No, You Can’t Use My New Crayons

I almost got to go buy school supplies this year. A recent family visit was originally going to coincide with a school-supply shopping trip for the grandkids. But then the family schedule changed, so they went and bought everything the day before I arrived. Bummer.

It’s not that I like shopping. I hate shopping. It’s just that I love school supplies. Nothing says, “fresh start” quite like a pile of crisp new notebooks, a pack of pens with the caps still on, a set of unopened markers, and a brand new three-ring binder—the fancy one that comes complete with dividers and a pencil case and that closes with a zipper. Best of all, though, is the delightful promise of a whole box of new crayons or colored pencils, all those untouched points lined up neatly in their precise, color-sorted rows.

When my kids were young, school shopping was often frustrating. Some years it was a struggle to squeeze the extra money out of the budget for the basics and maybe a few extras like a new backpack or a nicer binder. The kids would want the more expensive folders with pictures on them, the brand-name markers, and the fancy gel pens, while both my budget and my inherent thrift would argue for the plain, the generic, and the least expensive.

By the time the budget had grown, so had the kids. I remember my disappointment the year the youngest had, at least for school purposes, grown too old for crayons.

I was shocked to learn this year that, in the cities where two of my kids live, the grade school kids don’t get to have their own school supplies. Oh, the families still buy them individually, following the school’s lists down to the exact colors of the folders and the prescribed brand of tissues. But on the first day of school, everything is dumped into one giant pool, turned over to the teachers to be doled out as needed.

On a strictly practical level, I can see the logic of this. It has to be easier for the teachers to control a central supply closet rather than cope with, “I forgot my pencils,” and, “my mom didn’t buy the right notebooks,” and maybe even, “Ashley has the good kind of markers and she won’t let me use them.”

Perhaps this communal approach is also seen as more “fair” to the kids whose families can’t afford the good markers or who neglect to buy what the kids need. Although, in my town, that need is met quite nicely by a local credit union’s annual school supply drive. It’s a perfect blend of charity and nostalgia for those of us whose kids are grown but who still get a kick out of buying notebook paper.

There’s something missing when your school supplies come out of the central supply closet. I sympathize with all those kindergarteners and first-graders. They’re missing out on the proprietary satisfaction of knowing that the first scarlet stroke on paper from that pristine red crayon or marker is going to be their own.

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