The search for back-to-school supplies


IT'S BACK-TO-SCHOOL time, parents, and you know what that means! It's time to get the kids off the TV-room sofa, using logging equipment if necessary, and take them to the mall for back-to-school supplies.

Getting the right school supplies is crucial to your child's chances for success. We all remember the tragic story of young Abraham Lincoln, whose family could not afford school supplies, so he had to write on a shovel blade with a piece of coal. This meant that if young Abe saw a cute girl and wanted to pass her a note in class, he had to hand her this gross, filthy digging implement, sometimes with worm parts stuck to it, and she'd go, "Ewwww!" As a result, Abe had low self-esteem and was so desperate for popularity that he became president.

What are the right kind of supplies? According to the American Association of School Teachers Who Get the Whole Summer Off and You Don't Ha Ha Ha: "Every item your child takes to school, including dental braces, must be festooned with a licensed cartoon character such as the Little Mermaid or Leonardo DiCaprio."

Your child also needs a backpack or - if you wish to have a truly modern child - an airline-style suitcase with a handle and wheels. In my neighborhood I see elementary-school students hauling these things around, and I say to myself, "They're in second grade! What are they carrying in there? Fifty-pound Twinkies?"

Also, you cannot send your child back to school without a compass and a protractor. A compass is a thing with a sharp metal point and a little mutant pencil that is always falling out. A protractor is a thing that you always get when you get a compass. Nobody has the faintest idea what their purpose is, other than using the metal point to carve bad words into desks.

Another item on the back-to-school list is a notebook. There are ++ many kinds on the market today, but for my money, the old-fashioned three-ring binder remains one of the most useless things ever invented. I spent basically all of my classroom time from 1955 through 1963 trying to repair torn notebook paper with those reinforcing rings that were always gumming themselves together into a little clot. It cannot be coincidence that during these same years, the Soviet Union surged way ahead in the space race.

Finally, while you're in the school-supplies department, see if they have any of that heavy white paste that we used in first grade for art projects. Kids don't need it for school, but you should pick up a pound anyway, because it's delicious.

OK! Now it's time to shop for back-to-school clothes. What kinds of outfits do today's kids want? They want outfits that you really hate. If you have a daughter, you would prefer for her to go to school dressed, basically, as a nun; she wants to look as if she has been rejected for employment by a house of prostitution on the grounds of looking too slutty. How do you resolve this dispute? According to the American Association of Child Psychologists, the secret is to "discuss your differences with your daughter, openly and nonjudgmentally, until the two of you are screaming at each other and she stomps away shouting at the top of her lungs that she hates you and is going to join a motorcycle gang."

Buying clothes for boys is much easier. What boys want to wear is - big pants. A good rule of thumb is, if the pants do not contain enough material to make all the sails needed to equip a full-sized 19th-century whaling vessel, then those pants are too small.

OK! You're all done with your back-to-school shopping! Even if school doesn't start for several more days, shove the little rascals out the door and lock it. Because you've had a long, noisy summer, and you deserve a chance to just lie quietly on the sofa and relax. Maybe fix yourself a bowl of paste.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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