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2009-09-10 digital edition

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2009-09-10 / School

School Supply Snafu

The traditional school year is starting again. This year, like every other year, I fall into the School Supply Trap. You'd think I'd know better after more than 20 years of First Days of School.

Most moms want to be proactive and don't want to put off school shopping until the last minute. We wait in earnest anticipation for the first clue about what their children will need for their particular grade. The first clue is sometimes a bogus list of supplies that the local office supply store displays right where the door meets the shopping carts.

Like an idiot, I grab one of those as if it were the only piece of flotsam floating in an academic sea of uncertainty. Even worse, this random piece of paper becomes my school supply bible, because until I hear otherwise, my child's teacher probably had some input on this list, otherwise they wouldn't display it, right?

It never occurs to me, until after I have already spent a kajillion dollars on school supplies, that maybe, just maybe, the office supply store might have an ulterior motive for providing bogus lists.

I usually don't discover the error of my ways until the elementary school teachers send a "Welcome Letter" that arrives, like clockwork, two days before school starts. This letter begins with the requisite lie, "Hi! I'm your teacher and we're going to have so much fun this year!" and ends with the rules for classroom behavior and what is considered "appropriate" clothing this year. No matter that most parents will have already done the clothes shopping, being that it is, as I said, TWO days before school starts.

In between these dubious pieces of information we will find the correct supply list which is usually way shorter than the one we found at the office supply store. However, the supplies we've already bought are not the same as what is on this short list. If we had hoped to avoid sharing the Walmart school supply aisle with every parent in the county and their whiny children - "But I wanted the Hanna Montana binder!" - we would be disappointed.

On one of the only two days that we are apparently permitted to shop for school supplies, we schlep back to Walmart to buy the correct supplies and have our yearly reunion with the other disgusted parents.

The middle schools and high schools don't even send a "Welcome Letter," so you have to guess what your children will need before they actually get there. I bought the basics: pens, pencils, a zippered binder to keep papers neat, loose-leaf paper for the binder, a selection of spiral notebooks and folders.

The children get docked points for coming to school without the correct supplies, but can gain them back if they bring Kleenex and paper towels for the classroom the next day. See? They're learning already: Extortion 101.

As expected, I did not correctly guess the supply list. He needed black pens. I bought blue ones. He needed four, count'em four, 2- inch, 3-ring binders - no zippers. He needed not one pack of looseleaf paper but a case, due to the many 3-ring binders. The spiral notebooks were no good, they had to be composition notebooks and he didn't need any folders at all.

A week later, the teachers will agree that four 2-inch, 3-ring binders will not fit into your average backpack - who knew? - so the children will be required to consolidate two subjects into one binder.

I would like to know just how much more my middle-schooler is learning than I did at that age, because everything I learned fit into one binder with dividers for each subject. Perhaps I'm not giving the teachers enough credit, though. My children may not know as much as I do about quadratic equations or prepositional phrases, but they can juggle binders like there's no tomorrow!

One thing I hope my children will understand better than I do is how to avoid getting caught in the School Supply Trap. However, they probably won't learn that from me.

Laura Snyder is a nationally syndicated columnist, author & speaker.

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