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The Curse of the Rolling Backpacks and Other Back-to-School Dilemmas

The Curse of the Rolling Backpacks and Other Back-to-School Dilemmas


I had been looking forward to lolling around during the waning days of summer, eating runny sugar-free ice cream while my kids savored the premium scoops. But adding insult to injury, I was forced into aerobic action: running around like a woman possessed, surrendering my credit card to every retailer in town so that my kids could be smartly attired and equipped to return to a place they usually cannot stand. This end-of-summer skirmish known as "back-to-school shopping" assumes an urgent life of its own. Suddenly, kids not only need new wardrobes, but also a list of school supplies longer than the federal tax code. I bet you Lewis and Clark didn't need this much stuff when they set out to explore the Louisiana Purchase, making the happy discovery of Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Dallas/Ft. Worth along the way.

Lewis and Clark didn't need this much stuff I doubt that Lewis complained to Clark, "Hey, my backpack has buffalo scratches on it. I'm not crossing another stream until we find a decent sporting goods store so I can get a new one." Kids today lack this hardy pioneer spirit. They lose a single wheel from their rolling backpacks and they simply cannot cope. Naturally, the wheel will fall off in February, when you can no longer find new backpacks. That's why rolling backpacks are a curse.

It may be all the Vitamin D in the sunshine, or the hidden nutrients in all that ice cream they've been wolfing down, but I can almost guarantee that by August 25, kids whose wardrobes fit them the day before will have rocketed out of them entirely. With pained looks on their faces, they will demonstrate the impossibility of trying to squeeze their feet into shoes that fit yesterday but are now ridiculously small and pants that refuse to button. Although I dash out to purchase new pants, shirts and shoes fifty thousand other moms have beat me to it, and the only clothing left in town is either for toddlers or the unnerving size known as "extra-large-husky."

That is why I am now spending my evenings moving buttons on pants and letting down hems, and praying that my hapless sewing skills will hold out until Land's End delivers the goods.

But this bit about school supplies is really galling. I keep hearing that the schools need more money and that must be true since, despite double-digit annual tuition increases, schools still can't even spring for a few pencils and rulers. Where does all this money actually go? It can't be for books, since we have "textbook" fees on top of everything else. Is it just me, or does anyone else out there think that when high school tuition tops eighteen thousand dollars (not including the mandatory banquet tickets), they might also throw in a few books in the bargain? And no wonder our kids need such huge backpacks: This year we've been informed that our younger kids not only need to bring every kind of writing implement imaginable, but also facial tissues and cleaning supplies. Mark my words, it won't be long until they add to the school supply list: "Teachers."

Where does all this money actually go? Now that I have spent more money on school supplies and clothes than the United States spent on the aforementioned Louisiana Purchase, I wonder: Will the kids take their studies any more seriously than they did last year? I comfort myself that when you have hit rock bottom, there's only one way to go from there. Last year, while one child was laboring over math homework, he asked me to help him find a calculator.

"You're supposed to figure out the problem on your own," I said, "not with the help of a machine."

"No, Mom, it says right here: 'Calculate the area of the rhombus.' How can you calculate without a calculator?"

I shouldn't have been surprised. This was the same child who thought that a thesaurus was a kind of a dinosaur, and that if the Almighty had meant for us to use a dictionary, He would have downloaded one into our Blackberrys.

I don't kid myself that my shopping is over. At least one teacher will probably send an additional list of supplies that must be purchased – probably on Back-to-School night – and I'll have to duke it out with other parents to see who gets the last stretchy book cover left at Staples. I can only hope that this new academic year, my kids' minds stay half as sharp as their new pencils.

Judy Gruen’s latest award-winning book is Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. Read more of her work on her website.
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Sarah Peart Lausanne, Switzerland July 26, 2011

School supplies I am a grade school teacher and whenever I can - if it is not against school policy - I collect money from the parents and supply the material needed from this! It also stops the "But I can´t do any maths I have no pencil (or whatever)" The extra work for me is little and I have an arrangement with the local stationary shop who gives me 10% off (and saves over large orders for me at even more off!!). I keep the receipts for untrusting parents. Last year it was less than €40 - for pencils, erasers, sharpeners, coloured pencils, scissors, paper - lined and squared, folders, pens, ink, rulers, compasses and geometry sets. Another advantage is that because they belong to the class they cannot be stolen or lost! Reply