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Today's Family Magazine

MOMMY CHRONICLES: Back-to-school shopping: then & now

A great place to shop today for clothing, shoes, backpacks, equipment and more is Once Upon A Child with locations in Mentor and Westlake. They offer gently-used items and will purchase your gently-used items on the spot.

By Stacy Turner

As you can imagine, back-to-school shopping was a big production in a home with six children.  Since we went to parochial school and wore the mandated school uniforms, we didn’t have a big list of clothing to purchase.

Long before Target, Walmart, or similar chain stores, Dad would take us school shopping at his favorite retailer — Sears.  This was when the age-old company still issued a two-inch thick annual catalog and had stores at every mall near and far.  “If you can’t find it here, you don’t need it,” he’d threaten if anyone took too long to decide on the limited options.  If only Sears, and shopping malls for that matter, had employed Dad’s tagline, maybe they would still be popular today. 

For shoe purchases, Dad would inspect each pair for the quality of the uppers and soles on our Buster Browns, saddle, or Earth shoes — after double-checking the fit by pressing the front to gauge toe placement.  The same meticulous method was applied to sneakers before we gathered our cardboard boxes and moved on to our other items.  After shoes, the only other items we required were socks — usually knee highs — and underwear.  Once our purchases were made, we’d leave the climate-controlled mall and return to the sunshine and heat of the summer afternoon to try and forget the coming school year. 

I think dad wisely deferred the purchase of undergarments to Mom once my sisters and I hit preteen status.  Mom also handled school uniform procurement, which included checking for size and fit and handing down outgrown items from older to younger siblings.  If jumpers, skirts, or blouses from the girls or collared shirts and dress pants from the boys were still in good condition, but no longer fit anyone in our family, they were traded in at the uniform exchange.  This is where other Catholic school moms brought their gently used items to trade for sizes they needed, and a big part of how large families like ours prepared for the new school year.

I don’t remember our school supply lists being as lengthy or full of obscure items as my kids supply lists these days.  Though I’m sure it was enough trouble purchasing the gross of pencils, pens, notebooks, and book bags for the six of us.  These days, supply lists for my two kids are very long and highly specific.  Special binders with assorted color tabs; markers of all sorts – Expo, permanent, highlighters, and Crayola; along with mechanical pencils, gel pens, index cards, and post-it notes in a rainbow of colors.  Last year, we searched high and low for a particular grid paper filled notebook for one class, making the rounds at big box and office supply stores until we found it, like Ahab’s elusive white whale.  In hindsight, I think these annual supply-hunting missions have been preparing us for the next big adventure: college. 

This year, our eldest will be heading off to a school six hours from home.  And while her school supply list is minor, the dorm essentials list is daunting.  Right now, all manner of bins and baskets currently line her bedroom floor, filled with toiletries, laundry detergent, and comforts of home.  But what size and type of under bed storage will work in her tiny double dorm room?  Will she need a desk lamp, fan, mattress topper, and mini fridge like so many have recommended?  And more importantly, will they even fit in her room?  The list seems unwieldy as her move-in date looms large and foreboding. I’m sure by the time our youngest heads to college in two more years, we’ll have it all figured out. 

For now, our eldest seems more than ready to pack up her supplies and head off to college.  But this supply-hunting momma is going to need a little time to adjust to the change.  For now, I’ve taken comfort in filling those bins and baskets with everything she may need on this new adventure.  Because like Dad was fond of saying, if she can’t find it here, she doesn’t need it.