6 Truths about Back-to-School Shopping

22nd Jul 2016

Like it or not, retailers have declared the official start of Back-to-School shopping. Hunting down all the supplies your kids need for another year of learning is one of those tasks many parents dread (this one included). Here are six truths about the experience that should at least remind you: we're all in this together. 

1. Stores will set up “Back to School” displays well before they should be legally permitted to do so.

Why???? The Fourth of July is barely in the books and stores immediately launch into Back to School overdrive. Walk through the doors at Target and—bam! The dollar section is filled with flashcards, primary colors, and cheery oversized crayon décor. It's downright cruel. 

2. Your child's school supply list will be ambiguous.

Exhibit A: Ziplock bags. Sounds easy enough, right? WRONG. What size Ziplock bags does he need? Do they have to be the double zip variety or are slider OK? Is the 24-pack enough or do I have to buy the value size? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

Exhibit B: Descriptors like “several” or “a box of” are worthless. My daughter's idea of “several” and my idea of “several” are approximately eight erasers apart. Tissues come in 14 different sizes. Notebooks are college ruled, wide ruled, and composition style. Teachers of the world: parents crave insultingly elementary instructions on these lists. We're terrified of being "that" mom who sends all the wrong stuff and disappoints you before the first bell ever rings. Save us from ourselves!  

3. Stores will never have everything you need.

Take crayons, for example. My second grader needs four 24-count boxes of crayons (apparently they're going to color all day, every day). We scan the “School Shop!” section with its bins of pencils, markers, erasers, notebooks, safety scissors...and ONE box of 24-count crayons. O-N-E. Sure, I could have bought the “Super Saturated and Highly Washable!” boxes for $2.97 a pop, but darn it, this is America and I want the .50 cent boxes. 

Side note: I thought I'd outsmarted the store when I detoured to the arts and crafts section, thinking they'd certainly have them on display where most parents would never think to look. I'll save you some time: don't bother.

4. Everyone will fight.

You're bound to begin with a handicap called bitterness (see above), and it never bodes well for a mother's sanity. On one particularly hot afternoon when the kids were groaning about it being too hot to be outside, I loaded everone into the van for a trip to Target. Air conditioning, everyone else in town at the overcrowded pool, weeks earlier than I typically cave in to school shopping so its bound to be chok full of everything we need--what could go wrong?

You guessd it: everything.

I wrestled the toddler into a cart and bribed her into submission with three packages of fruit snacks and a free pass to dig through my purse. We picked up the supplies lists, headed over to the back-to-school section, and immediately regretted all my decisions in life.

“Mom, why are all the erasers pink?” my 5-year-old whined. (I don't know, son, I guess eraser trees are all pink).

“Why does he get to have watercolor paints?” my daughter pouted. (The List said so, kid. You get 96 crayons, why are you complaining?)

My head was starting to spin when I caught the eye of another mom nearby. She had just tersely informed her daughter that for the third time, no, she didn't know if that meant the 12-pack or the 24-pack and they'd have to just pick one and hope for the best. She gripped her cart in disgust and drew her mouth into a tight frown. We gave each other a knowing, curt shake of the head and silently agreed: this is hell on earth for every mother.

5. You will spend an obscene amount of money

I don't know how a few notebooks, some bottles of glue, and a couple dozen other supplies add up to well over a hundred dollars, but they do. There's simply no way around it. 

6. You will vow to do this alone next year.

Spoiler alert: you won't.  

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