Susan's Blog

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Hell is Other Staples

“Hell is other people.” (“L’enfer, c’est les autres.”)
Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit, 1944

“Yeah, We’ve Got That.”

Hell is other Staples. And Summertime Assignments. I will explain.

We think of the traditional Hell, of Christian fame, as being a place of orange and red flames. Well, was it? Dante saw it differently. His version of the very lowest point, the worst place in Hell, was pure ice, a place where one became frozen, where all movement and growth ceased to exist.

Hell is neither orange flames, nor frozen ice. Hell is going to Staples at the beginning of September, and also discovering other Summertime Assignments. Dante, with all due respect, was not a third grade parent. Today, two things happened to me that sent me down, down into the circles of Modern Day Parenting Hell. (Now, of course, as I write this, the Jewish superstitious shtetl girl in me says, “Bubelah, get some perspective! No one died, everyone’s healthy, knock wood, you have a roof over your head and a good man bringing home the — well, not bacon, exactly, but the Whole Foods turkey sausage!”)

Nevertheless, Here is My Version of Modern Day Parenting Hell — Given, a minor circle compared to leprosy, but still, worthy of the malebolge.

1) Not one, but two, trips to Staples with back-to-school lists — All in one day!
The moment I walk in, my guide, (not Virgil, but a smiling pale-faced man in bright red shirt) assailed me and asked if he could help me. Before I could really answer I was being steered towards rows and racks of folders, folders, and more folders, across from which were pencils, pencils, pencils, pencils, and pencils. Also, pencils. Sharpies, not-sharpies, Rulers, Erasers. All manner of torture. Worse than torture: Bore-ture. So, so very boring. I started to fall asleep as I walked through the mind-numbing aisles of supplies. Paper, paper, paper, paper, paper. I woke up, and wanted to cry, but I bravely clutched my list and my little boy’s hand and picked out all the stuff and then some for his teacher (see? I’m a nice Mommy.).

But then! Max came home from a sleepover and guess where he needed to go? So, back in the car, back into the traffic, first to McDonald’s to give them their last treat of the summer. Long, long line! Why? For the Mario toy, of course. And all I got was a diet coke because just the smells in that place made me nearly sick.

Back to Staples, where, not only were the same devils parading around leading all the moms and college kids into evil mazes of paper stuff to buy, buy, buy, buy, buy. But I stumbled into a display, made it collapse, and nearly started to cry, cry, cry, cry, cry. $84 Calculator, Binders, Dividers (which is it? are we binding together or dividing apart?) Everything for the well-heeled high-school freshman.

The alarm at the door kept going off and even mellow Max looked teary as he covered his ears (chalk that look up to having pulled an all-nighter with his buds, perhaps). Max and I put it back together, but I feel like Humpty Dumpty: who is going to put me back together? (Answer: Ned)
$158 later, we went home.

2) The discovery of a “math folder,” a binder full of “fun” math activities to do for every day of the summer. And here we are, on the second-to-last day of summer! We pull it out, and see page after page of stapled-together worksheets, math fact cards, word problems, game lists, number fun. After all my care to help encourage him to do his ten-entry summer journal, now this!!!!!!

“Get ready to discover math all around you this summer!…This packet consists of 2 calendar pages, one for July and one for August, as well as directions for math games to be played at home. Each month’s activities are organized into 28 ‘math boxes.’..We encourage your child to complete 20 math boxes each month…”

[With Love,]
Public Schools of Brookline
k8 Mathematics Department

I nearly fainted. I can’t even understand the directions, let alone find patience/time/energy to help Benj do any of this! In a crazed blitz, I started to cut the things out to make the math fact cards, the lazy way, with all the pages together at once, and after I saw that I had cut off the tops of many of the equations. Purple paper shards everywhere, scraps, scissors, and my mind all in disarray. I threw it all on the floor in disgust, saying, “Too bad, Benj. I’m not doing it. Don’t worry about it. This is summer vacation.”

He said, “Maybe we should call Ms. S**** and yell swears at her into the phone?”
Ashamed of myself, I said, “No, Honey, it’s not her fault. She’s a good teacher. It’s just that I’m tired. You don’t have to do this right now. You just have to be sure you know your math facts.” (which I think he does anyway). What is with this culture? Isn’t this supposed to be vacation, time for fun? Why all the emphasis on drill, drill, drill? (I’ll tell you why: it is No Child Left Behind, or the ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was reinterpreted by the Bushies and this conservative Congress as being a way to put the squeeze on public schools by demanding that there be 100% literacy and math proficiency by the year 2010 or else there will be sanctions against those schools. This, while at the same time cutting public education funding more than ever before. Brilliant way to prove that public schools fail, no? NCLB, in most states, including Massachusetts, is based almost solely on high-stakes, standardized testing that sucks all the life and color out of school curricula and separates the good test-takers from the poor test-takers, the rich from the poor. But NCLB has school districts running scared, so drill-and-kill it is.) Which gives us more lists and lists of things to memorize.

And why?

So that when we’re adults, we can navigate the aisles of Staples like pros.

(By the way, you know what would make it all into heaven? If I could be making yet a third trip to Staples — for Nat’s academic needs.)


“What makes one heroic? ā€“ Going out to meet at the same time one’s highest suffering and one’s highest hope.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

— added by andrea on Tuesday, September 5, 2006 at 8:31 pm

I’ll trade you.
Today was Alena’s first day of preschool (which we both handled like pros!) and the half off sale at our local thrift shop.
I loathe clothing shopping, but LOVE anything to do with stationery and pens. šŸ˜€

— added by Jen on Tuesday, September 5, 2006 at 8:36 pm

Andrea –
I love Nietzsche, especially his earlier, funnier work!

Jen – You are on. Next time, come do the shopping for the pens. I am going to be at Anthropologie the first chance I get, just to get all this Staples stuff out of my system.

— added by Susan Senator on Tuesday, September 5, 2006 at 8:40 pm

“Bore”ture. That’s a good one! xoxNB
P.S. Paul and the boys are at Staples as I type. Bwahahaha!

— added by n.b. on Tuesday, September 5, 2006 at 8:40 pm

Actually, that’s really just one problem (though, I’ll grant you, one big problem.)

Staples = Mitt Romney.

‘Nuff said.

— added by MOM-NOS on Tuesday, September 5, 2006 at 10:02 pm

My two sons and better half have a great system when back to school supply time rolls around…..we tag team it like a well versed athletic machine. I man (no pun intended) the list and clear the way. My two sons take the items and duck/dart back to the cart being held and manuevered by my better half. All of our back to school needs complete in record time this year….15 minutes. Two boys have been back in school three weeks. Now I’m have time management issues with their homework, extra credit work, workout…etc.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

— added by Martini on Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 8:50 am

I don’t mind shopping for school supplies. It means the kids are going back to school and mom gets a break! šŸ™‚

I’m all for getting rid of summer breaks anyway. They were invented when children were needed during the summer to help on the farm. Not too many kids work on farms these days so I say, get ’em back into the classroom!

— added by Wendy on Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 3:13 pm

By the way, that Washington Post article that I was going to mail to you was inadvertently tossed into the trash by my husband. Sorry!

— added by Wendy on Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 3:14 pm

I hear ya Sue! Great post. NCLB makes me crazy…hence my work with homeschoolers/coops & charter schools.

— added by Danielle Lynne on Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 6:16 pm

Great post. I hear you so clearly. Me, we didn’t hit staples once because we did Walmart in July, when everything was so freaking cheap and plentiful that I only spent about $20 on school supplies for two kids this year!

We start tomorrow. I can’t wait.

— added by margalit on Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 8:43 pm

If only ALL the supplies on the list could be got at one store — I went to Office Depot AND Office Max this year. šŸ˜›

— added by Julia on Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 2:24 pm

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