Back To School

I just want to buy school supplies.
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I Literally Can’t Wait To Buy School Supplies This Year

Because this year, I promise I won’t even complain about the lack of primary composition notebooks on the shelves.

I loved school supply shopping as a kid. It was a whole day affair, a break from the pool and the park and the video games — the things my siblings and I had been obsessed with all summer. It usually happened when we still had a few weeks left of vacation, but were anxious to meet our new teacher, to see our friends, to wear brand new clothes and tennis shoes that felt a little stiff. It was exciting to pick out a book bag and Lisa Frank TrapperKeeper, and comforting, like we were doing the prep work for the next! big! thing! Because when you’re a kid, there’s always something big and new and bright around the corner.

I tasted this exact same excitement two years ago, when it was time to take my own daughter back-to-school shopping for kindergarten. It’s a version of nesting — making sure there are new dresses and shoes, that Alice has enough pencils, that I can send her into the next grade knowing she’s fully prepared, a cheese quesadilla with her favorite fruit snacks and a cookie in her brand new rainbow lunchbox. That I can send her into the shiny new thing.

Then came last year — oh, last year! — when school supply shopping felt like I was prepping my baby to survive a disaster. (I kind of was.) Did she even need a Moana book bag? What was the point in buying her classroom a stack of disinfectant wipes if there was no classroom to go to? And forget setting aside time to peruse the shelves. I wore a mask in the Target drive-up space, waiting on someone to bring me out my order and wave from six feet away when they needed my code from the app. I tried to organize things into the desk drawers in her room, which felt weird and discomforting, knowing her school supplies were right there next to her Barbie Dreamhouse.

When it became clear she would be going back to the classroom at some point, it became a game of making sure she had enough of each item — notebooks, pencils, hand sanitizer (for the love of God) — because there would be no sharing, no community pot of crayons, no books to pass back and forth between kids. It felt like I was packing up her book bag to send her into a scene from The Walking Dead. The terror and dread took all the fun out of back-to-school shopping. I needed masks, and then extra masks. I needed a lunch box that could withstand the elements, because there would be no eating in the lunchroom. It felt sad. (And expensive.)

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But this year. This year, I am ready. I am thrilled. I will buy every single item on my kid’s school supply list with a smile on my face, even if the year still feels a little off and weird. I will pick up extra pencils in case a classmate doesn’t have any. I will dig through the toppled over notebooks until I find the exact one my second grader needs. I will buy glue sticks and new headphones and the exact brand of dry erase markers her teacher requests, no matter how much they cost. I will park at the end of the Target parking lot and savor every step of walking into a store, knowing how paralyzing that felt last year, so that I can touch — actually touch! — all of the scented erasers and glitter pens and brightly colored index cards hanging in rows. I will not scoff at the parents flinging things into their cart without any regard for the people behind them. I will walk up and down every aisle looking for a composition notebook, even if I have to ask a Target employee to see if there are extras in the back. I will not, for one second, be disappointed by the regimented second grade list, or the need to buy another pack of masks.

This year I won’t mind any of it. This school year might still feel a little different, a little strained and confusing, and yes, scary, but it is lightyears away from how we felt last year, when there was so little to be excited about. Every pencil pouch, every sharpener, every box of crayons and pack of copy paper and container of Clorox wipes symbolizes hope and joy and love. I want to hug my daughter’s teachers and ask them which brand of red pen they prefer. I want to spend all day in the school, organizing the PTA room with new supplies, asking teachers if I can help decorate bulletin boards and wipe down the door handles with disinfectant.

All this is a way for me to nest my little bird and protect her and pad her with the good folders and scissors and an armor of pencil boxes so she can have the best possible second grade year. For the first time in 18 months, it feels like there is a bright, shiny thing waiting for her around the corner.

This year, school supply shopping feels hopeful. (And expensive.)