By Hallie Bandy
I had a friend with eight kids. I used to sign up for nursery duty with her, hoping she would impart some amazing parenting wisdom. One day, as we watched her then-two-year-old busily ruling his small universe, she gave me this nugget, “When he goes to school, I am going back to bed for the day.”
I think of that when I take my kids school shopping. Because few things have worn me out like back-to-school shopping.
Of course, my first thoughts are the nostalgic smell of new crayons, and the squeak of new shoes on the kitchen floor. But nostalgia is not reality. Reality requires nerves of steel and the strategic planning of an air-traffic controller.
My strategy includes a simple set of rules I developed over the years. We have lists. Lists carefully crafted according to a budget. Lists that will not be added to on a whim. We don’t whine. We keep our hands to ourselves and stick together.
This strategy makes all the sense in the world until the moment I enter the store. Because at that moment I remember; unless we shop on July 5, the school-supply aisle looks like a war zone. The “must haves” are gone. Don’t even ask. (Store employees are deliberately avoiding the school aisles anyway.) What remains are items that allow you to blow your budget by at least 207% in less than ten minutes.
And what happens at that moment is what separates the pros from the amateurs, and what has led to more adventures than I care to recount.
Because, we could turn around, go home, and place an Internet order. Or, we could start looking at all those items that are not on the list. Because, you know, there might be something cool. Or, maybe you can find a substitution for the depleted item. I mean, why settle for a three-ring binder when you can have a Trapper Keeper? After all, isn’t the cool binder what sets you apart in middle school?
And so it came to pass one year, I allowed everyone to get their own cart and head in separate directions to make their discoveries. The no-whining rule was still in effect, but perhaps there were a few things they needed that weren’t on the list, and they were old enough to bypass the stick-together rule—for a little while.
My first mistake was allowing everyone to have their own cart. I discovered it was simply an opportunity for the boys to play “chicken” in the aisles. And while I was policing their maneuvers, I lost track of my daughter. “She was headed to jewelry,” one son said. “Shoes,” said the other. But she was neither place.
There is no panic like that of a mother with a lost child. Logically, I was certain she couldn’t have gone far. Emotionally, I was ready to call Liam Neeson.
Customer service doesn’t take these things lightly. My daughter’s name was announced over the store’s PA system. The entire family gathered at the front of the store—everyone except her. “Why did they call our name?” my son asked.
When she didn’t appear, the entire store went on lock down. Really. They don’t mess around.
After what seemed like hours but was really just minutes, my daughter rounded a corner, her cart full of glitter pens and Lisa Frank folders. “I think we’re stuck here,” she said. “What’s going on?”
Obviously, she had learned how to tune out a PA system. When we got home, I ordered all the school supplies online. And on the first day of school, I went back to bed. After all, not only had I succeeded in getting everyone’s supplies, I also shut down a major chain store.