Circle of Life (aka Back to School)

I remember when I was a naïve parent sending my first child to Kindergarten the first day.  It was so sad.  I missed her before she even disappeared into her classroom.  I still miss my children when they go back to school, but now I cry for different reasons, because I’m not naïve anymore and know exactly what BACK-TO-SCHOOL means (at all levels).

Elementary School

Prepare to spend hours in Walmart pouring over that supply list that is 2 pages long in 8 point text, and more detailed than a phone bill.  You will have to go to 4 stores to find that certain brand of pencils that is, of course, the most expensive, as well as only a certain brand and count of wet wipes (I wish I was kidding).  You will have to rent a U-haul to carry all these supplies to your child’s classroom (so book your trailer early).

Middle School

Buy earplugs and Advil (for yourself) if you have a child in beginning band; they don’t put that on the required list, but I highly recommend it (especially with strings or loud brass instruments).

You’ve dealt with six years or so of elementary school supply lists, so I suggest you rebel and don’t buy anything until they make you.  Each teacher will send home their own additional list the first day of school of what they REALLY want your kid to have (and your child won’t show you this list until 10pm the night before they HAVE to have it).  So make sure you have gas in your car for that inevitable late night trip to the store (your child will want to borrow your earplugs as I promise you’ll be grumbling).

High School

If you thought public education was free, Elementary and Middle School should have cured you of that myth.  Now welcome to high school where you might max out your credit card when you go to registration and pay for class fees, yearbook, activity cards and whatever else they can make up to force on your budget.   It can be quite daunting as a newbie high school parent standing in lines that rival Disneyland in the summer (except that there is no fast pass), and reach the front and be handed a computer printout of what you owe.

And sports or cheerleading…well, that’s a whole different ball game.  You will pay out your nose for these (and yes, the school doesn’t mind snot covered cash.  I’ve paid them lots).   If you want your child to get a future athletic scholarship, here’s something to think about.  It costs the same either route you take.  If they do get to a level that can win a scholarship, add up all you’ve paid to competitive clubs, traveling, and high school sports programs over the years, and you’ll find that it just about adds up to four years of tuition.  So get on a risky prepay plan with sports, or pay for college when you get to that point.  It’s your choice.


At least we send our kids into this one KNOWING it’s not free.  Nothing from preschool on has been, but they pretended it was (although your wallet’s pretty empty from that free education).   Welcome to college—where TRUTH prevails.  Nothing’s free here, but at least we know it.  Now you get to reserve the U-haul again (you haven’t  had to do this since Back-To-School night in elementary).  Everything has come full circle in the Circle of Life. 

Now stop wasting your time reading this blog.  Those high-strung elementary moms are on top of it and might book up all the trailers if you don’t snap to it and call U-haul quick.  You don’t want to have to squish all your college kid’s belongings in that little Mazda of yours, do you?


***Photos courtesy of Stock.xchng

18 thoughts on “Circle of Life (aka Back to School)

  1. Oh dear. That brought back memories. I really liked your assessment that college scholarships equal the travel and costs of what it takes to make your kids star athletes. Yikes. The other thing that occurred to me was I remember working during those years so we could afford all of that. How sad. The years I most needed to be home being a mom, I had to work to afford to be a mom. Really good post Char! Great pictures, too! 😉

    • Thanks Gina, especially for the pictures tip. It’s funny how we can get our kids so involved with a million things that we don’t get to enjoy them while they’re home. Life was getting out of control with mine, so when we moved here we made a rule of only 1 sport per season max. They get mad sometimes, because several of their friends will do soccer and cross country at the same time, but life is nicer because they’re not overscheduled.

      • We did that too. Your blog really triggered a notion of my own blog on the topic. If my brain can hold onto the idea long enough I may write on it. With this sieve of a brain, it’s hard to say.

  2. I laughed when you talked about school supplies, because while we were getting our kids’ supplies, I said to my husband, “When did all this happen? Back when we were in school, it was a couple notebooks, some looseleaf paper, and a binder.” Now they need fancy calculators, tissue boxes, etc., etc.

    “the school doesn’t mind snot covered cash”—ha ha–isn’t that the truth?!

    • It’s gotten way too complicated. When I taught a year in Utah, we just asked for a straight donation from each child. I wish schools here would do that. It would save my legs from walking up and down a million store aisles looking for Ticonderoga pencils.

  3. I haven’t had to deal with middle school costs yet–but I will next year. And yes, you’re right, it isn’t free. Supplying the classrooms with batteries, paper towels, tennis balls, Clorox, tissues, dry-erase markers, hand sanitizer, games for rainy days, art supplies–on top of what you have to get for your own child, and we end up spending a few hundred dollars per child per year.

    This does not include all of the volunteering parents do which costs the school nothing but costs the parents loads of time (which translates to money) and often, actual money, depending on what their volunteer duties are.

    And then the schools go and cut the budgets anyway. I don’t get it.

    • High school cost me a fortune–but not as much as last year with my 2nd. She took lots of art classes that were expensive. Having been a teacher, I know why they get crazy and ask for so much…if they don’t, with the sorry budgets, teachers have to pay for those things themselves. Still, as a parent…I hate it.

  4. I’m lucky I won’t have to get school supplies until my kids are in 3rd grade (I think…) but the school still begs for supplies during the whole school year, no matter what kids bring it at the beginning. You should have mentioned all the fundraisers happening every month, especially during school hours. And then teachers complain there’s not enough time to teach! I think if parents fought back about some of these supplies, schools would stop asking for them. Yes, some things are needed but when I see what’s on the list sometimes (e.g. a specific pair of sneakers for Phys Ed), it’s out of control.

    • I agree. Definitely they need supplies, but why does it have to be a certain brand of markers, and a certain count and brand of wipes–every detail so nitpicky? It gets frustrating. I haven’t had the sneakers thing yet…but always have to buy short and shirt from the school.

  5. I wonder how many shoes and handbags all this money could have bought over the years….. it astounds me every year what we are asked for… fantastic blog…so true thanks Jan

    • It’s sad to see ’em go! My 2nd leaves me in January. I keep hoping that if I don’t think about it, it won’t happen. Meanwhile, she is biting at the bit to get out of the nest. Wah! Hope your daughter enjoys college.

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