By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen
Carole Townsend

(Not So) Common Sense...
I miss the back-to-school rush. Sometimes
By Carole Townsend

Heading to the Mall of Georgia earlier this week, I was surprised by the bumper-to-bumper backup of cars along Highway 20.

Typically, that kind of traffic near the mall is reserved for the months of November and December; I hoped that there had not been an accident, and thankfully, there didn’t appear to have been one.  I shrugged off the aggravation and crept along with the other commuters until it was finally my turn to hang a right into the parking lot of what my husband calls my “mothership.” He exaggerates, of course. I do not spend that much time at the mall. Around the mall, maybe, but not at the actual mall. 

Anyway, the parking lots were packed, aisle after aisle of spots filled with cars. Even the parking spots that no one uses – ever – were taken. Was I missing a sale? Had one of my favorite retailers slashed prices to the bone and forgotten to notify me? Suddenly, the traffic and packed parking lots bothered me. I became nervous; my heart rate quickened, and my palms began to sweat. All of those women who had their parking spots were in there right now, snapping up bargains that rightfully belonged to me. Breaking all of the mall etiquette rules I have lived by for years, I became aggressive, wheeling around a woman who had been waiting for an empty spot, and (I’m ashamed to admit this) whipping my car into the spot instead. I was not myself. That is my only defense. 

Power-walking straight into Macy’s to claim all that was rightfully mine, I glanced up at the signs that were plastered all over the store entrance and suddenly, everything came clear to me. BACK TO SCHOOL BARGAINS, the signs read. LOWEST PRICES OF THE SEASON. USE YOUR MACY’S CARD AND SAVE AN EXTRA 20%!  My heart sank. “Back to school,” I thought. “Kids’ clothes. Backpacks. Shoes.” And of course, at other big-box department stores, there would be the cutthroat race to find and score everything on your kid’s teacher’s school supply list. I always thought of buying school supplies as being no-holds-barred Southern hockey.

I felt a pang of sadness. There was a time in which our family’s entire lives were planned around the Gwinnett County school calendar. I religiously kept track of orientation days, registration days, first and last days, teacher workdays, holidays and breaks. Every now and then I am reminded, as I was earlier this week at the mall, how much life has changed since our children are no longer in school. I was one of those moms who watched and waited for school supply lists to appear in area stores. I fell for it every year; I’d grab the list and start the hunt, finding every item and gleefully marking it off the list as I tossed it into my shopping cart. Sure, I threw an elbow here or accidentally tripped another mom there, but only if there was just one of an item left on the shelf. I was on a mission, and that was to make sure my children were well prepared for school.

Once I’d actually met the children’s individual teachers, however, they would without fail hand me another list, one with their own personal requirements for students in their classrooms. I’m talking things like purple paper clips, blue composition books with exactly 90 pages, glue that ONLY smells like spearmint, chartreuse highlighters, and a steady supply of foods that start with “Q.” That second trip back to the store to find the things on that list was the real test of a mother’s mettle. I did it though, every year, and I’d sit with my children and as they packed their book bags over and over again, trying to arrange their brand new treasures just right. I loved the hustle, bustle and excitement of back-to-school.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that all of those items that I risked life and limb to purchase for my little darlings, had been given to someone else’s kids on the first day of school. I learned this when I saw my son doing his homework one evening, trying to cut articles out of a newspaper with scissors that could easily have been outperformed by two popsicle sticks. I asked him where he got those scissors, and he said that he got them from “the box” in his classroom. “The box?” I asked. “Yeah,” he answered. “We put all of the stuff we bought for school into one big box, mixed it all up, and then the teacher handed our stuff to us.”

Now, I was a single mom back in those days, and I remember well sometimes struggling to buy my children the best supplies and clothes that I could afford, even when it meant that I might do without a few things. So yes, I was that mom that went up to the school and asked for a meeting with the teacher. I wanted to know why my children were not using the supplies that I bought them, and why they were given the cheapest supplies when I knew full well that I had splurged on the good stuff. That may sound shallow and petty, but if it does, I imagine you’ve never been a mom, and certainly not a single one.
  
The teacher explained to me that the school supplies sent in by parents are never intended to be used by their children alone. Not all parents buy good quality supplies, she explained, and some never bother to send in any at all. Therefore, so no one feels left out or embarrassed, the supplies are all mixed up and distributed that way.

I thought that my head was going to explode right there in the first grade classroom. I explained to the teacher, in the calmest voice that I could muster, that unless I know that supplies are intended for the entire classroom (such as tissues, wipes, etc.), I expected my child to use the supplies that his mother sent to school with him. If I wanted to buy my children cheap things, I could do that myself. If I wanted to ignore the request for school supplies, I could do that, as well. But if I sent in everything that the school and the teacher requested, and I sent in the best that I could afford, then that is exactly what my children would be using.

There were not many things I’d ever bother a teacher about, because I know how hard they work, and I know that while they do what they do because they love teaching, their biggest pain is dealing with parents. I do get that, and I always respected that.  Once we got the school supply “redistribution” ironed out, I was good. I have the utmost respect for teachers, and my hat is off to them for teaching our children in what can sometimes be difficult political and parent-infested waters.

Having said that, parents, if you endured the back-to-school mayhem to find just the right items on that elusive and mysterious list, make sure your child is using them. You didn’t get those bruises and fractures just to give the stuff away, did you?

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She is known for writing about life and family, from both a humorous and a poignant perspective. Her latest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. Her fourth book, a true crime novel partially set in Gwinnett County, is set for publication in Spring 2016. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, teaching writers’ workshops,  speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.



Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.