First Posted: 9/6/2014

I don’t do back-to-school shopping until the Tuesday after Labor Day. Summer is so sweet and so fleeting, I am not willing to give up one day in the sun with my kids.

The final days leading up to Labor Day were a frantic flurry of activity, a last ditch attempt to complete summer’s bucket list, to squeeze every ounce of fun out of the season. We slid at Montage Mountain’s water park, ate hotdogs and peanuts at a RailRiders game, dipped our toes in Lake Wallenpaupack and had s’mores at several backyard bonfires. When the weather didn’t cooperate over Labor Day weekend, we grabbed friends and went to Slippery Rock Resort’s indoor water park and followed that up with a night of grilling all of the season’s freshest vegetables.

Labor Day came and went with that slightly sickening feeling of dread falling upon our household. Instead of enjoying a carefree day languishing in the sunshine, we all looked depressed.

Tuesday hit hard as reality slapped us in the face. Haircuts in the morning led to a tedious day of back-to-school shopping. When I was a kid, mom might let us buy a few No. 2 pencils and one brand-spanking-new notebook.

The year 2014 is a different world. The kids had each been given a detailed, page-long list of necessary supplies on the last day of school in June. From highlighters to Sharpies, three-ring binders to three-inch spiral notebooks, pocket folders to page dividers, erasable pens to refillable pencils, the lists were comprehensive. The multi-store hunt for a graphing notebook and a scientific calculator nearly put me over the edge. My eighth grader’s need to purchase two tri-fold display boards several feet high for upcoming projects took the glow right out of her tan. In addition to personal student supplies, the lists now include items like boxes of tissues and disinfectant cleaning wipes.

After fighting the crowds in the school supply aisles of several stores, it was time to get a few new clothing items. The kids have outgrown the jeans and sneakers they haven’t worn since the spring, and after making them use the same backpacks for three years in a row, I relented and agreed they needed updates. Even the most frugal moms don’t want their teens humiliated by carrying bright, cartoon-themed backpacks from their elementary years.

Finally, we were at the last item on our agenda, finding a few new tops. Many of us are all too familiar with the dress code that mandates only collared shirts. When the kids were younger, a simple Izod-style would do. As they’ve grown, their desire to be fashionable and feminine has pushed the collared shirt rule to the edge. There are lace collared shirts, sheer collared shirts over camisoles, cute mock-turtleneck dresses and plaids and flannels. What we found was that Charlotte Russe and all the other favorites at Steamtown, Viewmont and the Shoppes were out. These stores had either sold all of their collared shirts or stopped producing them.

Desperate walks through T.J. Maxx and Marshalls on sore feet finally produced a few meager offerings and we arrived home, just an hour before the kids’ allotted school-night bed time. What should have been the fun part, laying out first day outfits and stuffing backpacks with fresh supplies, became a mad rush to get it done and hit the sack. My dated notion that back-to-school shopping should be easy, carefree and done in one day, led to a stressful dash for the finish line. When the house finally went quiet later than I had planned, price tags, cellophane wrapping and plastic shopping bags were haphazardly strewn about the living room. It was only then that I realized I hadn’t yet packed lunches or determined bus routes.

After a summer of sleeping in, 5:45 a.m. came loud and fast for everyone. A few days back to the grind, though, and productivity is creating a pleasant hum in the house. Dani loves her Spanish class and Lauren couldn’t be happier with her homeroom teacher. They are excited to be back in dance class, at practice, in piano lessons and meeting up with friends. Structure feels kind of good, my husband and I agree, after they are tucked in at a reasonable hour.

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