Dante wrote about the nine circles of hell; but I discovered the 10th – school supplies shopping.
I admit, I used to enjoy it. After all, the limitless possibilities of a blank sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper are boundless. But, there is a downside to the scavenger hunt to find plastic folders with prongs, binders by the inch, and a pencil bag for the 72 mechanical pencils on the list. (Am I shopping for a small village or a 4th grader?)
School supplies shopping means summer is over.
I had many reasons for waiting until the day before school starts to go, and every one of them began with the word denial. Admittedly, denial is a beautiful place to live. Every time I turned away from the school supply ads that bulked my Sunday newspaper, I felt as if I stretched my summer a little further. I wasn’t going to let those same marketers who put out Christmas decorations before the Halloween candy has even been bought steal one day of summertime bliss from me and my boys.
But on the eve of the first day of school, reality beckoned.
So after an hour in the office supply store searching for all the notebooks, pens, highlighters and calculators – making sure we had the right colors and the right quantities of each, I was kind of over the limitless possibilities of a blank piece of notebook paper.
We had crossed out most of the items on the list. We still didn’t have a pencil bag. Apparently, all of the pencil bags which are not glittery pink or SpongeBob Square Pants had been sold to the moms who shopped for school supplies right after the last sparkler burned out on the 4th of July.
While the thought of driving across town to another store to find just the right pencil bag that my son could live with for the next 9 months of the year seemed outside the bounds of sanity, I agreed. After all, when you invest in 72 mechanical pencils and the lead refills that are required, you’ve obviously seen crazier.
I was almost out of the school supplies circle of hell, and I was comforting myself with thoughts of soft-serve ice cream at the McDonalds across the street. I estimated that I just had to get through 10 more minutes of indecision until my son finished picking through all the fun-shapped flash drives in the bin, deciding which surfboard design he liked best.
Meanwhile, the store salesman came over and asked how we were doing, and unlike most people, he actually waited for an answer. I had so many thoughts at this moment that had nothing to do with the appropriate responses of fine, good, or woo-hoo we are about to buy 72 mechanical pencils and a flash-drive that looks like a surfboard!
Instead, my mouth felt like it had been sealed shut with non-toxic Elmer’s glue and I couldn’t seem to make a suitable response.
I stood there frozen thinking of all the things I wanted to tell him about the lengthy school supply list and the skimpy selection of pencil bags. I wanted to tell him about our amazing summer — how we stayed out on the beach until the sun went down and the moon came up;how we played Monopoly as a family and I lost every single game, but had a really fun time anyway and even got the get-out-of-jail-free card twice; how we watched all the Harry Potter movies and ate popcorn and stayed up too late; how my son went to sleep away camp for the first time and I survived; how we found kittens in my neighbors yard and became so smitten that we now have three cats; how my boys have grown so much taller since the last time they had to use a mechanical pencil;how my husband and I went on long walks and I told him how badly I wanted time to stop and the togetherness of our family to remain; and how we went to so many cool places, but what really made it all so wonderful was the precious time we had with one another at the slower pace summer allows.
But since I didn’t want to have a breakdown in Staples, I just smiled really big.
It was kind of awkward.
I never could get any words out, so he just spoke to my boys whose mouths seemed to work better than mine and then he went on his way. Alas, my son had picked out the surfboard-shaped flash drive that two months from now will be lost either somewhere in his room or in his locker.
I liked the design he had so carefully chose and hoped it would remind him of our lazy days at the beach.
Summer has become such a sacred time. There’s no juggling overloaded schedules and we are not in such a mad rush to get out the door, or finish assignments or participate in the myriad of weekdays extracurricular activities that fill the calendar.
Everything seems to stop in the stillness of summer, and what we learn are simple but important lessons about who we are as a family. I know summers with my children are finite, and I guess shopping for schools supplies every August is too.
So as the cashier is handing over the ribbons of receipts, it is a bittersweet moment. I am thrilled to walk out of the warehouse of mechanical pencils and highlighters in neon colors, but I am sad to see summer end. I picture myself riding out of the 10th circle of hell on my son’s surfboard flash drive and onto one of the 1,000 sheets of blank notebook paper I just purchased.