Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bouquets of freshly-sharpened pencils . . .*

It’s back-to-school season, and I know it’s pretty much a cliché now to talk about one’s love for school supplies, but indulge me for just a bit.

As a little girl who loved school, I perhaps loved choosing my school supplies even more. I loved entering a discount store like biggs, Meier, or K-Mart and seeing the stacks and stacks of clean, crisp notebooks and packages of filler paper. I painstakingly chose my folders for each subject. The best folders would go for the best subjects—Reading and Language Arts—and the worst folder would go for the worst subject, which was and is, of course, science. I silently cursed teachers who asked for plain folders and assigned a color for each subject (though I would not have dreamed of buying a pink folder for Math if, say, red were requested). I would carefully select my pencils—ones adorned with rainbows and balloons, swirly-painted designs, or metallic accents—and then worry that these fancier pencils were not actually no. 2 as the teacher’s list had specified. My mom was patient and generous in the back-to-school shopping trips, never forcing me to re-use a pencil bag from the previous year or to start the year with half-used pencils or crayons from the previous school year (not that re-use is not a good idea, but she understood how much pleasure I experienced in selecting new stuff for a new school year).

As I got older, I always struggled with my school’s barring of Trapper Keepers. They were not allowed, and it made me want one all the more. They came with cool designs on the outside, and you could choose special Trapper folders for the inside. The Trapper was not just an object but also a symbol of order and organization of the sort that appealed to a rule-follower like myself (though, again, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to tell me which folders to choose for inside my Trapper, had I actually possessed a Trapper). My husband and I were discussing school supplies this morning, and he actually used the phrase “the whole Trapper controversy.” Apparently, at his school, Trappers were banned but then the ban was later lifted. We speculated as to why Trappers were ever banned. He suspects it was the noise of the opening and shutting or perhaps the size of the Trapper Keeper in proportion to the size of a student desk. My guess is that at my school, Trappers may have been banned as potential status symbols. After all, this is the same school where your uniform shirts could not have any logos on them. Thus, when my mom found a good deal on Gloria Vanderbilt white oxfords at K-Mart and then washed and ironed them before the new school year (rendering them un-returnable), she was dismayed when I was sent home with a note saying that the shirts were banned because of the swan insignia sewn into them. I can understand though how the other kids would have been jealous. “That’s right, I’m wearing a Gloria Vanderbilt shirt. From K-Mart. NTB.” They became the shirts I only wore under a uniform-approved sweater. God help me if I got too warm and was tempted to take the sweater off.

One item that was always included on my grade school back-to-school list was a box of tissues. This box of tissues was your contribution to your class’s defense against snot, sniffles, and sneezes. Most teachers stacked all the boxes on top of a cabinet or on a shelf and then pulled one down as needed to be the community box. I selected my box of tissues with care, preferring the traditional, long rectangular box to the jauntier upright one. I tried to choose a pattern that made me happy, and over the course of the school day, I would often scan the stack of tissue boxes, looking for mine, wondering when its turn would come to be the community box. Would others notice how cute it was? Would we go through this box more quickly because I had done such a good job selecting it? Did my teacher notice that I had chosen the name-brand Kleenex? NTB. Some kids’ parents wrote their names on the boxes. Was Beth M. sorry that her mother had chosen an ugly brown box and that Beth M. had to claim it since her name was scrawled on it in black, permanent marker?

Since I am still a student, I can conjure up excuses now and again to experience a little bit of the old school supply bliss by making a quick trip to Staples. But, without a list and without the excitement of a new school year, classroom, and teacher, it’s not the same. I look forward to taking the bubby to get his school supplies some day, and hope I can refrain from trying to choose his folders, pencils, and tissue box for him. And, if the rules allow them and if they still make them, I’ll even buy him a Trapper. NTB.

*the title comes from You've Got Mail and is meant to conjure the happy feelings conjured by school supplies, Fall, and fresh starts.


LAP said...

In addition to the Trapper ban, some other specific teacher requests I recall are: wide-ruled vs college-ruled notebooks; perforated or non-perforated pages in those notebooks (non-perforated of course...that's what looseleaf is for); erasable pens (disallowed in Sister Christine's 6th grade classroom).

Can't wait to see what kind of influence you have on the bubby some day.

Anonymous said...

Interesting -- though the actual supplies where as wondrous to me as to you, I always had a dread of the actual appearance of them on the shelves, because it meant the end of summer. Also, I always resented the clash of my own personal birthday joy with the cliches of September being "back to school month." I was a child who delighted in "of the month" collections (ceramic bears, dolls, plates, even calendars) and was always sad that September was reserved for apples and school bells decorations. So while covering a battered textbook in a grocery bag was one of my favorite activities ever, I always felt a little nauseous when I had to do the initial loading up on filler at Ben Franklin (our school supply store of choice).

meganhalverson said...

my current school supply flashback: in younger years, i would pick all the decorated notebooks and folders... i vividly remember a ziggy notebook that was a real favorite, and it was saved for engish as well. but as i grew older and wiser, and really longed to express myself, i went for the plain colored supplies--that way i could decorate them myself with my very artistic doodles (ntb) of band names (u2, depeche mode, inxs, r.e.m., always among them, being quite proud, i must admit, to display such a refined taste in music) and the amnesty international symbol (though i had no idea what that meant at the time, if it was important to bono, it was important to me)... so i am left to wonder how my kids will express themselves someday. as long as there are no doodles of new kids on the block, i'm sure i will be proud.

Anonymous said...

It has been my experience that boys do not generally share the enthusiasm for back to school shopping of any kind. I've brought home many a pair of husky pants on a personal shopper basis. In addition, I found it very difficult to entice a young man with a new set of pencils, pens, markers and notebooks. Maybe your Bubby will be interested but my guess is you will once again be picking out school supplies. Something to look forward to. NTB M

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