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How to Lose Your Mind in the School Supplies Aisle

Step away from the glue, lady

Published on: July 31, 2017

back to school shopping list

My kids’ school supply lists came in this week. So I will be dutifully clearing my slate, calling in sick to work for a few days, emptying my bank account and getting all over that like a permanent fine-point Sharpie. I’m on this, people. I’m sharper than a Ticonderoga.

Experienced parents understand this pain, I don’t even have to make my (pencil) case.

Seriously, what is up with this disjointed, different-list-from-every-teacher thing? And the detail — dry-erase pens must be “only Expo brand, four-packs, red + black + green + blue, THIN KIND ONLY.” Erasers must be “Pink Pearl.” I saw “White Pearl” at the store — what’s wrong with White Pearl? Do they not erase as well? This is news to me.

Conveniently, the stores seem to have the exact opposite brand from the one on the list clutched tightly in my anxiety-ridden hand. Everyone knows that such lists, and our ability to adequately fill them, is the sole lifeline between our kids and their successful futures. Pink Pearl or bust. One minute you get the wrong-sized ruler, the next minute your kid has matted, filthy hair and is living out of a box by the Aurora Burger King.

Also, if you have more than one child, good luck getting through back-to-school shopping without ending up in a very special padded white room reserved just for dutiful parents. Because the various teachers will, on principle, want the reverse of what the others want. So your lists will be complex and contradictory enough to make you cry.

Luckily, we have about 45 “community” boxes of Kleenex to stifle our sobs.

One of my child’s teachers has requested “#7 scissors,” the other — “Fiskars.” Can the #7 be Fiskars? Can the Fiskars be #7? If not, what number?

One wants Post-It notes, 3x3 (but not 1x1); the other teacher wants Post-Its, yellow but no other colors, size not specified.

One needs Scotch Magic tape, the other needs clean socks for an eraser board (WTF?)

Last names beginning with A–M must bring community disinfecting wipes. The other child needs disinfecting wipes regardless of last name; but if she’s Q–Z she must bring a full-size box of facial tissue. The first kid needs facial tissues no matter what, two boxes. But if she was born on a Tuesday she should bring 10 environmentally friendly light bulbs and a partridge in a pear tree.

Just kidding.

Other gems from our lists:

  • 3 coated, sturdy plastic pocket folders – name on the upper right hand corner (take home folder, class folder & spare)
  • 2 folders, peechee-pocket type (bottom pocket – not side pocket)
  • Washable colored markers, any size
  • 10 colored markers, thin
  • 10 colored markers, thick
  • 4 composition books (reading, writing, science & a spare)
  • 1 five-subject spiral notebook – name in the upper right hand corner (word work)
  • Ziploc sandwich bags
  • Pasta, not for eating but with holes for stringing

And. Do. Not. Even. Think. About. Waiting. Have you ever missed dinner and had to lick the crumbs off someone else’s discarded plate? If you enjoy Dumpster diving, or begging, or public shaming, or your child being “that kid” who doesn’t have her stuff, fine. Otherwise, shop early. If you haven’t done so by the time you’re reading this, don’t finish this sentence. RUN. Good luck getting even one whiff of dry-erase.

Three years ago, being the novice school parent I was, I waited until the first day of school to get the supplies. My lists carefully printed out, I loaded up the kids and headed out for an afternoon shopping trip.

Six Elmer’s glue sticks, I hummed to myself, scanning the shelves. For some reason, the store looked like it had just sustained a Category 4 hurricane hit.

How could this be? I wondered. School is just starting today.

Glue sticks. Glue sticks. Such a classic supply. Think of the artwork they’ll make! Where will I put it all? Hum, hum, hum.

But they weren’t there. The glue sticks were nowhere to be found. Not at that decimated store. Not at the four others I schlepped to after. Nowhere. My kids looked at me perplexed, their innocence leaking away as they realized Mom does not know how to do this simple school shopping thing.

As it turned out the entire city of Seattle was sold out of glue sticks, its prepared parents happily smug, the losers like me searching Craig’s List for dirty, back-alley, black market glue.

So don’t be late. I know that now. And if I happen to see you in the aisle and there's only one five-subject spiral notebook left, I apologize ahead of time and no offense, but get outta my way, lady.

Also, do not forget to prep your checkbook not only for school clothes, new shoesbootsraincoatshatsetc., but also for playground resurfacing, increased school nurse hours, art instruction, capital funding, teacher-requested National Geographic Kids subscriptions, PTA membership renewal and, oh yes, the weekly fresh fruit fund.

Also don’t forget that, regardless of your budget, unless your family is demonstrably below the poverty line, you will be spending many dollars, possibly hundreds, not just on your own kids but also on much-needed community supplies.

We do not want our beloved teachers to buy these necessary supplies out-of-pocket, absolutely not. The kids need them. The classrooms need them. And obviously the state does not fund the supplies necessary to complete its curriculum. So off we go to buy additional packs of black and blue and red pens (Papermate not Bic, ballpoint not ink), Ziploc gallon bags, Ziploc quart bags, Ziploc sandwich bags, pallets of #2 pencils, another small nation’s worth of facial tissue.

Oh yes, and some glue sticks, please.

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