Wonders of Buying for New School Year


September 10, 1995|By KEVIN THOMAS

One of my favorite commercials this past summer was the one for Staples, the office supply warehouse.

If you haven't seen it, let's just say that it is destined to becoman anthem to parents everywhere.

To the tune of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," a guy who epitomizes middle-aged parenthood skips through the store pushing his cart and gleefully filling it with school supplies.

But it is the two children who truly steal the show, following Dad like reluctant robots, both offering up the most sullen, dejected expressions imaginable. The appeal of this commercial springs from the notion that no matter who you are, there's a little bit of either the parent or the child in all of us.

My kids, for instance, don't quite fit the stereotype. They couldn't wait to get back to school. Let's face it, summertime comes like an oasis after a year of getting up early to shower, dress and catch the bus.

But after a couple of months, most kids feel they've done just about everything summer has to offer. There are just so many camps to be enrolled in and trips to take.

The pool has gotten redundant, unless you're like my son and have discovered the joys of thrilling little girls with an endless series of sweat-drenched volleyball games. By the time school is about to start again, just enough time has passed to have forgotten some of the grueling monotony of being a student.

This year, like others, my kids approached going back to the school with the same script they carry with them every year.

At the top of their list of wants are always clothes and school supplies.

The school supplies are unavoidable I suppose, although the list of things kids feel they have to have these days truly boggles the mind.

I don't mind saying, crotchety old man that I am, that in my time all we needed was a three-ring notebook, a wad of wide-rule paper and some pencils.

Nowadays, the notebooks are made of slick nylon and have lots of zippers and pockets. There are brightly colored dividers, two-pocket portfolios, fancy pens, hole punchers, nylon lunch bags and more.

Last year, my kids had to have these elaborate computer devices where they could keep a diary, check their horoscopes and do their math calculations from the palm of their hand. What made these things so appealing to kids is that you can't access any of the information without a secret code.

Personally, I think the people who manufacture these things are engaged in mass subversion.

Think about it. A parent-proof diary where the innermost thoughts of our young ones can be hidden away from prying eyes.

Could anything be more empowering to a child than the ability to keep their parents in the dark?

The one saving grace of these devices is that, like every fad, they have a short shelf life.

I know of two that are collecting dust even now.

Still, I continue to be gullible in almost all respects except the notion that children need a brand new wardrobe before they go back to school. In all the years my kids have been in school, they have never wavered in their expectation that they should get all new clothes at the end of August.

And every year, I launch into my lecture about how foolish it is to buy any new clothes until the weather starts to change. (Translation: When the real sales start.)

This is, of course, the speech every child hates to hear and the reaction is usually like those kids in the Staples commercial.

Of course, sending the kids back to school is never without its difficulties. Between shopping, making lunches, fixing hair, checking homework and getting them back on a schedule, the beginning of the school year can be exhausting.

No matter how you slice it, there's something bittersweet about it. Maybe not the most wonderful time of the year, but a true event nonetheless.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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