Glancing over my kids’ school supply lists activates multiple regions of my brain. First the “Oh fuck!” region sends signals to the “How am I gonna afford all this?” receptors, while the traumatic memories of my last trip to Target with both my boys triggers a fight or flight response. The WTF cortex is also alerted, causing me to question why a 7-year-old needs 600 index cards.
Sound familiar? If school supply shopping fills you with angst, please know you are not alone. Far from it. Thousands of parents will hit the aisles in the coming weeks, lists in hand, muttering obscenities under their breath, comparing brands, questioning what they should do when the item only comes in a six pack and they just need two, and why are there so many things on this damn list anyway?
I’m right there with you. I’m a public school teacher, as well as a mom, and I still go through this. However, I may have some insight that hopefully alleviates some of these burning questions.
First, why are there so many things on the damn list? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with my teaching team, poring over our list, trying to figure out what we can do without. Teachers are often parents too, and we know supply lists can be costly. We work hard to only include the things we know we’ll use in the coming months. Please understand, though, that the things on the list are meant to get them through the entire year in a busy space with a bunch of their peers.
If money is a concern, it may help to break up your shopping over a few months (I’ve found the best sales are usually the earlier ones); I don’t know any teacher who would turn down a pack of Ticonderogas in October! Then, when all is said and done, do the math and take comfort in knowing that you’re still getting a hell of a deal. With most states averaging 180 school days per year, if you end up shelling out $100 in school supplies, that’s 56 cents a day for academic and social-emotional skill developing childcare. What a deal! Shit, even $200 is a whopping $1.11 for six hours. Yes, there are a lot of items, and it adds up, but we will be spending a lot of time together, and unstructured down time for a pack of children is … well, let’s just say that it’s not in anyone’s best interest.
As far as brands go, get the name brand, especially if it is specified that way on the list. As I said earlier, these have to last all year, and often the off brands just don’t cut it. For example, Crayola crayons are awesome, while some other brands tend to be super waxy, shed chunks, and break mid-project. Pencils? Don’t even get me started. All those cheapy brands are a complete waste. The lead breaks or falls out every. single. time it’s sharpened, resulting in frustrated students and teachers. Or, they don’t ever sharpen appropriately because the fucking lead isn’t even lined up properly, resulting in some really sharp, really useless pointy wood.
Finally, if they only have the six pack of whatever, but your supply list only asks for two, please — pretty please — get it anyway. After the students walk through those back to school doors with their bright and shiny new supplies, teachers everywhere will be staying at work late taking inventory and making notes of what they now need to supplement. In other words, when you buy the extra whatever, you’re helping out a fellow parent, a child and family from your community in need, and a teacher who already spends waaaaaaaaay too much of their own family’s income providing for other people’s children. You’d be surprised how ingratiating a few bonus glue sticks is to a teacher.
So, good luck to us all this shopping season. As we brave the aisles, muttering obscenities, let’s not forget a few important things: Our supplies are equivalent to 9-18 cents an hour for childcare, cheap pencils are the devil’s work, and nothing says “thank you for being bonkers enough to love this job” like a couple extra glue sticks.
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