My friend Annabelle’s grandson started pre-kindergarten this week. On Facebook, his mom posted a picture of him on his first day of school. Hunter looks impossibly tiny in his car seat. He smiles confidently at the camera while there, in his lap, lies a flannel blanket. It resembles the one Linus carries in the “Peanuts” cartoons.
That combination of bravado and vulnerability is the personification of every pre-K student: a tiny dynamo with the limitless potential of an unsharpened pencil. I found myself envying his mom, Elizabeth, and the adventure they’re embarking on.
It just struck me that for the first time in 22 years I won’t have a child going off to public school.
There’s been no wandering through stores looking for folders with pockets and washable markers. No fussing over whether to get the $10 bargain backpack or the $45 Jansport. No scouring the Sunday fliers for two-day-only sales of 10-cent composition books. No stocking up on individually packaged Oreos and claiming they are for “school lunches.”
Soon Rachel will start her freshman year of college. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to lure her into shopping for her dorm room. She’s determined to take only the absolute essentials with her and then shop after she knows exactly what she needs.
Her older sister, Molly, is moving to Maryland to begin graduate studies at Towson University’s Baltimore Hebrew Institute. Again, her approach is minimalist. There will be no back to school shopping with her, either.
I don’t think the girls realize how much I loved those late summer shopping expeditions, what a thrill and feeling of accomplishment I got from checking off all the items on the sheet we downloaded from the school’s website.
Each year the items on the list seem to become more and more specific. What once just read “washable markers” now reads “1- 8 ct. wide tip washable markers.” The second grade needs fine-tip dry erase markers. By fifth grade, they’re requiring the ones with chisel points.
For some reason, kindergartners are asked to bring Zip-loc bags. Apparently that need diminishes by the time kids reach first grade and is replaced by “1- poly folder, 2 pocket with prongs, red.” I vividly recall my distress upon discovering that all the red folders were gone and there were only blue or green ones available. Or when the store had only college-ruled notebook paper rather than the required wide-ruled kind.
I want to put my arm around all those panicked parents when I see them desperately scouring the depleted two-pocket folder displays. I want to assure them that the world won’t end if their child shows up today without the “1 each- blue, green, yellow two-pocket folders with prongs.” They probably won’t need them right away. Take a breath, wait until next week and go back after the store has had a chance to restock.
The only exception to that rule is when it comes to backpacks. I suppose they are a seasonal item that is available for a very limited time. Unfortunately, they seem to be designed with all the durability of pantyhose. I’ve lost count of how many times a critical strap has broken in January or February and, by then, there’s not a single backpack to be found anywhere.
Listen up: Go ahead and buy two backpacks. You’ll thank me in a few months when, instead of desperately dashing all over three counties in a fruitless search, you can calmly go to the hall closet and produce, as if by magic, a replacement backpack. It’s times like these when your kids are convinced you possess super powers. And, of course, you do.
I suppose all this preparatory shopping is just a metaphor both for nurturing and for sending our young out into the wider world, fully equipped to deal with any eventuality. So, metaphorically speaking anyway, my work is pretty much done. Molly and Rachel can now find their own two-prong folders and Pink Pearl erasers. And that can be extrapolated to all the other life choices that lie spread out before them.
But, still, they know there’s always a spare backpack here if they ever need it.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.