ANCHORS & SAILS: The back to school schlep

Brenda Kelley Kim

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy- I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

– Art Williams.

While there are still plenty of soft summer nights and fun beach days left, there is no denying that what some call “The most wonderful time of the year” is approaching. No, not Christmas; that’s way off. Oh, and by the way, you freaks that are all done shopping for it and looking for pumpkin spice lattes can take a seat and wait your turn. First, we have to navigate the back-to-school gamut. Parents everywhere are staring into the abyss known as “Back to School,” and some of them are not okay.

I have always loved back-to-school shopping. Everything is new. There were always a few snazzy outfits and a fresh pair of sneakers. I wish they still had Garanimals because that was an easy way to shop and not wind up looking like a clown that got dressed in the dark. Oh, and pencils and notebook and rulers, oh my! Being an office supply addict, it was the one time of the year when I could go hog wild and buy scented markers, a soft pink rubber eraser, and folders with pictures of baby pandas and koala bears on them. Also, choosing my new lunchbox for the year was a highlight; my favorite remains the one with Johnny Gage from the TV show “Emergency!” on it.

Back to school doesn’t work that way now. I’m seeing friends at different parts of the process, and it’s been eye-opening. The nervous ones, sending their first kid to Kindergarten, have their cute chalkboard signs ready for the obligatory front porch picture. The ones with middle schoolers have been counting down the days for weeks now and are busy beating their kids over the head with summer reading lists. High school parents aren’t so much about the supply lists as they are about the rat race that has become the college admissions process. They are hastily assembling paperwork for financial aid and securing consultants and essay coaches. Getting a kid back to college, though? That is big business. It’s not just about the school supplies. It’s about major purchases like laptops, furniture, bedding, and dorm room décor.

Going back to the classroom is one thing. Moving a kid to college is quite another. Back to college shopping vs. traditional school supply shopping is like comparing the NCAA Final Four to a driveway session of HORSE. There are entire websites devoted to which mini-fridge is best and how to DIY a monogrammed headboard so your kid’s room doesn’t look like a prison cell. Pro tip: If you are the parent that shows up for move-in without a gel foam, 4-inch, temper-whatever mattress topper, and industrial strength bed bug cover for that bunk, you better be prepared to be dragged. You want your kid to be the only one sleeping on a thin, plastic-coated bed, devoid of comfort and getting chewed on by insects? The parenting bar has been raised just like those beds you’ll have to plop on to a set of risers, and you have to be up to the challenge. Also, beds are usually twin size and…wait for it…extra long. Tack on a little more to your budget because the regular toppers, mattress covers, and sheets won’t fit.

Remember when you thought that having your child “go away” to college would be like some Hallmark movie? You’d all hop into the car with a few boxes and a suitcase, drive to a tree-lined campus and move them into a Harry Potter-esque brick hall with all the other shiny happy people, right? It’s nothing like that. You’ll need a U-haul, a wheeled dolly, and a 98-piece tool set for all the stuff you have to assemble. Also, the blue bags from IKEA? They’re some magical portal of plastic that can hold almost anything. Be prepared for the hottest day of your life, seven hundred flights of stairs, and at least one family fight. I suggest having a cold adult beverage or comfort ice cream stop planned for afterward. Also, what’s in your “water bottle” is your own business and no one else’s.

Gone are the days of stolen milk crates, a Def Leopard poster, and a clip-on desk light. Now it’s a shearling rug, a Papasan chair, floor lamps, fairy lights with photo clips, and comforters with matching pillow shams. Good luck getting all that on a plane if your kid goes out of state and driving isn’t an option. I’ve seen experts suggest ordering all your gear online at whatever big box store is near the college and setting up delivery to that store on move-in day. Right. Because the only place worse than a 5th-floor dorm room in August is the Bed, Bath and Beyond customer pick-up counter in a college town. If your kid lives off-campus in an apartment, be prepared to circle the block 900 times while you look for a spot to drop off a mattress, and three cars behind you are honking at you and waving with that special gesture we all know.

It won’t be easy, but is anything worthwhile ever easy? Besides pizza, I mean. Your kids are throwing off the bowlines and heading for open water. It’s their time; all the hard work (theirs and yours) paid off, and a whole new world is just over the horizon. Good luck to all of you, I mean that. It won’t be all smooth sailing, but you’ll get there. Oh, and don’t forget a picture when your kid is all settled to go with all the other first-day happy snaps.

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