Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Under the Dumb Plum Tree

Laurie & I at my former school, two years before Mom wrote this column
Back to School
by Jaime Kaufhold
(August 1991)

The children are heading back to school today and I can't help but recall some of our "back to school" shopping expeditions. Fifteen years ago it was no laughing matter, but now I have to chuckle.

Two days before school started, off we would go, me and my four children with their lists. We'd pull into the mall parking lot in front of the Woolco department store. Inside, school supplies would be piled high and a landslide was usually created as the kids dug through, looking for the most desirable brand names. Did you know that there were at least seven brands of pencil crayons, but that only one brand, Laurentian, was acceptable? My13 year-old daughter Karen (who is still fussy) said that the lead on anything but that brand was too hard and left scratch marks on the paper. Everything had to be just so, and the brand names were always the most expensive.

Buying back to school clothes was by far the most frustrating part of the experience. My son Mark was satisfied with anything new, since he grew at such an unbelievable rate that his clothes always looked too small (flood pants they were called). So long as he could dress in one colour from head to toe he was happy. So that meant brown shirt, brown pants, brown socks - repeat in blue and black and he was ready for class.

The girls on the other hand were impossible, especially as they got older. They weren't interested in anything "no name," or if it wasn't in their favourite colour. Karen had to have Levi's and Nancy was tired of me matching her with her younger sister and preferred to have whatever Karen was getting just in a smaller size. Darlene wasn't too fussy but it wasn't always easy finding exactly what she wanted in her size. Since I was on a limited budget this was always a very difficult shopping trip and when I'd try to explain to them that we didn't have much money, they would usually reply, "just write a cheque."

Last year's lunch pails were long gone, either lost or destroyed. I preferred the durability of metal but they didn't have cartoon characters on the front, so I reluctantly agreed, knowing that the plastic thermos that came with the plastic pails would be broken the first week. The two older ones preferred paper bags, and instead of traditional waxed paper, all wanted to have their sandwiches inside the new ziplock sandwich bags, except Karen who wanted a plastic container for hers, so I'd go through the motions and most years, get what they wanted, knowing that the lunch pails would get kicked around the school yard, we'd run out of zip lock bags, and the little plastic container would be found when the teacher forced Karen to clean out her locker at Christmas break. Something would be inevitably be growing inside, and everyone, myself included, would be too chicken to open it up and clean it out, so the container would end up in the garbage.

Wanting to be a popular mother, I'd stock up on a few goodies for their lunches. I'd buy sandwich meat, cheese slices and a few pre-packaged treats, which were all expensive, not very healthy and didn't stretch very far, but the kids loved it. Within a week, I'd be back to peanut butter and jam sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, with home made cookies, butter tarts, cupcakes or fudge. Later I found out that the kids traded or sold their lunches because the kids who got the pre-packaged foods all the time, wanted the home baking that my kids were sick of! Mark tells me now that he could get almost anything in exchange for my date-filled oatmeal cookies.

Today it must be much more confusing shopping for school because there are so many more choices. Stores are filled with items that are new and improved, caffeine free, sugar free, low this and reduced that. The only cereals I recognize are Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Shreddies, Cheerios and Shredded Wheat - the rest are all sugar free or all sugar, high fibre, cholesterol free and fat reduced. What I can't understand though is with all these products being "light, low and free" why my buggy is so heavy and costs 30% more? Packing lunches in the 90s must be a nightmare.

To avoid the stress of shopping at the last minute, one year I decided to do my shopping in mid- August. What a mistake! By then the treats were gone, the school supplies were all used up or lost and the girls were so anxious to wear their new fall clothes, that despite my warnings, wore them the first day of school even though it was incredibly hot that year. They returned home, pink faced and sweating, wearing their new corduroy pants, turtle neck sweaters and fall jackets.

Despite all of this, the first day of school remains an exciting time for everyone. I remember watching as my three children stood at the end of the driveway waiting for the bus, and the following year, Darlene joined them as she entered kindergarten. However, when she arrived home, she was the only one who didn't want to go back after her first day. Perplexed, I asked why. She told me that she felt sorry for me being home alone, so we went to the SPCA the next day and got a little black dog we named Foxy to keep me company. Satisfied that I wouldn't be lonely without her, Darlene went to school with the others the next day, and like the others, went on to graduate.

Today, out my window I can see the neighbour girl waiting patiently to join her friends and classmates. She turns and waves to her mother as the bus drives up and stops, she boards the bus then it slowly pulls away. I can see my neighbour smiling and waving, and remember how she feels as if it were yesterday.

Now, I'll pour myself a cup of coffee and along with my dog, will relax for awhile under my dumb plum tree.

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