Each year my family and countless other ones participate in a time-consuming and expensive process – the search for and purchase of school supplies for the academic year ahead. No matter how many times I’ve gone through it, I find it never gets easier.
Each year the supply lists seem to get longer. Years ago when my teenage daughter was in elementary school, the list seemed doable and usually consisted of reasonable items such as marble notebooks, pencils, crayons, glue sticks, and erasers. Now as my son heads into third grade we are buying all of that plus boxes of Kleenex, cleaning supplies, Ziploc bags, and paper towels as well.
Getting to the store with kids in tow and searching for the items on our school supply lists is about as welcome as a colonoscopy prep. It never fails that seemingly hundreds of other people are looking for the same items at the same time (no matter what day and time we go shopping). It is amazing how quickly parents can navigate the aisles and load up the shopping cart with things that we need on our lists, making it necessary to get back into the car and head to another store.
After years of suffering during the last week of August on this journey into the heart of retail darkness, this year my wife and I decided to go on our supply quest a week early – what a shock to discover other parents had the same brilliant idea.
I recall years ago when my daughter needed a specific calculator that could not be found even online. Apparently, teachers everywhere participated in a nefarious plot to require the same damn calculator for fifth grade math. This year my challenge was on my son’s list – green pens. Red, black, and blue pens are available in copious supply in a variety of packages containing two pens at a reasonable price. I discovered after searching several stores that green pens are only found in large (and expensive) packages that contains 20 pens of various colors.
This year as we maneuvered the treacherous aisles of our local Target – made so mostly because of dropped packages of supplies on the floors and fellow shoppers blocking the way – my children’s faces looked more solemn than when they hear school is open on what they thought would be a snow day. It made me recall the classic Staples commercial with the hysterically happy father gleefully putting supplies into the shopping cart as his kids look at him with sad faces.
While the commercial is still very amusing, it does not capture how I really feel now. In one way I am happy to see the kids starting a new school year and moving forward in their lives, but I also share their solemnity because during the last ten weeks we have shared wonderful times together and I am going to miss that.
As we approached the checkout counter with a cart overflowing with supplies, I felt trepidation and almost wanted to grab my kids by their hands and rush out the door without the supplies hoping that would prevent time from moving forward, but we ended up going up to the cashier and paying for everything – a different kind of feeling overwhelmed me as I looked at the bags filled with supplies and realized what they all cost.
After leaving Target we all seemed exhausted; as we got into the car it felt as if we all survived The Battle of Green Pen Mountain. A quick trip to the ice cream shop rewarded the kids (and us) with a sweet, cold treat that we enjoyed – even though we realized that the dripping ice cream cones we held in our hands represented one of the last gasps of a summer that was almost gone.
Once again, we participated in and survived the quest for school supplies. It is a ritual all families must go through, and the sadness mixed with happiness involved is always bittersweet. Still, when they hoist those new backpacks on their shoulders and walk out the door on the day after Labor Day, a new adventure will begin, and I can be confident they have every supply they need for success.