Dorm Daddy demanded that the campers turn over all squirt guns and the names of the squirters.

Then from another son, he hears that at the wrestling camp the kid attended in the Poconos, "Everybody was sick, and on the last day somebody from the health department or somewhere asked the sick kids a bunch of questions."

Hearing these summer-camp disclosures gives the beleaguered parent a sense of relief. He is delighted that these troubles were divulged after it was too late for him to do anything about them. And he is grateful that the summer, and all its attendant worries, will soon be over.

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