This is my 13th year with a kid in school, so I consider myself a total pro on the school supply shopping circuit. I know exactly what we’ll need: ruled paper, pencils, index cards and three-ring binders. We’re also gonna stock up on spiral notebooks, glue sticks, folders (without prongs!), cases of disinfectant wipes, tissues and flat pink erasers. But I also know of a few other things I’m gonna need—like stuff moms really must have, and stuff kids will only remember they need at approximately 10 p.m. the night before they actually need it. Let’s just call these things “school sanity-saver supplies.” Supplies you just can’t find at the front of a Target store right now.
1. Alcohol or Workout Clothes. Or Both.
Personally, I’m a runner, not a drinker, but whatever helps get you through homework filled with timed multiplication tables and daily reading logs, I say, you go, Mama. Stock the hell up on it! I don’t condone you becoming a full-blown drunkard, but red wine is good for your heart, and maybe for calming your temper too. If it helps you load backpacks and line up shoes by the door the night before without screaming and turning blue, then of course, don’t forget the vino. Me? This time of year it’s all about getting back to my running-the-insanity-off schedule, so it will be some new running kicks for me, right alongside the kids’ new lunch boxes. Maybe some new spandex capris. And a race entry.
2. One Totally Completed Science Project
Yep. That’s right, the whole shebang. Just go ahead and take one day this summer (like when the kids are crying, “I’m bored!”) and seriously just complete an entire science project. The tri-fold display, hypothesis covered, bar graph exhibited, perfectly presented theory on why plants can’t be fed soda—because that night is coming. You know the one. If you’ve already had a kid go through middle school, right now you are enthusiastically nodding your head up and down and mumbling, “Yes! I remember! Never again will I do a science project on the dreaded night before.” While you’re at it, go ahead and whip up a shoebox diorama of the state of Ohio, a book report on Hatchet and an “all about me” collage made from magazine pictures. Make those impending last-minute huge projects your bitch now. Do them all this summer.
3. Emergency Hidden Cash
Last year, I found myself writing a check out to the school for ONE DOLLAR more times than I’d like to admit. Pathetic on so many levels, and right up there with the time I left my debit card under a kid’s pillow with a note attached reading, “Tooth fairy says do not exceed $10.” So this year I’m stashing some greenbacks away just for those insane mornings when a kid is dramatically whining that the world is coming to an end because he forgot to tell me he needed to bring in $1 today for *insert any type of school event, cause, fundraiser, lunch here.* On that note, when will I be able to just leave a few blank checks with the school’s bookkeeper?
4. Dress-Up Costumes
Hit the thrift shops this summer, and start to get your kid’s costume closet stocked for this year’s thematic social studies, science and math units. Don’t get me wrong—I love my kid’s school. I love that their teachers implement creative and artistic ways of teaching, which include many dress-up days, and I’m grateful I’m pretty handy with a glue gun and needle and thread. But combine overzealous Pinterest moms (me included) and that one kid’s grandma (a former professional seamstress who produced an Academy Award-winning replica of a Johnny Appleseed costume last year), and I need a little more than one week’s time to engineer a John Glenn spaceflight suit (with helmet!), a Saint Francis of Assisi robe, and a *insert favorite book character here* costume. I will be ahead of the game this year. I have already scored a generic colonial-ish number that can at least cover the entire pre-Civil War era and a former president, as well as pull double-duty as a pilgrim. #Bam.
5. Phone Numbers of the ‘Borrower Moms’
Ladies, if you don’t have these moms on your speed dial, find them. And do it now. These fellow village members can save your last-minute ass more than you can ever imagine—like when your kid’s first soccer practice rolls around and you have forgotten to pick up shinguards and cleats (and also don’t want to fork over $80 for shoes he’ll outgrow in three weeks), and when the colonial-ish costume you lined up won’t work because your son chose to take the Underground Railroad instead.
She is especially handy when you have lost every permission slip, group project assignment, digital textbook login, golf team uniform, tennis racket, teacher appreciation luncheon sign-up sheet, and just can’t even anything anymore. CALL HER. Borrow the cleats, the homework, a Harriet Tubman costume, the science project her kid did last year (it was better than Coca-Cola meets Christmas cactus), the ballet shoes, cheer bows, math book, her coffee cake recipe and that damn copy of Hatchet. I thank God every new school year for my borrower moms, who don’t flinch an inch when I phone them at 6:30 a.m. sleepily mumbling an, “Oh shit I forgot…do you have one I can borrow for school today?” And fellow borrower moms, I’ve got your back too. I totally snagged a long black beard and top hat last week at a yard sale. I see a kid Abraham Lincoln in your future. Call me.
6. Just This One Sentence
And you can’t buy it, borrow it or steal it, but it’s worth its weight in gold. Repeat after me: “I’m sorry. I can’t help with that.” Say it again, moms: “I’m sorry. I can’t help with that.” You can do this. Now with some real backbone, courage and zero guilt. All together now: “I. Am. Sorry. I cannot help with that.” No, it doesn’t make you lazy, uninvolved, selfish or indifferent. It makes you realistic, responsible and, most likely, a little bit relieved. It’s OK to not do it all anymore in those later years of schooling. It’s OK to pass the torch on to the kindergarten moms, to take a volunteer break, and to do it without explanation.
There’s no need to follow the sentence with “because I have to….” Have to what exactly? Stay sane? Not overextend yourself? Be a happier mom? If all the things you do, do, do leave you full of resentment, stress, and plenty of wah, wah, wahs, then stop doing them. If you’re close to the school finish line, do you want to be crawling over it, or finishing strong? Keep your heads up and try to embrace the notion of a “delegate, not dedicate” mentality. (And I speak from experience, volunteering in a high school is way cooler anyway. No glue sticks involved.)