And They're Off!
But NOT without a backpack filled with school supplies.
On your mark. Get Set. GO!!! Theeeeey’re off like a herd of turtles -- youngsters and teens heading back to school this coming week here in Athens-Clarke County. This annual American race to the education goal line brings with it emotions that run the gamut from terror to excitement. And participants number more than those at the Peachtree Road Race.
But hold your horses, folks. Not so fast. There are a few hurdles you parents must jump before letting go of your little darlings. I’m raising my hand and requesting, “May I say something?” Please call on me teacher…I’ve just GOT to comment on this huge modern ritual of assembling school supplies BEFORE the students arrive at the classroom door.
This race to the portals of public schools is BIG business. And I had the opportunity of experiencing the melee of mad shoppers, young and old, as they selected the requested, yes, I say REQUESTED, items needed to attend school in Clarke, Oconee and surrounding counties. Now I didn’t say MANDATED, but we all know, it’s kind of like the Godfather of Education puts it, “We expect all who brighten our classrooms to come fully loaded with the following items…or else…” What’s a parent to do?
Well, of course, be a good parent and do as you are told. You pace yourself for the first laps of preparation and aim for the inside lane. Purchase each item listed, lest the dreaded ruler-slap of embarrassment be brought down on your child if he/she doesn’t show up well-equipped to learn and be sanitized. You head to Wal-Mart and fight for that last 5-pack of large pink erasers, several reams of wide-ruled notebook paper, an assortment of writing implements, and Kleenex, among other things.
My good friend/editor, Rebecca McCarthy, let me tag along as she set out to shop for her twin daughters’ Kindergarten Must Have List. Now you’ve got to remember, she’s shopping for two. And many parents are shopping for more - in different grades - which means different lists.
The stage is set. We're at the starting gate. Cart in hand, and off we rolled into the sliding doors of Wal-Mart. I’m an experienced shopper. I know the ins and outs of maneuvering through aisles of merchandise and locating purchases. Not so Rebecca – I think I saw a twinge of fear as we headed for the School Supplies displays. So many people, so many choices, so many price-cuts to consider.
I have to give Wal-Mart credit – their organization of the vast amount of school supplies is amazing. These things are properly displayed right at the front of the store. They seem to have done everything possible to help ease the pain of this task. And at the store on Epps Bridge Parkway, the personnel was extremely pleasant and helpful. In no time we had our buggy filled, and Rebecca had made her list, and checked it twice.
But not before making detours to the Health and Beauty department for such things as sanitary wipes, and antibacterial handsoap. THEN on to the Grocery wing of the store for baggies….need directions? Take a sharp right and go approximately 1 mile, turn left at Paper Goods etc. Rebecca would probably still be there if she hadn’t had me as her GPS.
Whew! Me being in need of some adult refreshment, we headed for check-out. But not before stopping and savoring the fashion statements which You Tube has made famous via Wal-Mart Shoppers. I simply call it, “Cheap Creep Chic.” Takes a lot of nerve to go in public dressed as many do. (See last week’s column)
Meg to Rebecca: “Vulgar T-shirt alert! One o’clock west.” Rebecca to Meg: “Got it. Tattooed cleavage up ahead”…” Meg to Rebecca: “Roger. Copy that.” We got so distracted we almost left the boxes of Kleenex and reams of copy paper on top of the check-out carousel. (The List specified Kleenex, mind you, not tissues.)
Once home, I sat and pondered this whole experience. I am a bit saddened about the whole “get these supplies” thing. When I was a child at Barrow Elementary, part of the fun of the first day was finding your assigned desk or chair where all of your own new tools of the trade were laid out in front of you. A new box of crayons, a writing tablet and big fat pencil, some round-tipped scissors and a jar of wheat paste were all we needed to start school. It sort of calmed the jitters, seeing special new things that were meant for only YOU. Christmas in September. (School never started until after Labor Day back then.) To heck with not being able to sit next to your best friend. You had brand new things that you had not set eyes upon until that "first day."
I vaguely recall having to buy a few items for my children to take with them on the first day. But even then, so much of what they needed was provided by the school. Necessary items in the restrooms were just "givens." Now girls have to take babywipes and antibacterial cloths. Spare me. I DO remember having to invest in very complicated hand-held calculators for both Frank and Mackie. Little did I know it was an omen for the future.
I began to worry about those children whose parents can’t afford the $50-or-more-per-child required items. So in pursuit of visuals for this column, I headed back to Wal-Mart to assemble my very own First Grade at Timothy Elementary little girl’s back-to-school kit. And happily donated it with love.
In fact, I just may load my cart next time with the items that the school requested for use by the general population. Bottled water. Wide ruled notebook paper,#2 yellow pencils, white construction paper (I've yet to find this), instant hand sanitizer, liquid hand soap and Clorox wipes. Mercy me. What has our public school system come to?
My father, Uly Gunn, served as the chairman of the Board of Education for years. He would be so distressed that the system is sending out an SOS for these supplies. I guess it's like Petula Clarke sang back in the 60s -- "It's A Sign of the Times." Like it or lump it.
I also realized, after reviewing the list for the Kindergarteners, Rebecca and I had forgotten the five-packs of big erasers. That’s when I reuturned for the third time to the store, really got lucky, and snatched the last two packs in the bin. Seriously. Bingo!
Wave the checkered flag. Crossing the finish line with pride, I felt like I won by a mile! Uly would be proud. I'm whipped. And I don't even have a horse in this race!