The days of sending a kid to school with a couple of pencils, a pair of scissors, a bottle of glue and a spiral bound notebook boasting Shaun Cassidy on the cover are the stuff of nostalgia. In the digital age, school-supply lists are lengthy and detailed. The echo of cash sucked from the college fund thwp-thwp-thwp-thwps in my ears.
My daughter needs 10 folders with pockets and prongs just for science, and she says her teacher wants them NOW, TODAY. Do the math. If the teacher has five classes of 25 students who all bring in 10 folders with pockets and prongs TODAY, she will collect 1,250 folders. Her desire for excess prompts my sympathy and suspicion.
Standing in the store aisle lined with miles of notebooks, binders and loose-leaf paper, I think of the Trapper Keeper I always, always coveted. Trapper Keeper was synonymous with cool-kid-in-school. My devastatingly practical mother answered all my pleas for a Trapper Keeper: “Your teacher doesn’t have that on the supply list.”
Of course my teacher didn’t. She strategized to preemptively cause her students mental anguish, laying the groundwork for discipline even before the first day.
Oh, heartbreak, to be relegated to the side of the classroom with kids who carried plain grey spiral-bound notebooks in their satchels.
The horror of sitting next to the boy who could turn his eyelids inside out and pass green Jell-O through his nose still hovers on the rough edges of the past.
My college-ruled, single-subject notebooks bearing Leif Garrett and the Bionic Woman couldn’t save me.
“Can I have this folder, Mama? Pleeease?” requests one of my sons, breaking my reverie. Pamela Anderson in her red Bay Watch bathing suit waves from the shelf. I didn’t know Pamela Anderson was still in. But, I guess for a middle school boy any pretty woman in a bathing suit is in.
My mind reels to an innocent time when I stood twixt those glorious shelves lined with protractors and pencil boxes watching all those other kids’ mothers put Trapper Keepers in their shopping carts. I look at my son, desperation in his eyes, and say, “No. Your teacher didn’t put Pamela Anderson on your supply list.”
I trust the practical wisdom of my mother. I am who I am today because I never owned a Trapper Keeper. My New Jersey brother claims, “Your younger siblings did receive Trapper Keepers. It was a mark that we were more favored,” he brags. Then he adds, “Or that Trapper Keepers had gone out of style and become the cheap alternative, because I seem to remember eating green Jell-O.”
Ah, yes. I firmly believe that the application of deprivation, whether from Trapper Keepers, Pamela Anderson or summer itself, powerfully impacts the destinies of children. The conflict my brother felt over not knowing exactly where he fit in, with the Trapper Keeper kids or next to the student with inside-out eyelids, makes him exactly who he is today.
This self-examination amidst the school supplies softens me toward my daughter’s teacher.
The woman must have craved pocket folders with prongs as a student the way I yearned for Trapper Keepers.
A drumbeat of respect for her ingenuity in filling the void muffles the thwp-thwp-thwp of dollars sucked from my purse.
By golly, she’s the teacher and she can itemize pocket folders with prongs on the supply list and collect 1,250 of them.
The flaw in her plan is that she still has to sit next to the kid with green Jell-O running down his upper lip.
Would I do that for a few Trapper Keepers? Would you?
(Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her Web site, IfMama.com.)