Sunday, July 31, 2011

What's On Your List?

What makes your wallet cringe? What fills aisles with frantic people clutching rumpled lists in sweaty palms?

A popular television ad sings, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!"

I am not talking about "Black Friday" sales the day after Thanksgiving, I'm describing "Back to School" shopping. Judging by the lists everyone is carrying, there is a goal to put stores "in the black" a few months sooner selling folders, (one of my boys needed 25 folders 5 in 5 colors, plus two. Why yes, his list really does require TWENTY SEVEN folders), pens, pencils, erasers, stretchy book covers (remember the old days when we used paper bags?), and binders (my boys only need the 2" and 3" in specific colors), etc. etc. etc.

Now, I am not writing to complain. Honest. I have never met their teachers and I am sure they have reasons for the lists and the supplies and that they are very nice. Please don't be angry at me, teachers.

Regardless of the who and why, the "back to school" aisles are filled with anguish. And it's not even the kids being gloomy about going back to teachers and tests and mystery meat in the cafeteria. No! It's the poor parents trying to figure out what to buy and how they are going to pay for it.

A total stranger stopped me to ask my opinion about two fancy binders, the brand is recommended on her daughter's list but there are two options, which is better? I was baffled. It could have been that they were pink and pink binders are just not my area of expertise (yet), or it could be that when things like this come up, I drag said child along to torture me with whining and rolling eyes choose. I happened to be standing with a friend who is a mother of daughters so I invited her into the conversation and she in turn asked her daughter. As I left the school supply aisle, the woman was on the phone asking her daughter which one.

I will be the first to admit I take this seriously. If I do not have the proper supplies for my kids, what might it say about my parenting or how much I value education? Will my kids be in trouble or teased if I do not buy the right stuff? I know I am not alone because the aisles were packed with people more intense about their sweaty, crumpled lists. What if these extensive lists are a financial hardship? While there are donation sites all around, what if the sites cannot fulfill the needs or people are uncomfortable asking? What kind of stress does this put on families? And to what end?

I understand that budget cuts mean families need to supply more stuff, but where do we draw the line? How much stuff is too much? Is all this "stuff" really going to make them learn better?

I don't know. I don't have the answers. Their lists are pinned to the wall, items checked off, supplies piled neatly in my closet. We still need things but as my friend said today, doing it in little bits takes some of the sting out.

I just keep thinking about the tablets and shared primers Laura Ingalls Wilder referred to in her Little House books. Hmmmm.....Going to school was simpler then, although the primers and tablets were a hardship for some. Maybe it's all about perspective? Or maybe the teachers own stock in folder manufacturing?


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