Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Few afternoons are as fun as the ones when my kids bring home the Scholastic Books Catalogue from school, its pages colorful and bright, boasting all the books they have yet to read, all the posters and prizes and spy kits they do not yet own, all of the things they also need to get for their siblings as early birthday gifts. And by “fun,” I mean, really really not-fun.

It always starts the same way. The excitement over the book selection! The lengthy discussion of the merits of one book over the next. The pleas for me to buy at least one item on each page, or three things that have been circled. My dictatorial, “No,” followed by hours and hours and hours of the child rolling around on the floor, thrashing, begging, crying, explaining how he/she will fail out of school because the teacher wrote “bring Scholastic money!” in the homework pad, and now he/she cannot do the assignment. How he is the only one in the whole world who will not get a book. How she has the worst life because she will not get the voice-activated password diary. And I try to ignore it all, to step over the flailing child on the floor and focus on feeding my other kids dinner, but every month, it’s the same torturous routine.

I just want to beg the teachers not to send these things home anymore. Or else, they can be invited to my house to deal with my children. It’s a genius plan by Scholastic. Send home a catalogue and tell teachers to excite their students under the guise of reading. Then whittle away at the parents’ patience until they crack and are forced to spend the entirety of their salaries on books, and books with plastic mood rings that don’t really change color, and books with magic rock collections and real/fake dinosaur bones.

I have not always been this negative. The first time a child of mine brought home one of these pamphlets, I graciously allowed her to pick one book. Which she sped-read for a total of one minute, one time. Then, it sat on our bookshelf next to the discount Amazing Savings books and free PJ Library books, and there it still sits, only nobody has touched it since.

We regularly visit the library and take out the maximum 50 books on a monthly basis, and so I became unsure as to why this one flimsy book was so necessary. “Let’s just get these from the library!” I suggest, the next time I am presented with a Scholastic catalogue bearing 13 circled items. After much opposition, we sit down and look up the books on the library’s online catalogue, reserving as many as possible. This is good, but still not completely satisfying, as it does not fulfill the craving to “buy new stuff.” The next month, the children turn to my husband, the more generous of the parents.

“If you can do 100 burpees, I will buy you whatever book you want,” he says, challenging them to a fitness feat he is sure they will never accomplish. I can do only a single burpee, a stand/squat/pushup/jumping-jacks move, and I will clearly never earn any books that way. The kids, on the other hand, are motivated, and somehow, to our surprise, earn a brain-teasers book, complete with a metal puzzle-toy.

I have given them opportunities to earn money to buy books themselves, but I don’t really like paying them for chores that they should be doing for free. And so now, my final decision in navigating the Scholastic pamphlet mega-tantrum-saga is that the kids can use their own money to buy books. Suddenly, nobody wants them anymore.

It is only Monday, and it says in the homework pad that book orders are due Friday. A few more days of tearful pleading, of “worst mother’ accusations, and then I will be home-free. Until next month.

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children in Teaneck. She is working on her first book. More of her essays can be read at www.writersblackout.wordpress.com. She can be reached at [email protected]

By Sarah Abenaim

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