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Special report | Back to School

The problem with back to school supplies

The dreaded school supply list. Long. Intensive. Rambling. Did I mention long?

It gave me an idea, though: story! (And by "gave me an idea," I mean "reminded me of an idea that has been done before but now that I have my own kids, it warrants a retelling.")

So I headed to the Carrollwood Target with a very long list for my soon-to-be kindergartner to chronicle my induction into this next phase of parenthood. I ended up encountering an even longer list of problems:

ITEM: 1 pair of Fiskars scissors, 5" blunt.

PROBLEM: I don't see Fiskars scissors. I see Target scissors. There are scissors in every color. I spy a pair of blunt cut, and the box says No. 5. Does No. 5 mean 5 inches? Or is it a fancy name, like Chanel No. 5, but for scissors?

SOLUTION: Target brand scissors. If I'm right about that whole Chanel thing, then these are just the equivalent of a knockoff. And who doesn't love a cheap knockoff? (Note to self: remove label.)

GRADE: F. It took 10 minutes to come to my solution. This could be a long day.

ITEM: Eight Oxford plastic folders with pockets and brads (two each in red, blue, yellow and green).

PROBLEM 1: Umm, what's a brad? Is it that silver tab in the inside spine? Because if it is, why can't you just say it? Other than the fact that "Folder with pockets and little silver tabs on the inside spine" probably won't fit on the label, I mean.

I spot a woman who looks very much like she knows what she's doing. She has an even longer list in her hand, a cart nearly filled with supplies, and two teenagers in tow. She appears to be a grizzled vet. I introduce myself. Sadly, Ann Jolley hasn't heard of a brad either, "And I've been doing this a long time," Jolley says.

PROBLEM 2: No Oxford brand. Is there a designer school supplies store where I'm supposed to be finding this stuff? And why do I think if there is, it's somewhere in New Tampa?

SOLUTION: Went home with silver tabs. Googled "brad." Spent the rest of the day on Brad Pitt's Web site. Mmmmmm.


ITEM: One box of tissues.

PROBLEM 1: No brand specified, which would normally be a good thing. So now, I have to make the choice. There's Kleenex, with cool colorful designs on the boxes and pretty, super soft tissues with aloe. Or generic.

PROBLEM 2: Visions of my son being sent to nap time without lunch for bringing crusty, hard, cheap tissues to class.

SOLUTION: Will they even know which kid contributed which box of tissues? Do the teachers keep lists of which kid brought what? Will the kids who brought the Kleenex with the orange and brown swirls get better grades? Do I need psychological help?


ITEM: One vinyl rest mat 5/8" thick 20" x 48"

PROBLEM 1: The only size they carry is 19 x 45 inches. Lifelong problem with math rears ugly head. How much smaller is that exactly? Will my son be sleeping on a Hallmark-sized mat while the other kids are in comfort?

PROBLEM 2: The mat has flame retardant vinyl and foam. We are a "wear snug fitting, not flame resistant" family! No chemicals for us! Will my precious boy have to lie down on chemicals? Will he grow another arm after his first year of kindergarten?

SOLUTION: Bought the mat, with plans to buy fluffy organic cotton covers.

GRADE: A. Yes, I'll have to do some driving around to find the perfect mat cover, but I feel like I have done my job as a mother. (Husband shakes head at me as he washes down a yogurt containing three different fake dyes with water from a polycarbonate plastic bottle leaching Bisphenol A.)

ITEM: one package of cap erasers, FOOHY brand

PROBLEM 1: For the love of God, there IS NO Foohy brand. I am one-third of the way down my list and I haven't gotten a single thing right!

SOLUTION: Grab plain old box of cap erasers, darn it all.

GRADE: Fooey!

ITEM: Three boxes Crayola crayons, 16-count regular or Twistables

PROBLEM: I love Twistables. All the cool kids will have Twistables. And I have a really cool kid. But the Twistables are apparently extinct at this store. Tears begin to form.

PROBLEM 2: The only boxes of Crayola crayons are eight-count and 24-count. Jolley tells me back in the day, she would've driven around town in search of the 16-count. Not anymore. I think secretly, she'd like to slap me and tell me to get a hold of myself. But we just met.

SOLUTION: I am beginning to understand why one of my best friends, Elizabeth, tells me all the time: "You make me tired." I make me tired. I grab the 24-count. Better to have more than not enough, right?


ITEM: One ruler

PROBLEM: Well, that's a little vague, now isn't it? Have you seen how many different types of rulers they have these days? Classic wooden ones for 24 cents, but pretty colored rubber ones for a little more.

SOLUTION: I grab a pretty red ruler. Thank God that I didn't send my husband on this mission, imagining my poor little boy using an ugly wooden ruler.

GRADE: A+. Not only do I get a ruler, but I measure my blunt No. 5 scissors. Five inches! Score!

ITEM: One box of baby wipes

PROBLEM: Every parent has their favorite for tushies, and they typically fall into two camps: Pampers or Huggies. I'm pretty much over wiping butts, though.

SOLUTION: I grab the Target brand. Looking forward to the day I never have buy these again. I hope my 3-year-old is reading this. You hear me, boy?


ITEM: One box of quart-size and one box of sandwich Ziploc bags

PROBLEM: I'm officially overdosing on these brand names. When they say Ziploc, do they really mean Ziploc? Because the Target brand is on sale. My son doesn't care and I bet his classmates won't care ... but will the other mothers care?

SOLUTION: I buy one Target brand and one Ziploc brand. Gambling that the bags end up in a big pile. Note to self: ask teacher after first week how the Ziploc is working out for her.


ITEM: one pack of 3 x 5 note cards

PROBLEM: So, you tell me I need Foohy and Fiskars and Ziploc, but you can't specify whether these note cards should be lined or colored? Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

SOLUTION: Call husband. He says, "White. Lined. Cheapest ones.''

GRADE: A. Remembering why I married him.

Is that sweat? I am seriously sweating by now. Luckily, my friend, Arleen, introduced me to Thai Crystals last week. Over 10-million sold! That's what the bottle says. And I believe it! Thankful that I don't smell, I approach calm mom Ann Jolley again.

I can hear her telling her son that they're all done. They've got everything that they need.

Well, $51.42 later, so do I!

"Wait until after the meet-the-teacher night," Jolley says. "You're going to get another list — the teacher's list.''

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at 269-5312 or

The problem with back to school supplies 07/31/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2008 3:21pm]
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