I'm not sure which is more depressing: Passing the bathing suits on their rock-bottom sales racks, or seeing the happy moms on their way to the three-ring binder display. Am I the only one who regards school supply shopping with the cheer usually reserved for pet burials?
I know this should be a time of joy: The kids are growing up, they're starting a new grade, they're growing up did I say that already? But when I realized that my fifth-grader didn't even have crayons on his list anymore, I felt like I might as well go drop him off at college or the office. How swiftly flow the years from paste to pens to PCs! Then I felt guilty for feeling good when I saw that his list included Band-Aids.
Still young enough for boo-boos. Hooray!
"The school year starting is like a birthday," said Kit Yarrow, a psychologist attempting to explain why some parents feel so bummed cruising Office Depot on a summer's day. "But in September, it's you and all the other moms saying, 'Gosh! My kid is a fifth-grader!' " And by the way, she added darkly, "Just wait till he's 13."
I'm waiting. And in the meantime, I am in the school supply aisle, trying to get the 1 zillion, god-are-these-teachers-anal items to send with my son on opening day:
50 pencils (50? Are there beavers in his class?)
One package EXPO brand low-odor, chisel-tip, dry-erase markers (could you be a bit more specific?)
One box of tissues (for me!)
"What I want to know," asked mom Katie Wilkinson, "is when they say, 'Crayola brand,' do I have to? 'Pack of wipes' is that baby wipes or disinfectant wipes for the desk?"
Why does getting all this right matter so much to us, anyway?
A friend of mine believes that when we shop for our kids, we revert to being kids ourselves. If you're an ex-goody-goody like me, you want to impress your teacher by being, as usual, perfect.
Maybe the non-goody-goodies are the ones who shop so cheerfully. Their self-worth does not hang on wresting that last pink eraser Back off, witch! It's mine! from the other mom about to grab it.
But the real source of my anxiety is clearly this: By the time you're buying erasers, you are facing the inevitable: school. And with school comes another year of dragging your kids out of bed, juggling who will pick them up, goading them to do their homework, inviting them to go to bed, ordering them to go to bed, threatening them: It's 9:30! Lights out! And then spending the next hour signing all the crumpled forms you find in their backpacks.
Their dear little backpacks, with the Reese's wrappers and origami footballs in them.
And the school supplies, of course, because you have a school-age kid. And deep down, you know you are very lucky.