How do you know when school is about to begin?
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Little Mermaid appear on everything from socks to school bags.
When there are no more summer camps for your youngster to attend.
When your kids become preoccupied with the names of illnesses that can keep them home from school.
Perhaps most telling, however, is when area stores bombard you with so-called "in" fashions.
Wendyand Michael Simms Sr. have learned a lot over the years about surviving the "I need" battle while, at the same time, keeping 11-year-old Michael Jr. and 7-year-old Erin satisfied.
This year, the teachersat Harman Elementary already have made it known what their students must have to start the year off right. The list includes a pink eraser, two black marbled notebooks and an art smock for second-graders like Erin; a protractor, compass and hole puncher for sixth-graders like Michael.
Saturday, the family ventured out on a preliminary shopping trip to Marley Station mall. There they were one of many families measuring feet and pressing clothes against shoulders to judge whether they would fit.
In Erin's case, her foot had grown an entire shoe size from last year. At a children's shoe store, the bright-eyed student goes straight for a dressy pair of black patent leather shoeswith a bow at the front.
Her mother tries to direct her attentionto a simpler slip-on shoe.
"What about these, Erin? Remember, we're looking for something for school," her mother softly urges. "We want everyday shoes."
With her small purse draped across her shoulder, Erin eyes one shoe, flashes a smile, then nods back toward the other shoe. It's a stalemate. They move on to tennis shoes.
In this area, there are fewer problems. They agree on a white pair with pink shoe strings and purple trim. Dad is called over for his usual inspection. On one knee, he pokes the toe area to make sure there is enough growing room. They make the purchase -- just less than $40.
Then they spot the Little Folks store, and Erin heads for a colorful dress with stretch shorts attached.
With a red balloon attached to her wrist, the precocious youngster points out everything she is interested in.
Then it's Michael's turn. He has been waiting patiently, trying to warm his father to new Nike Air Jordan tennis shoes, which sell for about $125.
Finally, they make it to Footlocker and Michael holds up the tennis shoe he says will put him on the map in schoolyard basketball. His father, a C&P Telephone Co. engineer, listens intently to his son's soliloquy, then tries to get him to look at other options.
"This is where we have to reach a compromise," Simms Sr. says. "I try to find something at a reasonable price that won't embarrass him. Maybe we won't get the top of the line, but something in between."
After Michael Jr. realizes that his father is not convinced,he decides to hold his tongue to battle another day.
When shopping, every member of the Simms family has a personal style. "I try to be as reasonable as possible and get a little bit at a time," Mrs. Simms says. Her husband has a pet peeve: finding school bags that last an entire year. Michael Jr. hopes his father will be influenced a little more by television commercials. Erin is, well, Erin.
Although little progress has been made, the family takes a break to watch the mall's Back to School fashion show.