School Supply Shopping: It Ain’t Just Trapper Keepers Anymore


My kids go back to school this week.  Never mind that it’s the first week of August and we’ve already arrived at Back to School.  My emotions are somewhere between “Please School Take My Kids” and “Dammit, We Didn’t Do All the Things on the Summer Fun List I NEED MORE TIME TO BE THIS AWESOME.”

This year I’ve gone from no elementary school kids to two elementary school kids and one in PreK.  What does that mean?  This is my maiden voyage on the school supplies thing.  This year I have three kids in three different schools and as I’m looking up school supply lists I’m thinking, “What is this madness?!?”

Moms of school-aged children, you know what I’m talking about.

Has anyone else made the mistake of thinking school supply shopping would be fun?  I remember fondly my own love of school supplies and picking out a fresh Trapper Keeper and hearing the satisfying rip of the brand new Velcro.  Pencils, pens, crayons, and maaayyybe they’d specify what size pack.  Maybe.  1980s-style school supply shopping was a quick run to one store and deciding whether you wanted the kitten Trapper Keeper or the rainbow one.

Last week I looked up my children’s supply lists online and realized the deep level of my naivety.

These lists?  It’s like the world has been taken over by Dwight Schrute.

My freestyling, express yourself, hippie soul died a little when I saw that the school supplies are dictated down to the color and brand.  But…but…I was gonna let them decorate their folders and buy cutie patootie notebooks.

On Friday, Georgia had its tax-free day, and I thought I was being all responsible and nailing this school thing showing up at Target right when it opened.  Rookie mistake.  As I grabbed a cart, the employee at the entrance warned, “There’s already a crowd back there.  Better hurry.”  Were the other moms camped out like we were buying concert tickets rather than washable glue sticks?  I had actually planned on bringing my kids with me until a teacher friend warned me to leave them home because it would be a madhouse and I would need to focus.  Madhouse?  Focus?  For looseleaf paper?

I hustled to the back of the store to discover empty shelves and nary a 16-pack of Crayola crayons.  Apparently all moms in the know shopped early.  Panic began to creep up my throat.  I was in over my head.

I sighed and looked at my lists.

Dixon Ticonderoga #2 Sharpened Pencils.  Because if my first grader has the wrong brand pencils, he won’t get into Yale.  I started to pick up a pack of pencils then realized they were the wrong color.  The authoritative sheet of paper clearly stated they need yellow pencils.  Yellow, you moron, yellow!  Duh.

Mead Wide-Rule Black Marble Composition Book 100-ct.  The store had wide-rule blue marble, or college-rule black marble.  Deciding the line-spacing must be more important than color, I bought the blue.  I can already feel the shame of having the wrong colored composition book.  This kind of thing can screw up a kid for a long time.  I picture her teacher standing over her like a Dalek from Doctor Who shrieking, “Explain!  Explain!”

Zippered Heavy Canvas Grommeted Pencil Pouch, with Clear, See-Through Front and Exterior Mesh Pocket.  That entire display was bare.  I flipped up Amazon on my phone and ordered it online.  Sticking it to The Man.  Nothing can defeat my iPhone.

Avery Index Divider 8-Tab Poly Insertable w/Single Pocket Asst. Colors.  Target was a total loss on this one.  My iPhone lover and I searched Amazon together and found dividers without pockets and dividers with double-pockets, but no single-pocket dividers.  I decided to err on the side of extra pockets.  When did an extra pocket ever hurt someone?  My kid is heading to school fully-pocketed and ready for business.

After several hours of obsessive compulsive supply shopping, I drove home to pick up my kids for shoe shopping.  Their shoes were so ripped up and smelly that after finding new sneakers and nailing a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale, I told the sales guy to just burn the old ones.

I was feeling pretty good after the shoe shopping, dropped my son off at home, and took my daughter out for clothes shopping.  We grabbed a few sale items and overheard another mom saying something about a 60% off sale at Justice.

I’d never been in that store, but I like justice.  That’s an excellent value.  A big yay for justice.  Surely the store must be marvelous.  So I went in.  With my tween daughter.  Hold me Jesus.

As the neon colors, loud bubblegummy pop music, and glitter hit my eyes, I realized I’d made a very, very bad miscalculation.  I would not make it out of this store alive.  Ana went straight for the skirts and boots that looked oddly familiar.  Where had I seen them before?

Oh yeah.  On Vivian and Kit in Pretty Woman, before Edward’s money and Rodeo Drive.

I could just see my nine-year-old smoking in the bathroom while her friend says, “Take care of you.”

I don’t know much about elementary school, but I didn’t want to start out as the mom with the girl wearing a belt as a skirt.  After standing in line with about thirty other glassy-eyed parents doing the thousand-yard stare toward the daylight at the front of the store, we made it out of there with one pair of leggings and some kitty cat press-on nails.  I explained to her that she needed to wear a skirt or tunic over the leggings, that these legging were not pants, and she just looked at me and said, “Really?” like this was news.

We got home and I sifted through the conquests of tax-free day.  I couldn’t even look at the school supplies.  What a disappointment.  Half of them were arriving via Amazon and the ones lying forlornly on my dining room table just looked like losers.  I could tell they wouldn’t pass muster and I’d be sent to the principal’s office.

Incidentally, the only time I was ever sent to the principal’s office was in junior high when I wore a black blazer and he decided the pockets were big enough to hold drugs.  Because all straight-A nerds on Student Council stuff their pockets with weed before heading to Pre-Algebra.

Today my Amazon shipment arrived and I tore open the box in anticipation.  The grommeted pencil pouch has a mesh window, not a mesh pocket.  We’re so screwed.


Trapper Keeper photo from, Dalek gif from, Dwight gif from, Pretty Woman screenshot from

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  • Chris

    I just stared at the trapper keeper pic wanting one again so bad! Lol! I will say this for homeschooling: there are no supply lists! Lol! Unless you make your own like me and spend half a day (on a non-tax free weekend because I too have made that mistake!) cruising the Walmart and other craft store aisles picking up stuff that looks fun and telling hubby you “need” these items for homeschool :) I’m bad, I know.

    • Melanie Dale

      Bad to the bone, Chris. ;) If you’re homeschooling your kids, I think you need alllll the bells and whistles. Definitely spring for the fuzzy kitten folders.

  • Lynne

    I have another year before having to think about school supplies for my daughter but having grown up in the UK the whole idea of these massive school lists is so alien to me. In the equivalent of Kindergarten/Elementary/Middle we didn’t have to take any school supplies at all, those were all supplied by the school. At High School level we were expected to have our own pens and pencils and maths equipment. However all other supplies: notebooks, paper, art supplies, glue, etc were all supplied by the school. Am going to have to do a Facebook poll to see if times have changed in the UK too. We may have to move back to the UK before school starts! My step-daughter here in the US had to have an i-Pad for high school last year. It had to be an iPad too, couldn’t be any other tablet.

    • Melanie Dale

      Whoa. iPads are more expensive than 8-tab dividers. Holy cow. Keep us posted on the UK vs US about supply craziness. I’m curious now!

  • Alissa Requier

    I was you…I still panic every year because I can never remember what a goddamn duotang is because no one calls them fing duotangs anymore! And our school still requests a brand of paint that’s GONE OUT OF BUSINESS! I gave up caring and just buy what’s close to required as possible and if they have an issue then they can go supply shopping and I’ll pay them back if they survive it….

    • Melanie Dale

      I seriously just had to google “duotang.” HA! So you’re doing better than I am! This is embarrassing, but I also spent many precious minutes at Target trying to remember what a divider was. A divider! It’s been too long.

      • Lauren Morris

        I, too, googled “doutang”. I’m glad I wasn’t alone! lol

  • Lauren Morris

    My daughter isn’t even 3 yet and this made me hyperventilate. I am now looking back to when our Walmart rolled out the school supplies and I thought, “Geez…it’s still Summer.”, thinking The Man was just raining on the kiddies’ party. No. It’s just the latest technique for stressing poor parents out a wee bit earlier…because we need help with that. I, too, remember the joy of school shopping with Lisa Frank! <3 Those were the days… :-)

    • Melanie Dale

      Ha! Lauren, sorry for the hyperventilation!!! I feel certain that we get better at this each year…at least that’s what I’m telling myself!

  • Off The Cuff Cooking

    I’m homeschooling. At least until 14th grade. That’s what, sophomore in college, right?

    I miss Trapper Keepers. I think I still have one or two in a memory box. Mine had cool 80s geometric prints on the front.

    Also, thank you for Pass Muster, and not “pass the mustard.”

    • Darlene Melvin

      so i am the loser mom that WAITED (gasp!) until last night – and I went to said same Target and it was like the FAMINE of school supplies had settled in.. I hung my head low and kept apologizing to my little first grader.. somehow this is all making me develop a complex .. but single mom of three really trying to swim upstream in this battle of getting the list right? I surrendered. Went home with half of the list completed and went through USED supplies (another gasp!) and have vowed to walk in tomorrow in the classroom with my supplies feeling secure (however the big high schoolers convinced the 1st grader to get the pencil pouch that zips undone and turns into zipper shards?? wHAT? how did that get by me? i digress)

      • darlene

        :( posted this in the wrong place. I give up!

        • Melanie Dale

          Don’t give up!

      • Melanie Dale

        Darlene, you are fantastic. You’re doing a great job. Solidarity, woman. Our kids will survive back to school. WE might not, but our kids will. ;)

    • Melanie Dale

      I miss Trapper Keepers, too! They were so cool!

  • KristiB

    Ha, this is where you just buy the closest thing and roll your eyes if anyone says anything. My son has GREEN composition notebooks this year! GREEN! Because, well, one I couldn’t find blue (he wasn’t happy about that) and two the green ones were cheaper than the standard black and white. No one is going to care in the long run but him and maybe just a little me.

    • Melanie Dale

      Green?!?? Oh no. You’re so very screwed, too. ;)

  • Sarah Dale Payne

    Favorite one yet. Laughing out loud in a hip LA coffee shop, like a nerd. Loved every moment- especially the “take care of you.” Could envision it completely. Thanks for bringing some laughter to my day!

    • Melanie Dale

      Thanks, Sarah! Wish I was laughing in that coffee shop with you! (btw, I love your profile pic!!!)

  • Kat

    Drug stores like CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens to back-to-school sales, too, and their selections are pretty good. Also, check out a Justice when it isn’t mad-rush back-to-school time – most of their clothing is really nice, and suitable for younger girls. The skirts are meant to be worn over leggings – layers are key, and considering that every weekend there’s at least a 40% off sale, it’s a good store to do the occasional splurge shopping on fun stuff. And yes, school supply shopping lists have gotten crazy over the years. It’s actually a bit of a shock for my students coming into high school, because the elementary and middle school lists are so regimented, and most of us have pretty simple lists (pencils, pens that aren’t red, orange, yellow, or silver ink, paper, a binder, a composition book) – whatever brand the students bring is what they use. I hear a lot of “that’s it?” remarks to my supply list, because the lower grades go (in my opinion) so over the top with the supplies.

    • Melanie Dale

      Thanks for giving us hope for high school, Kat, and I promise to check out Justice when it isn’t crowded and maybe by myself!

  • Jaime James

    HILARIOUS. and so true. Especially the part about Justice.

    • Melanie Dale

      Riiight?!? :)

  • Bootsie

    Lol at 4 am when couldn’t sleep. Now with shot of Ana in pretty woman outfit, I will not sleep any time soon. :) girls live their clothes. Those were the days☺️

    • Melanie Dale

      Ha! I like that my blog is your middle-of-the-night insomnia fix. So fabulous!

  • Bonnie Zimmerman Schaff

    I almost speed my pants! I laughed so hard!

  • Jocelyn

    This is hilarious! It’s so nice to know we aren’t alone. We went to four different stores, and i still ended up feeling like I failed my first parenting assignment of the school year.

  • Kristen Tenley

    Hilarious! As an elementary school teacher though the pencils really are a must. All the other brands suck with sharpening and break lead ALL the time. In fact, as an exculsive mechanical pencil user since middle school I have now been converted to the joy of holding the true Ticonderoga wood in my hand (that sounds weird but it is true!)

  • Katie

    My sister loathes Justice, and my niece is just at the age where she starts LOVING all of it. I remember loving the Limited Too, which was just like Justice (only, um, in 1997 and with all the things that it being 1997 entailed), when I was that age. And it’s all so freaking ugly. I don’t get it! I don’t get why tween girls love it so, and I was ONE of those tweens!

    School supply shopping is the worst. I feel like there should be a system where parents can choose to just write a check to the teacher and not think about it. Then all the schools could order supplies wholesale and frankly everyone involved would SAVE money.





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