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Back-to-school shopping not what it used to be

Published August 11. 2017 08:28PM

The "back to school" fliers started showing up the day after school let out, but I've been putting off the BTS shopping as long as possible.

Why do I wait so long? I've been burned by growth spurts before. A went through three different sizes of pants last year. It seemed like every time that I looked at that kid, his pants were climbing north of his knees and he was ready for the great flood of 2016.

These days, I do most of my shopping online. I have definitely done my part to help shut down America's shopping malls. I'm not necessarily proud of that, but I can fully outfit the three of them over my lunch break and it saves me packing up the hellions and traipsing them through a brick and mortar store for half a day, just to find out that they're out of the size I need.

I usually do take a vacation day, pack up the kids, and head to a shopping complex for the day just because I can't trust buying shoes online.

I also used to turn them loose to pick out their backpack, or lunch bag, or pencil case, whatever needed replacing. We might pick up a few odds and ends like socks and underwear, have a nice lunch together, and finish our day out with a movie.

This year will be a little different, though. The kids are all going to a school that requires the use of the clear plastic backpacks. I get it, I do. I understand how the clear bags are a safety precaution, but a small part of me is going to miss E going back and forth between the pink glitter and the purple sparkle options this year. A agreed with me that there was no point in replacing his bag from last year, because other than one broken zipper on a pocket he doesn't need to use, it's in pretty good shape. G will need a new one, but I will just reorder one.

After our weekend fashion show that had me dragging out the bin of school clothes for try-on purposes, we discovered that A still fits in the size that he wore at the end of the year. Thanks to the three size changes A had, G has an ample selection of hand-me downs that weren't worn enough to be worn out, and thanks to the school change in the middle of the year, E is also still able to fit in the clothes she finished the year wearing. I did buy them a size bigger since she was only going to get a half a year out of them, hoping that they'd see her through the fall.

I've been able to save a lot on back-to-school shopping thanks to excellent stain-removal products and hand-me-downs, and it certainly saves a lot of anxiety in the morning when the choice is between the white polo or the navy one, but I do miss the excitement that went into planning that all-important first day of school outfit.

Even their school supply list is rather bland. It's easier for me to buy dry-erase markers, solid color folders, and sanitizing wipes in bulk. My kids will never understand what it is like to have to decide between the puppy-themed Trapper Keeper and the rainbow-themed one. That was a commitment that had to last all year, so you had to make sure you got the right one. Now, some of their school supply lists have specifically stated "NO TRAPPER KEEPERS."

Instead of spending all their time coordinating first-day outfits with their best friends, like I used to, they are preoccupied with bigger things. A is off to middle school this year. While he is looking forward to a host of new extracurricular activities and more challenging course work, he is nervous that he will not be able to remember his locker combination, or get to his locker in between classes. I've reassured him that anyone who can retain the names of thousands of Pokémon characters can handle a three-number combination.

G is heading to another new school. He is the social butterfly, and he is sad to be leaving the friends he has been with from preschool, but eager to get back on track academically. Fall also means it's one season closer to basketball season, and that's his favorite time of year. E is heading back to school confidently, and thrilled that she's ended up in class with two of her best friends. While I see some demerits for chattiness in her future, I'm so glad school is her favorite place to be.

Whether it's by design, or a happy accident, wardrobes and supplies are the last thing my kids are worried about as they head back to school. It's amazing how much has changed in the 35 years since I was in their shoes. Common core curriculum is the new "reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic."

White boards and smart boards have replaced blackboards. Electronic tablets have replaced spiral bound notebooks. Virtual field trips can instantly transport my kids to places I could only ever read about in textbooks.

It's a strange new world in many ways, but I only have to think of the 800 different outfits I tried on before settling on just the right one to know that it isn't any less complicated than it was back then.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.

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