Monday, October 17, 2011

School Supplier

In elementary school, I brought a bagged lunch to school. This lunch always contained a tuna sandwich, with an apple as a snack. It is important to note that the apple was dropped into the bag on top of the sandwich, rendering the main course a squished, fishy disaster that I deposited in the trash can each day, still encased in its plastic sandwich bag. This ruse went on for quite some time until the teacher ratted me out to my mother at a parent conference. I literally have not eaten canned tuna since 1975. Sorry, Charlie.

Aside from the occasional mutant tuna-on-white, I don't think I brought anything else to school. I do not recall any adult helping me with homework. I did not need to seek my mother's notarized signature to prove that I had spent 63 minutes reading Chapters 6-9 of Lord of the Flies. I do not remember my mother sweating it out in the morning, veins bulging in her forehead, with checklists of items for each of my brothers and me to bring to school. In fact, I did not even own a backpack until college. So what went wrong in the last quarter of the 20th century that turned parents into virtual dispensaries of advice and items to enhance their child's learning?
I have not been privy to any public education curriculum discussions, but I have a theory that my generation’s parents’ laissez-faire attitude toward parenting is somehow to blame for the obligatory over-involvement of school-age kids’ parents. Since my children started pre-school, hardly a day has gone by when I was not required to furnish them with various non-essential items in order to further their education. Schools invariably have the semesters divided into "themes," so a "Nature Module" may call for the child to come up with a leaf specimen before going back to school at 7:30 am the next day. Nothing instills a love of nature in a child more than his mother yelling at him to hurry up and just choose a leaf because it is 9 PM and dark out. And the themes are often conceptualized in “education speak,” meaning those of us who actually completed the education system are not able to understand what the hell our kids are actually doing. A call for donations for the  “Manipulative Station” left me wondering why such anti-social skills were being taught to my three year old. A flyer similarly seeking items for the “Exploration Station” gave me pause as to whether I had signed a permission slip to allow my child to sail off into uncharted waters.

Another source of added parental stress are the infamous school field trips. Back in the day, I swear we went on about one field trip every few years. I vaguely recall being hoarded onto a school bus, probably without my parents’ knowledge, and going off to a farm to see animals. It may have been on one of these very field trips that a zebra bit my thumb and, to this day, I have an aversion to animal prints. I doubt the trip's chaperones even completed an "Ouchy Report" on the incident for my permanent file. 

Nowadays, it seems as if kids, especially preschoolers, spend no time whatsoever in the classroom learning to manipulate and explore. For my son’s entire preschool career, I was in a suspended state of acute anxiety due to the fact that I was never certain if, when I dropped him off on my way to work, I would be chastised for neglecting to bring a slew of additional items to enhance his special experience. All field trips required a certain t-shirt, that was invariably either in the laundry (yes, field trips could even be scheduled on consecutive days… sigh…), or lost in a pile of other small, brightly colored cotton fabrics. It wasn’t until my son had finished pre-school that I was told, confidentially, that the school had a stash of extra t-shirts just in case. Well, now you tell me. Other requirements were posted about 8 hours prior to the field trip, on a nondescript sign on the classroom door. Now, if you have ever been inside a preschool classroom, you will know that the walls are covered in brightly colored artwork and pictures. In order for a flyer to be noticed, it would need to be a flashing neon safety hazard in the doorway that parents would literally bump into and take notice. It seems as if schools think that just because a two year old doesn’t check his email on a daily basis, that the parent would not be amenable to receiving electronic messages outlining the next day’s requirements. Some days it might be to bring a bagged lunch and a drink. Other times it would be to bring two drinks, but no lunch. Special shoes might be needed. Maybe a specific amount of money. Trust me, if cash does not grown on trees, neither do water shoes, sunscreen, or extra carseats.

Now, it goes without saying that many parents of preschoolers hold down jobs, and that is why our children are in preschool for enough hours of the week to be traveling 50 miles to go to a Science Museum inferior to the one 10 minutes away that is affiliated with the local major research university. So I do not think I am the only working mom who considered hiring a full-time personal assistant to run the errands required to furnish my children with all the stuff they need to bring to school. But, unfortunately, the only thing more expensive than private preschool in a major U.S. metropolitan city is a private personal assistant in a major U.S. metropolitan city. So, that means endless lunchtime runs to Target to replace broken thermoses, buy water bottles, or hunt down glitter glue sticks for the class birthday card for the student teacher. 

But all the effort and stress is forgotten at the dinner table, when I ask my precious ones what they enjoyed most about the day's field trip. The answer is always delivered with the same blank stare and shrug, "Nothing." 


  1. I got that same answer from the 6 yr old twins last weekend when they spent a couple nights..."what did you learn in school this week?"

    Dunc: "nuffin"

    Only trips we got in school was to the Hostess Twinkie factory and Chef Boyardee factory. Real educational stuff.


  2. Ooooh! The Twinkie Factory sounds AWESOME! They don't go on such cool field trips anymore. It's all about dinosaur bones and eco-farms... Bo-Ring :). Thanks for checking in! PS: Did you notice the timely/edgy key words I used to try to lure people to my blog? You inspired me!

  3. My school field trips just went to McDonalds. At least that all I remember about them.

  4. Hi, DBS--Those were the days! My daughter just told me that "Old McDonalds" has a lot of chemicals in the food, but the apple dippers and milk are OK. Sigh... Thanks for reading! Best, Karen :)