Tuesday, 19 August 2008

When Did This Happen?

Every year it creeps up on us. It happens so silently and so stealthily that we are stunned by its imminent presence. It is pervasive and insidious. It has an almost viral quality. I speak, of course of the "Back to School" season. I don't know when this happened. I don't know when the preparations for the return to the classroom took on a "Christmas-like" radiance. When did shopping for school become a moral and retail imperative? I remember when my boys were much younger and they received complete supply lists from their teachers detailing the necessities for the upcoming year. These lists (coming from their publicly funded schools!!) would often include such previously unheard of items like tissue, bottled water and Purell! This was on top of the paper, notebooks, dividers, pencils, erasers, math kits, calculators, coloured pencils, report covers, agenda books, glue sticks, and staplers!! I have often wondered how those with fixed budgets coped with this extravagance. I know and understand that public school funding is an issue, but it really has gotten out of hand!! This doesn't even begin to address the inevitable wardrobe enhancements that all the retailers tell the kids that they require. I am also loathe to understand why certain places are even running back to school sales. Tell me, honestly! What kid really requires a back to school DVD player or a back to school massage? Not only that!! These back to school sales were being advertised almost immediately after school let out for the summer!!! Show me the kid or parent who wants to think about what they will be wearing in September at the end of June!

It is a bit different in our house this year. This year, Younger Son is preparing to leave for university and turn the husband and me into empty-nesters. (Older Son has been gone, but not forgotten for three years now!) His needs and requirements are exceeding the standard paper and notebook purchases. In addition to tuition, dorm fees, meal plan, incidental meal items, (sushi-because we refuse to pay for keggers!) and orientation registration, there are sundry and not really all that marginal items like books!! His computer needs an external hard drive and a printer, because he sure as hell isn't taking ours. He needs sheets and bedding, because God forbid that the dorm beds take standard sheets. No!! They require something called extra-long. Bed Bath and Beyond even has something called a Dorm List. They present it to you when you enter the store and it is supposed to guide you through shopping hell. What a first-year needs with scented candles and bath oils I am still trying to figure out!

After diligently making our lists, the Younger Son and I headed out to the big box store nirvana in our area. We managed to procure all of the major items, and a few of the minor ones as well. It was due in no small part to a patient mother and a hungry son, who was promised sushi at the end of our excursion if he behaved like an active participant. My friends with daughters heading off in the fall, tell me tales of their girls wanting to act like underaged decorators, outfitting their dorm rooms with everything from new linens to carpets and lamps. My son--he was happy to have a new pillow!! I should be proud. I have raised a no-frills, utilitarian, bare-bones kind of kid who cares more about his classroom supplies than his living quarters. If stores were relying on Younger Son to pad their "back to school' bottom-lines, they were looking in the wrong direction. Believe me, we made a dent in our VISA card, but it could have been a lot worse. My guess is that we have not yet seen the end of it and that more is coming. Until then, I think I will be content with the Halloween candy that I found on sale during our shopping excursion. Only 2 1/2 months until the trick or treaters show up!!!


  1. Dawn, I've seen those lists of paper, notebooks, dividers, pencils, erasers, math kits, calculators, coloured pencils, report covers, agenda books, glue sticks, and staplers!!
    Let me assure you that we teachers in less affluent schools don't burden those on fixed budgets with those requests - they're provided by the school out of classroom budgets. This is where public school funding is a real issue - it means that wealthier kids have more classroom money available for other classroom supplies (more new books? computers? printed math workbooks?) Kids who aren't as likely to have books and computers at home, for example, have fewer available at school as a result. It drives me nuts.