School Supplies: the 10th Circle of Hell

Hi all~ Today’s post originally appeared in some bygone year when I took my kids’ school supply shopping.  Now they are two towering 6-footers who only require supplies of money and food. Still, the message remains the same, summer is a sacred time in our family. The memories we make may not sound as idyllic as oodles of kittens and game nights but I’m just as grateful for them. I hope wherever you are in your journey you take a moment to remember your own summer memories and keep some of that ease with you in the days ahead. ~ love, Lara

Dante wrote about the nine circles of hell, but I discovered the 10th – school supplies shopping. I used to enjoy it. After all, the possibilities of a blank sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper are limitless. Still, 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 Christmas decorations out before Halloween candy steal one day of summertime bliss from me and my boys.

The night before the first day of school, reality beckoned. After an hour in the office supply store searching for 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 except the ever-elusive pencil bag. Apparently, all of the pencil bags which are not glittery pink or SpongeBob Square Pants have been sold to 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 estimated I had 10 more minutes of indecision to endure while my son finished sorting all the fun-shaped flash drives in the bin, deciding which surfboard design he liked best. Meanwhile, the store salesman came over and asked how we were doing.  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 make a suitable response.

I stood there frozen thinking of all the things 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;IMG_2241 how we played Monopoly as a family and I lost every single game, but had a really fun time anyway; IMG_2291how 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 neighbor’s yard and became so smitten that we now have three cats; IMG_1438how my boys have grown so much taller since the last time they had to use a mechanical pencil;IMG_1740 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; IMG_1773and 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.IMG_2224

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 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 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 no mad rush to get out the door, 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 school supplies every August is too.

As the cashier hands over the ribbons of receipts, the moment is bittersweet.  I am thrilled to walk out of the warehouse of mechanical pencils and neon-color highlighters, 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.

The possibilities are limitless.IMG_1697



10 thoughts on “School Supplies: the 10th Circle of Hell

  • August 19, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Love the post! You had me tearing up in Costco as I read your post. Can Costco be include in that 10th circle?!!

    • August 19, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      Seriously, April? How were you reading my blog post in Costco?! I don’t know if I should feel honored or just in awe of your multi-tasking capabilities! I am pretty sure Costco could qualify for the 10th circle -especially when you get to the check-out lane and have to pay for all those indulgences!

  • August 18, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks for taking me down memory lane. I used to love going shopping for school supplies and getting ready for the new year. Never thought about what that experience was like for my mom, but I shall ask when I see her again!

    • August 18, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      Bill, I know it was exciting when we were kids but I also remember it being simpler – a few notebooks, some pens, pencils and a pencil box. The coolest thing I can remember are the Trapper Keepers – when those came out oh my heavens – I had to have one. Mine was green and had horses on it. I didn’t even like horses! I wonder if I can find a Trapper Keeper on e-bay….those things are genius!

  • August 14, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Lara
    I left a comment yesterday but I don’t think you received it! Thank you for thoughts on school shopping!! I always enjoy your blog. I, too, delayed the process til the day before school. Charlie is now @ BK & we went this afternoon..I officially have “back to school blues.” .

    • August 14, 2014 at 9:40 pm

      I did not get it! I am sorry – that is frustrating. Thank you for taking the time to share – twice! I am glad you were a a cool procrastinating mom like me! Misery really does love company 🙂 You have raised such incredible boys – all I can say about Charlie going to high school is that he is going to thrive and as sad as it is to see our babies grow up, I think all we mamas want is for them to thrive and be happy — all while living with us forever! I am saying a prayer that he thrives this year and that you do too.

  • August 13, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    I wish I could write as well as you.

    • August 14, 2014 at 10:19 am

      What a very kind thing to say. We all have a story to tell and gift to share. I do not believe mine is more special than anyone else’s, including yours.

      So write! Share! And keep being incredibly kind 🙂


  • August 13, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Well put! I’ll see you in Target next week when we all run out of mechanical pencils. 😉

    • August 13, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      But that’s what all those lead refills are for Sara!

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