My kids are in a funk, now that “Back to School” signs are cropping up at stores. We’ll soon be at the local Staples to stock up on school supplies that are a far cry from my list way back when. My kids need pencils, pens and notebooks, but they have an itemized, computer print-out of everything else: binders (three rings, two inches wide, please), calculators, USB flash drives, colored pencils (not crayons, not pencils, but both!) and just about everything else you can write with and on.
School bags are now backpacks, hefty enough to hold at least 50 pounds and durable enough to last the entire year. In Ben’s case, the bag also needs to be lead-lined and odor-resistant, since the contents can trigger even the toughest gag reflex. One year, he carried road kill, a little frog he found in the school parking lot. Last year I pulled out no fewer than 14 sandwiches, in varying stages of decay. He said he didn’t want to make me feel bad by tossing them out at school, so he put them back in his bag – out of sight, out of mind.
School supplies when I was a kid consisted of two no. 2 pencils and one BIC ballpoint for my imitation leather pencil case. My school bag looked like an attaché case and my textbooks were covered in brown paper, courtesy of Mom, who spent hours cutting up bags (do the math: five kids, with five or six books each = a lot of paper bags).
Despite the book-covering marathon, my mom usually found time during the first week of school to put a quick note in our pencil cases, wishing us luck and signing it with a quick “Love ya!”
My kids go to public school, so a first day outfit is pretty casual: jeans, sneakers, clean shirt (in Ben’s case, semi-clean is okay). I went to Catholic school, which meant I was 15 before I even owned jeans. We went to school in dresses and skirts, with knee socks in the fall and spring, tights in the winter.
Recess was a pretty big deal back then. We had separate school yards – again, the Catholic influence — with one side for girls, the other for boys, and it was divided by an invisible no-man’s land. Nuns patrolled the perimeter, and the worse thing that could happen to you was being tossed into the boys’ side. (I suppose the second worse thing was being tossed back.)
I remember one day getting a little too close, and Danny Lemire launched a loogie at me that hit me on the bare knee (being spring, I had knee socks on), and there it stayed, until we went back into class and nerdy Irene Coulombe took pity on me and used one of her handkerchiefs to wipe it off.
My kids won’t have handkerchiefs in their school bags. They won’t have bobby pins or slide rules (“Mom, what is a slide rule, anyway?) or little bottles of glue with rubber tips. That’s okay, cuz when I get around to it – and I will — they’ll have their own “Love ya” note.
Yup, it’ll be in that backpack, somewhere. Maybe between the pages of the two-inch binder, or wedged under the rocket scientist calculator . . . or maybe even beneath that squished, soon-to-rot sandwich.