It's the time of year when the kids and I fall into our favorite summer's end game. We start with hide and seek, mix in a liberal dash of treasure hunt, and then pretend cops and robbers have both just pick-pocketed me for good measure.
It always starts innocently enough: I close my eyes and count to 10 as they scamper away. I barely get to two before the slap of their new sneakers against the cool tiled floor becomes faint and they begin to sing out in a kind of call and response.
Only ... That's not what they are saying.
She is calling for "Markers" and he is responding with "Pencils," neither seem to be able to find the other splashing around in the pools of supplies.
Their voices are beginning to raise into panic decibels.
Quickly, I make my way toward their screeching in Aisle 6.
You see, it is my lot to find them and the four million items their teachers have requested as we begin another school year.
When I said "favorite" in reference to this game earlier, you should imagine that I spit the word out just after running over my pinky toe with the only cart in the store with a wonky wheel.
We had already gone through the basics. Searching out and scratching off pencils, paper, notebooks, binders, dividers and stick glues of all shapes and sizes in short order.
They had located rulers and protractors. Chosen a stapler and found the precise calculator (the last one left in inventory, hallelujah) itemized by make and model number.
When the list suddenly shifted to items of the grocery variety:
I want to be supportive. I know the responsibilities associated with teaching appears to have colored outside of the lines. I want to be able to toss the four boxes of two-ply facial tissue (no lotion, please) into the shopping cart with a smile. But I can't. Instead, I recoil at the sound the boxes make against the other supplies we've piled into the cart -- two rolls of paper towels, two boxes of Ziplock brand bags, a large bottle of hand sanitizer make a teetering tower above no fewer than sixteen thousand pocket folders (with prongs) of every conceivable color.
I've heard stories about school supply lists containing hygiene products and snack items, like cookies and chocolate, but I've never received one.
Of course, I have been made green with envy comparing our book-form list to one from a neighboring district, which contained little more than pencils and a pocket folder.
And if the rumor is true -- that children use their expensive graphing calculators once before seeking out internet apps they can download for free -- I might wish for some very bad things to happen to the math teacher. …
For instance, never experiencing the simple pleasure of having a movie's audio sync up with its visuals.
It's enough to make a person pine for the days when a few pencils and notebooks were the extent of the shopping list. Back when winters had snow and we had to walk up hill to school in them. Both ways.
"Mom! Why are you daydreaming? We're not even halfway through the list, and we still have three more stores and backpacks to find! Chop-chop! Labor Day is coming!"
Oh, I'm awake. I'm so wide awake, I'm twitching. Which makes me worry about what else is in store.
"Don't tell me we have to get coffee, sugar, and flavored non-dairy creamers next," I kvetch to my children. But they are gone. Searching, no doubt, for hotplates or tea bags or lemon-scented anti-bacterial wipes.
A school-teacher friend taps me on the shoulder and flashes a broad and sarcastic grin:
"I prefer almond milk and agave nectar, thank you."