Written by Lisa Gibalerio
You’d think that someone like me – someone who doesn’t work much professionally in the summer and consequently shares a house with three kids underfoot for ten long weeks – would be overjoyed when school resumes in September. And yes, there is something gratifying about the kids having some place to be for six hours a day, five days a week – other than our living room couch with various iDevices in their hands. There is a certain amount of sweet relief that comes with reclaiming a bit of precious time on the margins, once school bells chime again after Labor Day.
But this year, I found myself missing those long, unstructured summer days as Back-To-School stress snuck out and ambushed me.
The seeds of this stress were planted in the last weeks of summer. It was then that the kids started anticipating their supply lists. It didn’t seem to matter whether a set of supplies had been requested by a teacher, these children desired new supplies for the coming school year whether they needed them or not.
Starting to feel overwhelmed at the shopping task ahead, I began to wonder which stores were offering the best deals on the basic items. I decided to ask around and – I am not making this up – got a different answer from every person I asked. It seemed that Target, BJ’s, Ocean State Job Lot, Walmart, and Staples were each offering the best prices. At the same time.
This of course left me with no clue where to go.
But then, out of the blue, my middle child claimed that the binders she absolutely, positively needed to survive eighth grade could only be found at Staples. I was suspicious, but figured we’d check them out, as I had heard something about a ‘penny sale.’ Anyway, I had a destination now! So, off we went.
The binders in question were small, maybe an inch thick, and Staples had them in stock.
“Fine,” I sighed. “How many do you need and how much are they?”
“Five total,” she told me.
The thin binders she’d gathered were – I swear I am not making this up either – $7.99 each! So much for the "penny sale." Forty dollars for five binders and I had not yet begun to figure out clothing and footwear needs.
I made the purchase. It couldn’t get any worse, I thought.
That’s when my son informed me he required a “graphing calculator” that runs about $100 in stores and only slightly cheaper online. My jaw was still hanging open when the additional needs, in rapid-fire succession, started pouring in: tissues, cleaning wipes, highlighters, colored pencils, paper towels, crayons, pencils, antibacterial soap, markers, composition notebooks, wide binders, and on and on.
That was mere prologue.
Then came the night before the first day of school. I managed to find three lunch boxes, which in itself is rather amazing. School-related items in this house – backpacks, lunch boxes, footwear that is not flip flops – have a way of mysteriously re-locating themselves while I’m sitting at the Underwood Pool. But this year, the lunch boxes were easily retrieved and I placed them on the counter.
Then I panicked. What do I put in these lunch boxes? In the course of 10 weeks I had completely forgotten how to pack a lunch. And yes, I know, my kids should pack their own lunches, but we all know that, left on their own, they’d be packing cookies, oyster crackers, and Nutella® fluff sandwiches.
Finally, however, the first day arrived and, somehow, they all got out the door and were school-bound, armed with balanced lunches and backpacks filled with school supplies that cost more than the house my grandparents purchased in 1946.
“Well, those bills won’t come in for a while,” I thought, and I was enjoying the eerily quiet home-front.
But then, in the blink of an eye, they returned. And they all had papers for me to read and sign right-this-very-minute.
When I suggested that their father plod through the papers and sign the forms, they shrieked: “No! He actually reads everything. He’ll ask follow-up questions. Just sign your name here!”
That wasn’t all. Someone (who shall remain nameless) needed help with math homework. I was the only adult home, but I don’t remember a bloody thing about math other than how to add, subtract, divide, and multiply. With dread, I looked down at the homework assignment.
It was about then that I began to long for summer vacation, back when the children slept late and I received zero “must read” school related emails. I began to wish for a time when there was no need to wrangle them to bed at night and then from bed in the morning. Or to implore 79 times in an hour “Put that iPod thing away, at least until your homework is done.” Or to drive individual kids to soccer, basketball and band practice, all at the same time!”
I miss you, summer.