NEW YORK Like millions of other parents this time of year, Im about to embark on the annual scavenger hunt known as back-to-school shopping.
I thought this dreadful ritual would get easier when my youngest son reached middle school, but in fact, it merely multiplied from one nerve-racking list to six along with the number of teachers he has.
I would be fine if these lists were simple reminders of basic supplies pencils, pens, paper, notebooks. Sure, they need a few folders and a book bag, and as math gets more complicated, graph paper and a calculator. I even can understand index cards, Post-its and a yellow highlighter.
But how many times do you see parents wandering up and down the aisles of Staples or Walmart or OfficeMax searching for items that either dont exist or that have sold out in a frenzy as mothers of every kid in Miss So-and-Sos class fought for the last graph paper, marble composition book, fine-point Flair pen or half-inch three-ring binder (no one-inchers allowed!) on earth?
Diana Shackleford, a Dallas mom and freelance writer, also points out that stores and teachers lists routinely disagree on pen and pencil package counts. The list asks for a 12-count, but pencils and pens come in a 10-count package!
The worst part of this retail insanity is that, at least with my son, half of this stuff never gets used. I have a drawer full of Post-its in every conceivable color and size, ordered up over the years by any number of teachers. The only hope I have of getting through the sticky little stacks is to leave myself notes on the fridge that say things like, Have a nice day!
Other school supplies simply vanish once they are in my home, only to be found years later. My older son recently graduated from high school and cleaned his room for the first time in Id rather not say how many years. Somewhere in that horrifying mess on the floor, under the bed, in drawers and the closet he was harboring, Im not kidding, hundreds upon hundreds of pens and pencils. I always wondered how we went through so many of them every year, and now I know. Every time he needed a writing implement, he used it once, then apparently threw it into the landfill otherwise known as his room. Either that, or hes like those cat hoarders who have 37 felines in their homes, only hes hoarding Bic ballpoints and No. 2 pencils.
I will admit that one aspect of back-to-school supply shopping is tougher for parents of younger kids than parents of teens. The little kids teachers still want arts and crafts-type supplies, and some of these can be pretty obscure.
For my kindergartner, I was asked to bring in colored feathers, which I finally found at a craft store, said Holly Michael of Dayton, Ohio. Another time I was assigned colored, scented stamp pads. My mom is a teacher herself, and between the two of us, we went to four different craft and teacher stores trying to find them, and they werent cheap.
Michael, who works for a public relations and marketing agency, adds that as a working mom, I dont always have time to run out and find these odd requests.
Another issue I have is with all the supplies ordered up by teachers to keep my children organized. In September, I dutifully purchase whatever they require: The accordion file with alphabetical pockets! Double-pocket folders! Spiral-bound notebooks with one pocket inside the front cover!
But it makes no difference. At the end of the year, all of my childrens school work is in a giant random stack of paper, organized neither by subject nor date.
The good news is, because so many school supplies go untouched, I can recycle them. I just have to hope that the teacher who orders up college-ruled marble composition books this year wont mind that Im substituting last years wide-ruled spirals. And that the unused Pokemon folders from the late 90s are so old, the kids see them as retro rather than out-of-date.
Then again, since chances are slim that those folders actually will be used, it probably wont matter.