Jewish World Review August 24, 2001 / 5 Elul, 5761

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

The test for parents -- FEW experiences rival the joy of dragging yourself through the sweltering summer heat, a three-page school supply list in hand, to a discount store where the school supply aisle looks like you just missed the tornado, the avalanche and the PTA cat fight by seconds.

Rounding up school supplies for small children is more taxing than rounding them up for older children. The little ones fool you. They act like they can't read or write. They act all shy and clingy, but the instant they sense you attempt that old slight of hand, substituting generic glue for Elmer's glue, they burst out of their fragile shells and go bonkers.

"MOMMMMMMA.! The list says Elmer's. All the other kids will have Elmer's! I'll flunk kindergarten if I don't' have Elmer's!"

You didn't know the kid could read, let alone comparison shop.

The scene is repeated with watercolor paints. The list suggests over-priced, hard-to-find Prang watercolors as opposed to the cheap, easy-to-find watercolors sitting beneath your nose. The instant your fingers inch toward the generic watercolors, your kid becomes a virtual bullhorn.

"MOMMMMMMA! That's not Prang! DaVinci's mother would have bought Prang!"

Exactly what do they think is going to happen? That the teacher will collar all the kids who didn't buy Elmer's or Prang and march them to the front of the class? Do they think they will be shunned at recess? Sent to an alternative school for kids whose moms tried to save a few bucks?

Of course that's what they think, which is why you must also get the ruler with inches at the top and centimeters at the bottom, not centimeters at the top and inches at the bottom. And why you must get the Crayola 32-pack, not the Crayola 28-pack. And why pocket folders with a two-hole punch, instead a three-hole punch, spell such certain academic disaster you might as well start making a cardboard sign for the kid that says "Will Work For Fruit Roll-Ups."

And let's not forget the scissors.

Have you ever known a child who wanted the blunt tipped, safety scissors that couldn't cut overcooked spaghetti? No, 99 out of 100 kids want industrial strength scissors with razor-sharp blades and pointed tips. The same schools that punish a kid for having a steak knife in a lunch box, require the kid to appear the first day of school packing lethal scissors. Go figure.

Older kids are streamlined. Most of them don't even have lists. Well, they might have at one time, but they lost them. All they need is notebook paper, a couple of pens and a $300 calculator that can be programmed for computer games, coded messages, tracking global satellite position and, on rare occasions, advanced mathematics.

Another perk of outfitting older kids is that the required 35 boxes of facial tissues finally quits appearing on the list. I always wondered about those. How much nose blowing does a small child really do?

From what I've seen, most of them use their sleeves.

I've long suspected teachers were replenishing their private supply - it was revenge for no stock options and putting up with other people's children nine months out of the year.

I have never cut corners with facial tissues. I always bought name brand. The soft kind especially for cough and colds. The kind that guarantees not to scratch your nose. The kind with extra Lanolin. The expensive kind.

I had to. What with the cheap glue and crummy watercolor paints, I figured my kids would need all the extra credit points they could get.

JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here.

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07/13/01: Baby Bear Finds Driving "Just Right"
07/06/01: Pale at the Thought of Bronze
06/29/01: A Dog's Best Friend
06/22/01: Rethinking fatherhood
06/14/01 Don't forget to lock the door
06/07/01 How grandma punishes her kids
06/01/01 Hearing voices
05/25/01 Cyborgs for Better or Worse
05/18/01 The death of Common Sense

© 2001, Lori Borgman