> Family > Heart of Matter

Back to School and Broke

May 9, 2009 | by Judy Gruen

Suddenly, at the end of August, kids not only need new wardrobes, but also a list of school supplies longer than the federal tax code.

I had been looking forward to lolling around during the last days of
summer, eating fudge brownie ice cream with the kids. Instead, I have been
forced into action, running around like a woman possessed, surrendering my
credit card to every retailer in town so that my kids are smartly attired
to return to a place they had just as soon never see again.

This end of summer skirmish known as "back-to-school shopping" assumes an urgent life of its own. Suddenly, at the end of August, kids not only need new
wardrobes, but also a list of school supplies longer than the federal tax
code. I bet you Lewis and Clark didn't need this much stuff when they set
out to explore the Louisiana Purchase, making the happy discovery of Six
Flags Hurricane Harbor in Dallas/Ft. Worth along the way.

I doubt that Lewis complained to Clark, "Hey, my backpack has buffalo scratches on it. I'm not going crossing another stream until we find a decent sporting
goods store so I can get a new one." Kids today lack this hardy pioneer
spirit. They lose a single wheel from their rolling backpacks and they
simply cannot cope. (Of course, you cannot find new backpacks in February,
when the wheel will fall off. That's why rolling backpacks are a curse.)

I understand why the kids need new clothes. It may be all the sunshine or
the hidden nutrients in all the Popsicles they've been eating, but
whatever the reason, even if their clothes still fit them through July,
when they wake up on August 1 they will have rocketed out of their
wardrobes entirely.

The only clothing left in town is either for toddlers or the unnerving size known as "extra-large-husky."

My kids make dramatic entrances into my room, with pained looks on their faces, as they demonstrate the impossibility of trying to squeeze their feet into shoes that fit yesterday but are now ridiculously small. The pants that buttoned yesterday are an inch too tight, and skirts that became stylishly short overnight will not pass
muster with the uniform cops at school. This leads to tense situations in
which I dash out to purchase new pants, skirts and shoes, only to find
that 50,000 other moms are doing the exact same thing but have
beat me to it, and the only clothing left in town is either for toddlers
or the unnerving size known as "extra-large-husky."

That is why I am now spending my evenings moving buttons on pants and
letting down hems, and praying that my hopeless sewing skills will hold
out until Land's End delivers the goods.

But this bit about school supplies really has got my goat. I keep hearing
that the schools need more money, and that must be true, since no matter
how many billions of dollars we sink into the educational system, schools
still don't even have enough money to spring for a few pencils and rulers.
Where does all this money actually go? It isn't for books either, since we
also now have "textbook" fees in addition to everything else.

This year,we were instructed to send the kids not only with all manner of writing
and coloring equipment, but also with facial tissues and cleaning
supplies! Mark my words: It won't be long until they add to the school
supply list: "Teachers."

Of course, now that I have spent more money on school supplies and clothes
than the United States spent on the aforementioned Louisiana Purchase, I
have to wonder: will the kids take their studies any more seriously than
they did last year? I comfort myself with the idea that when you have hit
rock bottom, there's only one way to go from there. Last year, while one
child was doing math homework, he asked me to help him find a calculator.

"You're supposed to figure out the problem on your own," I said, "not with
the help of a machine."

"No, Mom, you're wrong. It says right here, 'Calculate the area of the
rhombus.' How can you calculate without a calculator?"

I shouldn't have been surprised. This was the same child who thought that
a thesaurus was a kind of a dinosaur, and that if God had meant for us to
use a dictionary, He would have downloaded one into our Palm Pilots.

Well, my kids may be less enthusiastic than I'd like as the new school
year dawns, but at by golly, they sure are dressed for success.


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