Friday, August 14, 2009

Back to School is More Fun When You Don't Actually Have to Go to School....

This week seems to have gone quite fast- at least for me. I have a feeling it probably it went fast for a lot of people, especially the generations younger than me.

It's that time of year again: Back to School time. I remember the days well, a heavy weight in my stomach as I realized that not only was the blissful freedom of long, lazy summer days over but it also meant starting over. It got a little easier towards the end of high school but before that, it would always be a stressful time. I was a nerdy student, one who actually cared about school so I would worry about what classes I'd have to take and who my teachers were. I'd worry about who was going to be in my classes. It would inevitably result in a phone call or two to my friends and we'd pore over our schedules, checking to see which classes we shared.

The one thing I did enjoy was the back-to-school shopping. The clothes part was ok though I never strived to be very trendy- it was pointless. Even to this day, I consider myself to avoid fashion. I like to think of myself as a timeless dresser, wearing the basics that never go out of style but making sure the height of my waistband and the heels of my shoes are not out-of-date. That's as far as I go to make sure I'm fashionable and that's only because I don't want to be the woman 'stuck in the '80's'. I find that to be a rather shocking time, especially as the fashions are making a comeback. Compared to the low waistband of jeans today, the fashions in my youth made us look like ninety year-old grandmothers with our trousers up to the middle of the chests. I did used to wear trends when I was much younger: Yes, I owned legwarmers, stirrup pants and long blouses with a belt around the middle. I've seen those fashions in the pages of Glamour and Entertainment Weekly again recently and I'm a little scared. Didn't we warn the youth of today how NOT to dress? I mean, just look back at the feathered hair, stiff with hairspray, baggy tops with skinny leggings and ankle boots with our leggings. Wasn't that enough to STOP the trends from coming back?

I don't mind being a child of the 1980's, actually. I think "Fame" was probably better the first time than it's going to be in remake and the same with "Footloose" and "Nightmare on Elm Street". I mean, there's just something delightful in watching Kevin Bacon dance his little heart out in an abandoned warehouse and say things like "Jump Back" that's just not going to be captured in the remake. We were a lot more innocent back then, I think.

I digress. I was talking about back-to-school shopping so I probably should get back to that.

The part I did like was when we moved to the U.S. and we had to get 'school supplies.' In the UK, we had most of our stuff given to us; as children it was a special day when we were allowed to write in ink rather than with our pencils. When our pen died, we'd have to go to our teacher and ask for a new one. We'd try all manner of things to get a new pen, chewing off the caps, making the tips wet so they didn't work and losing them. Most of the time we got a new one. We had glue and coloured pencils provided to the class so we shared them as a community. If we needed paint, it was there. When we got older and went to 'senior school', we had to bring our own pens and pencils but we were still given notebooks to write in and textbooks from the storage closet. We didn't use much glue then though in art class, we still had our paint provided to us.

So, when we moved here and my younger siblings had 'school supply lists', we were mystified. What was this "Trapper Keeper" thing? Why did they need two-pocket folders? Why were spiral notebooks not allowed? What, exactly, was a spiral notebook? Our notebooks in England had been paperback journals with floppy covers and a place to print our names, class number and year. Why did they have to buy two kinds of glue?

After a couple of years, it became entirely natural for us to go to K-Mart and buy the stuff we needed. The older we were, the less complicated the supplies that were necessary. In high school, we just had to have notebooks for each class and writing implements. Anything else was our choice.

I admit, I liked buying school supplies. I love the feel of a new pencil, a pen that has not yet written anything. I loved to buy my two-pocket folders for each class with a matching notebook, colour-coordinated so I could pair them together easily as I grabbed them from my locker between classes. I would love the feel of that new bag or backpack, crisp and unfamiliar with its pockets and hiding places.

To this day, I feel a rush of happiness when I go to Office Depot or Staples. I love that 'new pencil' smell. Ironically, even though as a child I was very excited when I got to write in pen, I prefer pencils. I love to sharpen them and I love their flexibility. Pencils allow you to be indecisive, they allow you to change your mind with a simple sweep of the eraser. Erasable pens are just not the same.

Nowadays, the "Back to School" period in shops is fun, I don't have the gloom that I see in the kids who know that they're having to go back to structure, to getting up early to get on the bus. I get the low prices without the inconvenience of having to go to school.

Of course, most of the time, I do only visit the 'back to school' sections at strange hours. Late at night or early morning is best. Otherwise, the once-peaceful aisles become zoos with irate parent's snapping at their kids for wanting the folders with the Twilight actors on them that cost $1.49 each instead of the plain folders that are currently six for a dollar. The back-to-schoolers turn nice orderly stores into chaos, leaving nothing but a trail of rubble in their wake. These are the times when you find the strangest things in the strangest places when people change their minds and refuse to reshelve. I accidentally went to Walmart a couple of years back during the prime 'back to school' time. To this day, I have never done it again. It was terrifying; almost worse than the day after Thanksgiving. There was no quiet place in the store and I got hit and cajoled by more shopping carts than I can even count. As a non-parent with no kids in tow, I felt as though I was commiting a crime by trying to reach for the 10 cent spiral notebooks.

I do like those bargains though which is why I still visit Walmart and Target during this time of year. Mostly I do it on Sunday mornings when they first open or late in the evenings when the tired parents have trundled home after a hard day of back-to-school shopping. One of my favourite television commercials is the one for, I think, Staples where the Christmas Song, "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" plays and the father dances with glee down the aisles, his children watching with misery and gloom. Now I have friends who are parents, I get the other side of back-to-school. While the kids are losing their freedom, the parents are gaining a little of theirs back. It's a different perspective nowadays for me.

But it's a fun one.

Happy Friday and have a good weekend.

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