Back to School-Pocalypse Shopping

By Lenore Skenazy

August 6, 2020 5 min read

If you look at Target's back-to-school ads, you might not notice anything different in the chipper array of Post-its, backpacks and pencils, except for one new item in the lineup: face masks. Still, the whole thing looks like business as usual.

The parents shopping for those supplies are anything but.

"My 11-year-old just asked me, 'Can I please get a new backpack?' And I just looked at her like, 'What's the point?'" says Vanessa Elias, a parent coach in Wilton, Connecticut. "I think they'll be back (at school) for a very short amount of time." Her district has stated it will only stay open if the local COVID-19 case rate is less than 25 per 100,000. (If it's 10-25 per 100,000, the schools will be open on a hybrid schedule).

Meanwhile, Vanessa's older daughter is off to her first year at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the COVID-19 rate is exponentially higher. So, all the Facebook chatter among the parents of new Eckerd freshmen is which touchless thermometer to buy and whether or not the kids should bring air filters.

Not quite the usual, "Does my kid need a minifridge?" conversation.

Then, too, Elias has to decide if the family is going to drive her daughter down to Florida. If they do, everyone has to quarantine for two weeks upon return, which means the younger kids would miss the beginning of school — if there is a beginning of school.

Things are really up in the air, and that includes protocol. Jeffrey Cohen, dad of a fifth grader in Queens, New York, expected the school to ask parents to send in some basic personal protective equipment. After all, even in normal years, the schools usually ask for Clorox wipes and paper towels.

But on a webinar with 45 parents, the school's principal and PTA president specifically told the parents not to send any of that — and Cohen is trying to figure out why. He assumes it must be because they are worried "some parents would go out and buy the crummiest stuff they could find." To avoid substandard supplies, the school seems determined to provide all the personal protective equipment itself.

The beginning of this school year is so confusing that many parents feel despair. But for some small, sunny subset of parents, this unprecedented era feels liberating — at least when it comes to school shopping.

"I told my kids last week that I am not buying school supplies or school clothes until I know 100% for sure they are going back to school," says Shaylene Haswarey, a mother of five outside of Portland, Oregon.

Normally, she enjoys shopping for fall clothes with the kids, who stretch from eighth grade to community college. But this time around, she's actually enjoying not shopping. "Is it horrible for me to be thankful I can avoid shopping for another few months?"

Not horrible — and not even unique. Faith Lersey, a mom of three in Los Angeles County, always felt a little daunted "by the bright primary colors in the store and all this pressure to get your kids what they need." Lersey home-schools but follows the local public charter curriculum, which requires certain standard supplies.

But this year, Lersey says: "With nobody knowing what the heck is going on, I feel a sense of permission to go out and get what we need and not feel like I'm a pressurized person slashing through the aisles of Target. Some of that may have to do with the literal spaciousness of the stores now, but, mostly, it's the mental spaciousness." What's more, she confides, "Maybe there's something about the unrest of it all that makes me feel excited."

No doubt many parents wish they could share her sense of adventure. But the mom of one New York City high school sophomore summed it up this way: "It's hard to deal with school supplies when you're dealing with your whole educational universe falling apart."

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: adonyig at Pixabay

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