While there’s much to love about this time of the year, like the sight of the backs of our children’s heads as they finally ascend the school bus stairs, and that lovely “whoosh” sound its door makes as it closes shut, there are also many things to hate. Like school supply shopping and back to school night. Why do schools require children to have four two-inch binders when such voluminous bricks of plastic do not even fit into a backpack together and still allow it to zip? Someone needs to give educators a math word problem involving two-inch binders and backpack volume and have them work that out over the summer.
As I was perusing the aisles at the nearby tax-free Delaware Wal-Mart with my children’s back-to-school shopping lists, my daughter asking for matching locker accessories, I was reminded of my own school supply shopping of yesteryear, and how it affected social status. Depending on the grade level, in general this consisted of a simple pencil box, a few #2 pencils, ballpoint pens, composition books, a pack of loose-leaf paper, spiral bound notebooks, pocket folders, and the “Trapper Keeper”: a large binder that housed the pocket folders and was a fashion statement of sorts. You were judged on whether yours was a name brand from CVS or not—how thick, what color, this year’s model or last, cool stickers from the sticker store (some of which were required to be scratch and sniff) at the mall—there were at least 10 ways to determine how cool you were based on how you carted your homework around. To say nothing of what was on the front of your lunch box.
And your notebooks were another way that your seating placement in the cafeteria would be determined. Plain $.50 generic 70-sheet wide-ruled spiral blue notebook? Party of one, loser. Jake Ryan Sixteen Candles hologram notebook? Come sit by me. Plain folders or Lisa Frank folders? Normal pencils or troll pencils? Crayola markers or Mr. Sketch get-you-high scented markers (pass the black licorice)? Pens or GEL PENS? Erasers or scented erasers? Man we were obsessed with sniffing our school supplies in the 1980s. What was up with that?
My son’s supply list included 10 pocket folders. At Wal-Mart a daunting aisle of pocket folders arose before us. He could not find an Orioles folder, but we were in tax-free Delaware, so we settled for orange and found a large (non-scented) Orioles sticker. He’s in a neon phase so he picked out a few of those. His sister asked why he picked out a pink neon one, which he then motioned to put back. I shamed her for shaming him about gender bias, and he kept the pink neon. I picked out a Darth Vader one. He gave me a funny look. I asked why Darth Vader wasn’t cool anymore. He gave me a sympathetic glance, and into the cart went Darth, along with a few Avengers I couldn’t name, a few Superheroes I could, purple for the Ravens, some holographic ones. He didn’t give a crap about the notebooks, so we bought the $.50 ones. He chose a neon pencil case and neon pencils.
Meanwhile, my seventh grader had taken her list to the designer locker accessory aisle and searched Pinterest for the best ways to decorate your middle school locker to match your outfits each week, and also wasn’t this nail polish really cute, and by the way she needed a mouth guard for field hockey and some food for the birds and a flash drive was also on her list and when could she go real shopping because she needs new jeans. She did find a cute pencil case that “No one would be able to tell was from Wal-Mart!” School shopping social status rules don’t change.