Thursday, August 25, 2011

No matter where you go, there you are

And so, after a day of flying, a delayed take-off, my kid barfing on a plane, messed up hair, returning our rental van, and one lost luggage item, we are now back home. Items that made it successfully home included Craig's hair and the humungous cloth basketball.

I'll be spending today catching up on junk at the office, and will likely return to my regularly scheduled whining on Friday.

School starts again on Monday. This year we ordered our supplies pre-packed, but I'm re-running my back-to-school shopping guide for your entertainment. Until I get caught up on my groove.

Dr. Grumpy's Guide to Life: Shopping for school supplies

Okay, so this is the 2nd edition of my helpful newsletter (If you missed the 1st one on surviving your child's birthday party, click here).

Today's issue will focus on what I discovered to be a horribly traumatic life-altering experience: Back-to-School week at OfficeStaplesMaxDepot. There's one right across the street from my office, so I go there regularly for supplies. It's quiet, the employees are generally helpful, and I know my way around it pretty well.

I naively thought this would be easy.

So on to the lesson:

1. Do NOT volunteer for this job (flip a coin, or arm wrestle, or have a duel to decide instead).

Silly me. When Mrs. Grumpy was wondering when she'd have time to get the school supplies, I volunteered. I figured "How hard can it be? Hell, it's just some pencils and a bottle of glue". DUMBASS!!! The list is HUGE, and features items from the mundane (No. 2 pencils), to the specific (Expo dry erase markers, wide tip, in blue, green, yellow, and black) to the odd (1 Pringles can with lid, original flavor, empty). It took me 2 freakin' hours!

2. Be prepared. Normally there are 5-10 other quiet business-type people in there. NOT THIS WEEK! Holy Crap! An African street bazaar is an orderly affair compared to this! Deranged parents running on caffeine! Kids running amok! Store clerks running for their lives! And all the crazed parents are trying to read off a list, push a cart, yell at kids, text, and scream into a cell phone at the same time. Bring a water bottle, food, a map, a cattle prod, and a flashlight. A card with your blood type, hospital preference, and next of kin is also a good idea.

3. Do not leave your cart unattended. People will steal your shit out of it. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! I had my cart 2/3 full with the crap on my list, when I left it at the end of an aisle to go find notebooks (spiral, wide-ruled, 100 pages each, single subject, 1 red, 1 blue, 1 green). When I returned 3 minutes later about half the stuff I'd already put in it was GONE! I watched a few minutes later as it happened to others. Apparently, when you walk away from your cart, people think it means they can raid it for supplies they haven't had a chance to pick up yet. "Hey, this guy has those index cards (2 sizes, lined and unlined, 100 each) that my kid needs. Cool. I'll scratch that off my list".

If another parent asks you what school your kid goes to, or who their teacher is, DO NOT ANSWER. Ignore them. Pretend you're deaf, or that you don't speak English. They are not making conversation. They are casing your cart, and if they find out your kid is in the same class as their kid, they'll wait until you aren't looking to take your stuff (or just switch carts).

Best part was when I went to ask an employee for help finding something (Flair Correction Pens, in 4 colors). When I got back to my cart the box of 12 ultra-fine tip Sharpies I left in it had been opened, and someone had taken one of them. They'd even doodled on the shopping list I left in my cart to make sure they were taking a pen that worked.

Oddly, you can leave valuables in your cart. Your wallet, purse, and gold jewelry will be perfectly safe if left unattended, but the $2.69 box of high-lighters (12 markers, large tip, in 3 colors) will vanish.

My recommendation: bring a child to guard your cart, preferably one with an iron bladder and who's old enough to use a Taser or firearm if needed. If your kids don't meet this requirement, stop by Home Depot and hire one of the day laborers who hangs out in front looking for work.

4. Do not look for certain numbers of things. The people who make these lists have no idea how things are sold, so it lists things as "1 Expo dry erase marker, chisel-tip, red). Great. They don't sell red ones individually, just in boxes of 4. Or the Flair Correction Pens don't come in only 4 colors, but they do come in 8. Just buy it. If you aren't certain what item the teacher wants, just buy everything in sight and return the rejects later.

Alternatively, if the teacher only wants 1 of an item, such as, say, an ultra-fine tip Sharpie (which only come in boxes of 12), you can always look for an unattended cart with a box of them in it, and take one. If paper is handy, try doodling on it to make sure you are stealing one that works.

5. Hold your place in the check-out line AT ALL COSTS. Reserve it as soon as you walk in the store BEFORE shopping. Use a child (preferably your own) if possible. Other options include day laborers from Home Depot, mannequins, dogs, and aggressive Venus Fly Traps.

6. When in doubt, ask the bleary-eyed, terrified employees for help. If nothing else, it's fun to watch them try to convince you that they don't speak English as they run outside for a cigarette.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

I never have understood why people have to buy absolutely everything for an entire school year at one time. The stores will be open all year, the kids will lose most of the crap before it is needed anyway.
It isn't like you are buying clothes which, for some reason known only to retailers, are only sold during a season when nobody needs them.

Amanda said...

I go to the 24-hour Walmart in the dark of night to do my back-to-school shopping.

Okay, 5AM. But still.

Christie Critters said...

Our school shopping was surprisingly easy this year. Having 2 kids in college helps. We made one Sunday morning trip after church to purchase things for the Lutheran World Relief backpacks (list helpfully in the church bulletin). Oddly enough, Stubble opened his wallet to help with the purchases!
The second trip was made by Stubble and Ms. Flippers at the end of the first week of themselves while we watched HGTV. They went with a list and a Staples card and we felt no pain at all. Miraculous!

CrownedwithVictory said...

What kills me about these lists is when I buy a certain brand-name (like Crayola, because we all know the off brand crayons suck) and at fall break my child brings home his pencil box and it only has the off-brand crayons in it. Where did all the Crayolas go??

quixote said...

I read the School Supplies posts every time you put them up, and chuckle just as much every time. Truly, worthy of the Master. (I refer, of course, to Plum Wodehouse.)

Anonymous said...

Another tip for guarding the cart: if your child isn't old enough to be capable of guarding it on their own, trick a friend into going to the store with you. That way you get to wander around all you want, paying no attention to your cart full of crap or your kid.
One of my friends pulled this on me. Grrrrr.

amy said...

Love the Buckaroo Banzai reference.

Anonymous said... -- with prime (if you have access to a .edu account you can get it free). It's a bit more expensive than the store, but you don't have to sit around in line, etc, and so the price difference may be worth it.

Nyllrap said...

As an educator (and parent) I loved this, hearing the parental experience. Teacher lists have just gotten longer and longer. In their defense, most teachers I know spend a lot of their own money on school stuff, particularly those in low SES schools (just because a list is put out doesn't mean all parents follow it). I remember one kindergartener who came to school every day without his snack because the parent said, "The teacher makes a nice salary. Let her buy the snacks." And she did rather than have the child be without one.

PA Honeybee said...

When I do back to school shopping, I will get extra of certain things like notebooks, Expo dry erase markers, glue sticks, etc so I don't have to stress the next year or two to get every item on the list, we just go to the storage container and get whatever the kids need out of it, pick up the other stuff and it ends up only being a few items.

Word Verification: gynate: a female primate?

Moose said...

Buckaroo Banzai made the phrase famous, but I knew people saying it years before the movie came out.

It was, however, the first movie to try to make Jeff Goldblum look cool.

Anonymous said...

My older daughters list states "2 boxes of Kleenex" just like last year. Last year I sent only 1... most parents must have sent 2. My daughter said there were 23 boxes left at the end of the year (there were only 23 or 24 kids). Sending only 1 again this year. Wonder what happened to those 23 boxes?

I like the teachers that say just to drop off a cheque at the beginning of the year (usually about $50) and the teacher just buys everything the same.

The Mother said...

All of these years explaining how to do this, and STILL nobody listens.

1) Go to Office Superstore as close to school (preferably in walking distance) as possible a week in advance

2) Buy $100 gift card (trust me, it's worth it), preferably on corporate account (save 30%)

3) Hand to child

4) First day of school, send kid to said store. If they can walk, perfect. If not, pick them up and deliver them unto hell, then hang out at the local Starbucks until they're done.

SEE how much easier that was???

Frantic Pharmacist said...

I remember when we had to get a certain kind of calculator and of course every place was sold out. I've never felt such panic. (Well, maybe that's an overstatement.) Glad the Grumpys enjoyed their great American vacation!

Vicki said...

Maybe someone can clue in this childless reader. What do students need dry erase markers? Are they supplying the classroom's white boards? Even then, why are so many needed? When I taught college classes, I used them a lot but never used up the multi-color set I carried with me from class to class.

Grumpy, M.D. said...


Ours in not to reason why.
Ours is just to go and buy.

elysabeth said...

I had the pleasure of missing the back-to-school shopping this year since daughter is in college and I was out of town that weekend for a homeschool conference - so she did the shopping for both herself and her brother who is in high school. I only had to buy a few items this past Monday after the fact and of course when I was in Walmart in the middle of the day - no one else was really there due to the fact that all the kids were in school and the parents were working. I truly enjoyed your post - thanks for sharing - E :)

Ma America, The Travelin' Maven (Elysabeth Eldering)
Author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad, 50-state, mystery, trivia series
Where will the adventure take you next?

Jaded Pharmacist said...

I've read this post three times now.

Thanks, Doc.

Kyla said...

Haha! This is the reason we buy the box from the PTA.

Anonymous said...

Many classrooms have dry erase boards intead of chalk boards and it is so much easier to keep students attention when you write in bright colors, also helps in teaching math/grammar concepts. I tell parents NO RED PENS; I hate them and they send a negative message. I also grade papers with (+) how many they get right than (-) how many they get wrong! Students, in many districts, have dry erase boards too (the mini ones) and I can ask a question, and they can write the answer on the board and hold it up for me to scan the room. Sure the district provides some, but not enough for students too have several of their own; especially with 27-32 students in a room. Think about how often kids don't put the caps on the markers all the way, and by the next day the marker is dried out. I can't tell you how many times we ask for 24 crayons and the parents send 96. There is no room for that many and I tell them to pick 24 (making sure ROY G BIV and a few others are included and send the rest home). Also, to be perfectly honest, if they have the colors they need in a bucket at home, and want to bring used crayons in to school: GO FOR IT! I only really care about certain things...solid color folders and spiral notebooks so that everyone uses the same color (folder and note book for each subect). It teaches organization and it helps me to see in 15 seconds who is ready (have you ever seen the inside of a kid's desk). I make sure that everything can be found in one store and often suggest on the list where to get the best deal and everything in one place. If you select and purchase when you see a sale, it's even better. If there is something special they need that is hard to find, I will ask parents to send in the money and I will purchase the item. We provide assignment books since all students need to use the same one; the organization thing again! I would spend an average of $500-$600a year on things for the classroom because I think it's important. NONE of that is returned to me. What if your employer told you, "You make enough. Anything you might need during the day is on you! Staples, you buy them, and while your at it, buy your own stapler, scissors, phone, paper clips, etc.!" We do the best we can, to give your child the best education possible. What I love is when the parents buy the colorful notebooks and folders at several dollars a piece, instead of the solid colors we ask for (which by the way cost the same price for all of them as one decorative notebook). G-d love the parents that send in 3 boxes of crayons, or three of each color folder and notebook with a note saying, "Just in case someone doesn't have any, you spent enough as it us without a penny back!" Every year I had at least 3-4 parents send a gift card in with supplies for me to use throughout the year to get classroom supplies (usually the students of teachers) and I don't not work in a high income area. As for where all the Kleenex goes we often donate a few boxes here and there to the music, art, PE, library, and computer classrooms since they don't got any of that. And so your child has Kleenex to blow their noses while they are there it's nice to teach them too share.

C said...

no school age year I ACCIDENTALLY (yeah, I am shouting) went to the local (not a 24 hr) Wal Mart during normal business hours during back-to-school-weeekend. It was frightening. There were a million crazed people in that store...worse than a supermarket the day before Thanksgiving...worse than any pre- Christmas shopping day. I was lucky to still have my clothing on and my head attached to my neck when I made my way out. I do not remember what I "needed"...nothing could ever be that important again.

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