Thursday, May 26, 2022

I enjoy shopping, but only when it’s done alone. Add someone else to the mix, and the level of fun decreases by 30 percent. Add some kids, and you have a recipe for a form of punishment.

And so, when my kids happily pawed through the circulars that boasted school supplies at ridiculously discounted prices, they begged to be allowed to come along on this year’s pre-school shopping excursion. I pretended not to hear them, hoping they would forget and marvel at how their new backpacks magically came filled with notebooks and pencils, and those little critter erasers that fall apart and never really erase.

Typically, I go to Amazing Savings a few nights before schoolstarts and manage to check off most of the supplies on the lengthy list for a total of $10. I am then forced to go to Staples or OfficeMax to get the more obscure items on the list, like a red striped plastic folder with side pockets, or an index card box with dividers that have the alphabet written on them. Because every other parent in Bergen County has not waited until the last minute and has already purchased the very last cool 2-inch hard plastic binder with rings, all that’s left for me to buy is usually a solid-colored brown one. “It looks like mud!” my daughter will say, forcing a few tears from her eyes. I will have to stuff it away in the back of a closet or try to convince her to decorate it with glitter and stickers before giving up and ordering her binder of choice online—and ship it overnight for the price of all the other school supplies combined.

I was going to do things differently this year. Try out a new system. I printed out the supply list a few days after it circulated and thought I’d shop while the kids were still in camp, enjoying the quiet, focused on purchases I could make without being asked to buy every pen with a twirly feather at the top. This will make me have the neatest handwriting! Or a locker rug. I know I don’t have a locker, but it will make my books so cozy in my cubby. But then those circulars were published, and the glossy pictures and brightly colored products flashed in front of my kids’ eyes like the gigantic Toys ‘R Us pre-Christmas catalogue that I am forbidden to throw out every year.

“Don’t shop without us!” they cried, followed by, “Where is the list?”

I was trapped. I couldn’t even lie and say I had already bought everything, because then they’d ask to see the stuff. And I’d have to pull out the muddy binder and pretend it was new, and would endure the tear-fest all over again, and the hours online scrolling through the pages of endless possibilities of patterned notebooks.

“Okay,” I said, breathing deeply, preparing myself for the overflowing shopping cart of useless “school necessities” I was sure to be lured into buying. I would have to build up my stamina. Mentally rehearse the word “NO,” many times before heading out with the four of them. I would have to prepare the excuses. You don’t need a 12-pack of Sharpies for nursery school. At least the baby can’t talk.

I am lucky because we are not going on any major vacation during the week before school starts. I am free to spend the entirety of that time engaged in battling my children over which pencils to buy, even though I don’t think we need pencils at all. We can just sharpen all 175 half-used pencils that sit, forlorn, in a drawer in the kitchen. But I think it’s just easier to give in. And I suppose it will generate some excitement before school begins.

My optimism grows. There is also clothing to be purchased, and they haven’t asked me about that, haven’t yet connected that in order for their closets to be full, someone has to go out and buy the clothes. And that someone still happily goes alone.

“I would like a tie-dyed shirt!” my 4-year-old announces.

“I’ll get it for you, don’t worry,” I say, and keep my fingers crossed that she doesn’t invite herself along for the trip.

By Sarah I. Abenaim

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