Your Child Will Need to Bring 48 Pencils

I can’t tell you how happy I am that the kids are finally back in school. So far, they actually seem to be happy too. It’s perfect bliss all around.

However, it didn’t come without a price to pay, and that was back-to-school shopping.

Now I know that some mothers LOVE to go back to school shopping with their daughters, but I am not one of them. Maybe because I grew up in a place where the term back to school shopping isn’t even part of the language. Or maybe I’m just a mean mom (more likely). In any case, I hate it.

By the way, this isn’t about clothes. I could actually be talked into going clothes shopping. No, this is about school supplies. Which we already have overflowing drawers full of, but each year we seem to need more. We need, of course, exactly what the school supply list says we do. We also need matching binders and color-coded folders to go with those binders. And last year’s binders absolutely won’t do, because they are an inch and a half wide instead of an inch. Or vice versa.

You would think that I’d just order the supply pack from the PTO that comes in a tidy cardboard box, delivered to your classroom, and be done with it. No shopping necessary, you get everything in it that you need. But while I hate supply shopping, I’m also kind of cheap. Those supply packs always have way too much of everything in them. And things you don’t have to buy new every year, like scissors. Although our family has a history of having them confiscated at airport security, so scissors we might in fact be in the market for again. What we do have lots and lots of is loose leaf paper – the boys are too lazy to take notes and can make do with about 25 sheets per year, it seems – and hundreds of pencils.

school supplies

It is the pencils that send me over the edge this year. 48 Pencils, says Sunshine’s list. Excuse me, 48? Per child? You could outfit a whole township school in South Africa with 48 pencils.  How in the world could one person possibly write so much as to need 48 pencils in 180 days?And then the girls enlighten me. The boys sit there and break them in half by bending them across their foreheads, they tell me. And they’ll compete with each other as to how many they can break at a time. There you go, that makes perfect sense. One can see how you get through 48 pencils pretty quickly that way.

So as to avoid overpaying for a box with 48 pencils in it, my plan is to buy our own supplies sometime this summer. Of course “sometime this summer” to me means something else entirely than to the girls. In my mind it means the first week of August right before the start of school. To the girls it means the first week of June, right at the start of summer, which is when the nagging starts. When are we going to go back to school shopping? And, We absolutely have to go back to school shopping this week, Mom!!! 

We finally go supply shopping, just so the nagging stops. (This makes me reflect on the fact that nagging, in fact, DOES work, and I keep a mental note of it.) We go to Target. Target has o.k. binders and they are cheap, and Target has a whole lot of other stuff, but the locker shelves they have are all wrong. Too narrow and not high enough and Mom, the books aren’t going to fit under it, no way. I am not surprised. Scoring all the supplies in one single shopping trip would have been a miracle akin to Jesus Walking On Water, and so I voluntarily head over to Office Max with them. I hand them $20 and drop them off at the door, and I go get a Grande Latte at Starbucks in the meantime, congratulating myself on the way I handled that. The locker shelf from Office Max is indeed perfect, and all is well.

Except then school starts. And Teacher X hands a supply list to the 8th grade kids that is nothing like what was on the pre-summer-break supply list. And Impatience comes home after the first day of school greeting me with We have to go get more school supplies NOW. I know from experience that it is better to go NOW NOW NOW than to argue. I’m not going to bore you with the details of our second shopping trip, because no sane person will understand how I possibly put up with all of that, but let me tell you we went to three (3!) stores to come up with the perfect 10-tab dividers for Impatience, who that day ensured that she’ll be stuck with that blog name for another year at least. Not 8-tab dividers, not a combination of 2 5-tab dividers either, the (so I thought) smart suggestion by her brother earning withering looks, not the one single set of 10-tab dividers we finally dug out from under a disorderly strewn about pile left by the masses of previous shoppers, because They don’t look nice, Mom. What we did find in those three stores is plenty more binders that were so much nicer and sturdier than the cheap Target ones, and I let myself be talked into getting those instead.

I skip the latte that day when we get home and go straight for the wine, over which I contemplate that I’m now left with a trunk full of binders to be returned to various stores, as well as a new list of supplies for the boys who are Very sorry we didn’t tell you this yesterday.

Over dinner, I fill in Noisette about my shopping odyssey (he always loves to hear where all his money is going). I talk about how shopping early backfires, as evidenced by the wrong supply list, but how shopping late is also bad, because you compete with a bazillion other last-minute shoppers over an ever-dwindling stash of supplies. I talk about the good old days in South Africa and how they didn’t give us such bothersome lists there, and instead let the kids bring whatever they felt they needed, so that you didn’t end up buying a pack with way too much in it. But it turns out I’m totally deluded.

That’s not true mom, chimes in Jabulani. They had those supply packs there as well.

Oh, but those were only for the disadvantaged children, weren’t they, says Noisette.

No, they were for everybody, says Jabulani. Mom just never bought those for us because she didn’t want to spend the money. WE were the disadvantaged children!

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