There are two kinds of parents in this world. The kind who buys school supplies weeks in advance in a slow and orderly fashion, possibly even price checking various stores to be sure they have gotten the most crayon their money can buy. Then there are the rest of us. The parents of the children who show up on the first day of school with at least one item that screams “LAST SPIRAL NOTEBOOK ON THE SHELF.” You know the notebook I’m talking about. Usually it has a basket of playful kittens on its front.
Frolicking felines are not a fate I wish for my school-aged son. If he’s going to have to talk to a shrink when he’s 30 about issues in his formative years, I would prefer those be derivative of the repeated trips Mom and Dad always took to Belize. (“I mean really, doc, what could have been so great about a beach?”)
Alas, the trip to Belize is not in our near future. But the voyage to Walmart? On the night before the first day of school? To look our fellow shoppers in the eye and then, while we are smiling pleasantly, rip the last plain red spiral notebook available in the store — maybe even in all of the county — from their hands? That is definitely in the cards.
I have the best intentions for executing the purchases of school supplies in advance, when a wide selection of colors, animals and superheroes still adorn the fronts of notebooks. In fact, when my son brought home the list at the end of the last school year, I actually remember thinking how great it would be to get the shopping knocked out early. But there is no denying that every day brings us closer to the start of school, and I have not brought myself to purchase even one No. 2 pencil.
At first I thought the heat was to blame for my procrastination. After all ‘tis the season in Texas when all kinds of personal failings can be blamed on the weather. It’s too hot to work out. Too hot to turn on the oven. Why can’t it also be too hot to buy school supplies?
But when pushed to self-examination (something that is uncomfortable for all humans but even more so when you’re already sweaty under your armpits), I was forced to acknowledge that in this specific aspect of August, the temperature was not to blame. Another factor was at play in my procrastination, one that is even more exhausting than the dog days of a Texas summer — nostalgia.
Nostalgia sounds innocent enough. The word feels fuzzy and warm. But while nostalgia is smiling pleasantly it’s actually taking innocent objects and linking them to the strings that puppet your heart. Giving into nostalgia even for a few minutes can leave you awash in its effects for decades. What used to be just a shoe might forever make you think of your favorite grandfather, the one who would sneak you candy bars he kept in the refrigerator, which he insisted on referring to as an icebox. Or maybe you get locked into holiday nostalgia, where every year you decide anew that this is your year to do the Thanksgiving that would put Martha Stewart to shame. It’s always when I’m elbow deep in the carcass of a turkey that I end up thinking lovingly of Pizza Hut and cursing nostalgia.
At some point between when I stopped being a school-going child and when I had a school-going child of my own, nostalgia got hold of my thoughts about school supplies. Crayons became boxes of limitless potential. A package of construction paper transformed into a stroll through the first signs of fall, red for apples from the orchard and blue for the bright mornings while you waited for the bus. No matter that I was 25 before I picked an apple from anywhere other than the fruit bin in a grocery store. Or that when I was in junior high, riding the bus was one of my most hated activities, even worse than wearing the school-issued PE shorts that were cut with a crotch in the front and back.
Once again nostalgia set me up for a fall. I know that when I actually go to purchase school supplies, I am going to see that crayons are, in fact, just sticks of wax that can be used for good or can be stuck up one’s nose. And that the fun of construction paper is dulled by the three package of sanitizing wipes you also have to buy because this is not just the start of a new chapter in your child’s education; it’s also the beginning of flu season.
And so buying school supplies is not that different than the rest of parenting — or simply living — in that it is the slow and sometimes painful realization that perfection is not ours for the taking. In a perfect world I would have the supplies ready to go, but instead I’m going to sit with the warm and fuzzies just a little longer.
It’s a dangerous game to try and figure out what your kids will think of you in the future, but I play anyway. It will be a win if someday my boys are able to say, “She talked about Belize an awful lot and always got teary-eyed when she flipped open a box of crayons, but she also loved us fiercely each and every day. And no one, but no one, could make a guy feel as good about a feline notebook as her.”
Anna Mitchael is a freelance copywriter and author who lives outside of Mosheim, Texas. Her second book, “CopyGirl,” will be released in the summer of 2015 by Berkley Books. She often writes about the modern female experience, the merits of gas station food, hope, perseverance and the comfort of coyotes. Find more of her work on annamitchael.com.