Three reasons school supply shopping destroys lives
posted by: gretchen
My lack of planning should be a top emergency for the nation’s school supply retailers. With six school-aged kids and their jam-packed lists, I dread this time of year more than any other. I’d rather do 100% of my holiday shopping at a convenience store on Christmas Eve than shop for school supplies. Therefore, I avoid it and don’t make eye contact with school supply departments until the last minute.
It doesn’t help that I must buy 38 glue sticks and nearly 500 pencils, 18 boxes of facial tissue, and enough markers to cover my toddler’s arms in his self-styled, homemade tattoos until he’s an octogenarian. I recently shopped and didn’t come close to completing the lists.
There are three reasons school supply shopping is an almost universally awful experience. If you are one of those parents who adores standing in a crowded aisle at a big-box retailer comparing the prices between one pack of 12 glue sticks and 6 packs of 2 glue sticks, this isn’t the post for you.
1. Teachers create lists of hard-to-find, baffling things
Most of my kids can bring in regular, store brand pencils. One of my kids, however, must bring the most expensive brand of pencil on the market. I believe these pencils are hand-carved from virgin oak by Bavarian artisans. They are painted yellow with dye made from strands of crushed saffron. The graphite rods are surgical grade and pure enough to slay a vampire if shot into his cold heart. With every stroke, the scent of sandalwood is released into the air. We must provide 75 of these snooty pencils, pre-sharpened. But guess what? I’m only providing half because I have other stuff to buy. My son won’t go through a single pencil every 2 days, anyway. Will he?
It’s also annoying when teachers require certain colors. What happened to getting the folder of your choice and writing MATH at the top? No, it must be magenta with two pockets, 3 prongs, plastic, and opaque. An example from this year’s very anal lists include highlighters in 5 different colors. Two of my kids must bring yellow, blue, green, pink, and purple highlighting pens. But we could only find packs with yellow, blue, green, pink, and ORANGE. I bought them anyway, feeling like a rebel. Ha! Take that. I’ve also been known to wear mis-matched socks and sneak cheap candy bars into movies. While all the good kids are highlighting passages in purple, mine will be using ORANGE and getting along just fine, I’m sure.
2. School supply buyers at stores must not have actual kids who attend actual schools
Dear Big Box Retailer School Supply Buyer: I promise you, with every cell in my tired body, there is no teacher who has ever, ever required glitter pens and locker chandeliers on their lists. Yet you have entire aisles devoted to the sensibilities of 10-year-old girls. Are you a 10-year-old girl? There are plenty of teachers who require multiple boxes of markers, both fine and wide-tipped. They also tend to list crazy things like crayons and glue sticks. But you run out of these items more than a week before school starts. It betrays a lack of planning and insight on your part. I understand not wanting to be stuck with excess inventory, but crayons and glue are staples. They will sell if you had them stacked to the ceiling.
We visited three stores to cobble together our kids’ school supplies and we still couldn’t find everything. We were continually baffled by empty bins and shelves that normally house the very basics of school supplies. Had our kids needed wall maps of North America and scented erasers, we would have been thrilled. I can see them now, with their gargantuan maps spread on their desks and teeny rubber strawberry-scented unicorns perched atop their pencils.
I know why your stock is low: You want to make it easier for the Halloween costumes and decorations to crash into stores the moment the school bell rings. You’ll put all the locker chandeliers on clearance and meanwhile my kids will be writing with stumpy crayons culled from the bottom of my purse with restaurant names printed on the paper.
3. My own pathetic lack of planning, foresight, and energy
I’m fair. I realize the nightmare of school shopping doesn’t lie entirely in ridiculous lists and poor retail planning. I could have started shopping on the last day of school, when my kids brought home their report cards and next year’s school supply lists. I had all summer to collect glue, wide-ruled paper, and sticky notes. However, the prices on these items are high during the off-season. I could stock up on armloads of binders and clear dividers, but at a very real cost. Parents wait until right before school starts because prices become more friendly and accessible.
There is a sweet spot with school shopping. I’m picturing a two-hour window on a morning in late July when bountiful stock and rock-bottom prices meet. The lucky parents who shop during this mythical moment, akin to a portal opening to Xanadu itself, are blessed creatures indeed. I am not one of them. I’m the mom loudly asking her kids if they actually used all those dry erase markers I bought last year. You never mention dry erase markers at the dinner table, I stammer.
They sigh and I feel humbled. At least I can buy supplies. They are receiving great educations and have teachers who (mostly) look the other way when the ruler is wood instead of plastic. So much has to come together to educate our kids these days. When stress is added, it compounds until the worst problem you face is that the sticky notes are pink and not yellow.
That’s a problem many of the world’s parents would love to have. Griping about school supplies is easy to do. It’s a trap, though, born from a way of life in a place where we have that luxury. I need to remind myself to get a grip and have some perspective.
I will never, ever believe in snooty pencils though.