The Back-to-School Nightmare Begins
Get ready, parents! It’s officially Back-to-School Month, otherwise known as August to people who don't have kids.
For some, it’s an exciting time of the year, when the kids go back to being out of the house for most of each weekday so Mom can finally get a break from cartoons on repeat and whatever boy band single has been in the Top 40 all summer. For other parents who actually like hanging out with our children, it’s a bittersweet time as we anticipate another year of watching them grow up and become more independent.
However, there are a few common miseries every household with school-age kids must endure at this time of year, like a connective thread that unites all parents together in universal suffering.
Here are some of the highlights.
The absolute worst part about getting ready to go back to school is clothes shopping. Even with school uniforms, it can be a nightmare for everyone involved.
Parents of boys think we have it the worst, because if there was a chart of all the things boys are usually interested in, shopping for clothes would be at the bottom, just below brushing their teeth and actually aiming for the toilet when they pee.
Parents of girls think they have it the worst, because if there was a chart of all the things girls are usually interested in, clothes shopping would be somewhere near the top, second only to shoe shopping (which, I've been told, is an entirely different kind of shopping) and/or giggling about boys. I think. I don’t honestly know, because my kid’s a boy. But I’ve watched a lot of sitcoms and John Hughes movies over the years, so I’m pretty sure this is more or less accurate.
In short, boys don't want to shop for any of the clothes, while girls want to shop for all the clothes.
This gets especially fun when your kid is in one of those awkward “between” sizes, when nothing actually fits their schizophrenic bodies - which is especially problematic with pants, for some reason. If they fit in the waist, they’re either too long or too short in the legs, and it doesn’t matter how many sizes you have your kid try on, either.
Nothing will fit exactly right no matter what you do, so you just end up having to try size after size and brand after brand while somehow holding onto the impossible faith that you’ll eventually find something that kinda/sorta fits before your kid's level of crywhining reaches a soul-crushing fever pitch that triggers an epic parental meltdown outside the dressing room, where you just start yelling about how you don’t even have to be doing this today and they can just go to school naked for all you care!
But moving on...
School supplies are another nightmare shopping trip that happens every year, although it’s usually more traumatic for the parents than it is for the kids. Sticker shock sets in pretty fast as you start estimating how much you’re spending with each new box of pencils and three-ring binder you toss in your cart and check off the supply list - but it doesn’t stop there.
Oh, no. That would be too easy.
There’s always that one teacher who puts something on her list that’s impossible to find in any store or on any website no matter how diligently you search for it, until you eventually give up and start questioning the very nature of reality and whether or not we’re all just characters inside some kind of cosmic video game, with an angst-ridden emo kid controlling our destinies like an angry teenage god.
It’s always something, but folders tend to be the biggest hassle. You can safely assume that you won’t find that seafoam green plastic folder with pockets and brads among the aisles of everything Walmart has on sale. Sure, you’ll find green paper folders with pockets and brands, but that won’t do. There will also be tons of plastic paper-and-brads folders in every color except seafoam green, along with plenty of folders with pockets but no brads, or brads and no pockets, and what even is a brad, anyway?
If you're really lucky, you'll be able to get all your shopping done with the school supply list that goes out before classes start. However, if you're like me, you'll take that list, then get all your shopping done and start feeling pretty good about yourself...until you get home and check over the list again. Which is when you'll notice that you're still not done and won't be done until after school starts, because everything you just spent ALL THE DOLLARS on were only the basic items on the School's Supply List, not the Every-Class-Will-Send-Home-Its-Own-Supply-List List. That comes later. As a surprise!
Don’t forget about the traditional Back-to-School haircut either, so get ready to spend half of the last Sunday before school waiting at Supercuts because everyone else in town is thinking the same thing, and you secretly hate them for it.
Your kids better be up to date on their immunizations, too. Otherwise, that’ll be a trip to the doctor’s office and another thousand cuts to your soul.
Even after all that’s done, don’t think it’s over yet, because you’re still not finished throwing money onto the raging dumpster fire that is the American educational system. You’re still gonna need to pay a bunch of fees to the school, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s public or private.
Every school always needs more money.
Teachers already spend plenty of their meager paychecks on classroom supplies and materials the school can’t afford to buy, so don’t expect them to have much sympathy whenever you try to give them a sob story about how clothes shopping nearly snuffed out your will to live, or that your wallet literally started smoking after that 87th trip to Office Depot because you heard they finally got a shipment of those awful folders in, and you ended up having to fight off a hostile grandmother who was trying to buy the last one because she thought it’d be a nice place to keep her stupid coupons or whatever.
Classroom fees. Testing fees. There are many names, but the end result is that you’re not done paying yet. Not even close.
Because then there are the fundraisers, and everyone in your office already knows you’ll be hitting them up to buy popcorn or chocolate bars before the end of the month, even though they’ve all told you that their kids are already doing the same fundraisers and Peggy over in Accounting got here first and called dibs, anyway. Better luck next year.
(Also, nobody likes you, Peggy.)
Of course, one of the most difficult parts of back-to-school season comes near the very end of summer break, when you start trying to convince your kids that bedtime is a thing that is real and they’d better start getting used to it, because the days of staying up to Any O’Clock during the summer are over, Mister.
This will require at least a week of adjustment on your kids' part, as you slowly work to reset their internal clocks back to something approaching a normal human schedule after they’ve spent the past three months redefining the word morning to mean crawling out of bed at some point between noon and when the sun goes down.
Good luck with that.
The final inescapable horror doesn’t come until the first day of school, when many parents will have to face the dreaded Drop-Off and Pick-Up Line, which is always a cluster of incompetence and frustration. I’d say it’s like herding cats, but that’s not a thing that actually exists, and even if it did, it’d still be easier than trying to funnel hundreds of cars through an impossible traffic cone slalom on the first day of school.
Don't count on it getting any better for several weeks, either. Some parents will always be super important in their own minds, and will try to zoom past you or cut in the line, while others will pull into places they’ve been told not to go, and it’s just generally a place of madness and despair every morning and afternoon during whatever times are on the school zone sign people who aren’t parents don’t seem to pay any attention to as they drive on down the street with money in their pockets and not a care in the world.