Ah, the first day of school. The day kids dread and parents embrace. I love my family but summer vacation seems to have gotten longer since I was a kid.
Back in the day, when I had to walk up hill (both ways) through four feet of snow, along a ten mile rocky ledge I remember looking forward to summer vacation. The end of the school year always dragged on and summer just could not come fast enough. Now I'm a parent and the day I look forward to has moved about two months into the future.
As a kid, mid-June was the target day to look forward to, now it's the last week of August I look forward to!
I don't participate in the school shopping, my wife and daughter handle that well enough on their own. I do take part in the "after shopping fashion show." That's when my daughter shows me all the great stuff they purchased while my wife hides the receipts...
"Look at this one daddy! It's got all these cool designs on the butt!"
"Wow, you sure got a lot of those."
"It's OK daddy, they were only thirty cents each."
"Maybe it was thirty dollars, I don't remember... and look! We got you a pack of underwear!"
It's nice to know they thought of me when they were shopping.
So, where was I, oh yes... back to school!
Now that the school clothes shopping is complete we move on to the shark fest that is "school supply shopping." Unlike buying clothes, buying school supplies can be cut-throat.
About a week before school starts we get a list from the school about what supplies my daughter needs for the coming school year. We have an office store nearby and during that week, it is packed! Moms show up in their gladiatorial armor and fight over pencils, notebooks and filler paper.
"Back you foul beast! I claim this Sponge Bob folder for my child!"
"Avast ye scurvy lass, I was here first! I need that folder as I have already acquired the matching pencil box and eraser set. Look elsewhere for folders! Try one of those boy band folders over there."
"Oh no, those boy band folders are leftovers from last year! No child of mine will go to school with old school supplies! En Garde! Feel the wrath of my yardstick!"
"Yardstick?!?! Damn you mother of a fourth grader! My child is only in kindergarten and all my items have rubber safety caps on them... I must concede to your superior school supplies..."
My wife did the majority of school supply shopping this year. There was only one thing I was tasked with finding... a second grade composition book.
I don't remember these from when I was a kid. I always thought all composition books had the black and white cover and were exactly the same. Oh no, not anymore! Now they come in various colors, line spacing, etc...
So, on the way home from work, I stop by the big office supply store to look for one second grade composition book. I quickly find the regular composition books, the graph paper composition books, the green covered composition books and the red covered composition books, but I can not find the object of my quest... the "second grade" composition book. So, I ask a clerk.
"Excuse me, I'm looking for a second grade composition book, do you have any?"
"Yes sir we do... but... They're over there..." he points to the area of the store where all of the moms were shopping and fighting over supplies, "do you really need one?"
"Yup, I'm afraid I do. Do you have any in the back?"
"Sorry sir, everything we have is over there."
So, I make my way over to the school supply pit and try to slip through.
The first thing that hits me is the shear number of moms and kids packed into this area of the store. I can tell the experienced moms from the new moms. The experienced moms use their kids like extensions of their arms, "Bobby, over there, grab three packs of pencils. Jill, one aisle over, shelf two, get us 12 folders. Mike, rush that kid going for the pencil box sets, just slow him down long enough so your brother can pick out the one he wants. Ok, break!"
The experienced moms are like the coach from an NFL football team. They know the strengths and weaknesses of all of their children and she uses them to the fullest. She doesn't see additional kids as a problem, she sees them all as assets ready to be deployed onto the field of battle. The very best of experienced moms are even know to borrow kids from other families on school shopping trips. They look over the kids from other families and fill the holes in their lineup. She'll take the small squirrelly kid from one family to cover for the lack of a youngster on her team. She'll borrow an older kid to act as a team captain to help rein in the occasional wandering child. Yep, she knows how to get things done.
The in-experienced mom is the opposite. She's still learning the harsh realities of school shopping and often settles for the over-priced pencils from the big box store or just sends her kid in with basic yellow pencils and boring notebooks.
If you see a kid in class with a single color notebook and a box of number two pencils, he's got an inexperienced mom. See that kid with the folder that matches her hair clips, pencil box and shoes? She has an experienced mom, and it shows.
So, as I make my way into the pit of school supplies I put on my "oblivious dad" face and dive right in. It doesn't take long to find out they are out of stock of the book I needed. No, it wasn't due to my massive observation skills. I just walked in, walked through, found a manager and asked.
He is a bit frazzled looking but he is clearly glad to be out of the pit for a minute to talk.
"Second grade composition books? Sorry, we ran out this morning. A new shipment should arrive tomorrow evening. Do you need anything else?"
I can clearly see he wants an excuse to get out of the pit and walk around the store with me, but it is not meant to be. An inexperienced mom has grabbed on to him. She looks frightened and he has the 'oh no, not again' look. I walk away. I don't look back. Never look back.
Well, my daughter is one second grade composition book behind in the school supply department. I'll go back in a few days and buy one... but it will be AFTER school opens. I'm not cut out for this kind of duty.
I'll be there when she's ready to buy a car or talk about Quantum Mechanics and String Theory. I just can't deal with school shopping, it's not something men were meant to do!