The man's expression was transparent. His half smile and head tilt were as clear as the words that formed through silent lips: "Hang in there. School is just around the corner."
I didn't even blink.
I know how I must have looked ...
A sullen, if slightly zombified, version of the Staples mom, who danced through the office supply store back in the late 1990s, knocking school supplies into her cart, as her children shuffled along behind looking as if someone had just run over their dog.
My kids, in contrast, race down the aisle, in different directions. All of us talking too loudly. They screech in jubilation: "School is starting!" Which means new clothes, backpacks, pencils, pens and all manner of stationary staples we already own but aren't fresh and new for a fresh, new school year. I scold in frustration: "Stop running. We don't need an electric pencil sharpener. NO! You can't have a walkie-talkie."
The sum of it all means spending more money than a week's worth of groceries and taking some teachers' names in vain, trying to find the exact size and brand of glue stick demanded on their supplies list.
The word for it is frazzled.
I suppose I am. Frazzled.
The bickering has gotten the better of me. And when the school bus stops and blinks its red lights waiting for my children to climb aboard, I will breathe a sigh of relief. I'll pour myself another coffee and actually get something done.
… During the daylight.
But it's a bit of a cliché. I feel more like the kids in those old commercials than the parent.
There's a whole lot of schoolday things I'm not looking forward to. I know things will be added to my to-do list that are not always within my control.
Homework. Tests. Clashes of personalities.
The thing I've always disliked most about being a parent is that horrible, suffocating feeling that my failure is no longer my own.
Every flaw seemingly multiplied under a magnifying glass, burning pinholes into my soul.
At times, the whole thing just seems too big to manage; A new curriculum, new tests, more ways to fail. Consolidations have meant more students, fewer teachers, and the possibility that education could get so big it can't possibly do anything but fail.
Finally, I blinked.
The man is still there, holding a basket of real office supplies, not the pint-sized colorful ones I'm juggling as my kids find something else they are sure will help them get into the back-to-school spirit.
Portable music players with headphones … the kind that play CDs, and totally cover their ears.
They rejoice and carefully put their packages in the basket when I laugh and nod my head. After all, they have an hourlong bus ride to school each way, and in these impossible-to-open clamshell packages are a vintage of technology that I truly understand.
Thing is, school isn't 'just around the corner' anymore. Sometimes it seems like it's gone 'round the bend.