Most moms want to be proactive and don't want to put off school
shopping until the last minute. We wait in earnest anticipation for
the first clue about what our children will need for their
particular grade. The first clue is sometimes a bogus list of
supplies that the local office supply store displays right where the
door meets the shopping carts.
Like an idiot, I grab one of those
as if it were the only piece of flotsam floating in an academic sea
of uncertainty. Even worse, this random piece of paper becomes my
school supply bible, because until I hear otherwise, my child's
teacher probably had some input on this list; otherwise, the store
wouldn't display it, right?
It never occurs to me, until after I have already spent a
kajillion dollars on school supplies, that maybe, just maybe, the
office supply store might have an ulterior motive for providing
I usually don't discover the error of my ways until the
elementary school teachers send a "welcome letter" that arrives,
like clockwork, two days before school starts. This letter begins
with the requisite lie: "Hi! I'm your teacher and we're going to
have so much fun this year!" and ends with the rules for classroom
behavior and what is considered "appropriate" clothing this year. No
matter that most parents will have already done the clothes shopping
-- being that it is, as I said, TWO days before school starts.
In between these dubious pieces of information we will find the
correct supply list, which is usually way shorter than the one we
found at the office supply store. However, the supplies we've
already bought are not the same as what is on this short list. If we
had hoped to avoid sharing the Walmart school supply aisle with
every parent in the county and their whiny children -- "But I wanted
the Hannah Montana binder!" -- we will be disappointed.
On one of the only two days that we are apparently permitted to
shop for school supplies, we schlep back to Walmart to buy the
correct supplies and have our yearly reunion with the other
[to top of second column]
The middle schools and high schools don't even send a "welcome
letter," so you have to guess what your children will need before
they actually get there. I bought the basics: pens, pencils, a
zippered binder to keep papers neat, loose-leaf paper for the
binder, a selection of spiral notebooks and folders.
get docked points for coming to school without the correct supplies
but can gain them back if they bring Kleenex and paper towels for
the classroom the next day. See? They're learning already: Extortion
As expected, I did not correctly guess the supply list. He needed
black pens. I bought blue ones. He needed four -- count 'em, four --
2-inch, three-ring binders with no zippers. He needed not one pack
of loose-leaf paper but a case, due to the many three-ring binders.
The spiral notebooks were no good -- they had to be composition
notebooks -- and he didn't need any folders at all.
A week later, the teachers will agree that four 2-inch,
three-ring binders will not fit into your average backpack -- who
knew? -- so the children will be required to consolidate two
subjects into one binder.
I would like to know just how much more my middle-schooler is
learning than I did at that age, because everything I learned fit
into one binder with dividers for each subject. Perhaps I'm not
giving the teachers enough credit, though. My children may not know
as much as I do about quadratic equations or prepositional phrases,
but they can juggle binders like there's no tomorrow!
One thing I hope my children will understand better than I do is
how to avoid getting caught in the school supply trap. However, they
probably won't learn that from me.
[By LAURA SNYDER]
Laura Snyder is a nationally syndicated columnist,
author and speaker. You can reach her at
or visit www.lauraonlife.com
for more info.