Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Back to School.

Posted on | July 18, 2012 | 5 Comments

Little and Middle went back to school this week.  Big is at boy scout camp.  The Other Half is at work.  Which means me and Pretty are bored to death.  We have been forced to go out to lunch, get pedicures, see movies, stamp soap, and make bleach stencil T-shirts.  You know, just to avoid brain cell death from the pure tedium of life without males.  Hah!

It has been wonderful.  It makes up for when Pretty was 4 months old and I was trying to switch her from breast to an occasional bottle and she refused to take a bottle for 2 whole days, laying listless and and teary on her blanket, forcing me to call the pediatrician every 2 hours to make him repeat that no baby had ever starved herself to death and she would take it when she was hungry enough, which she eventually did.  It makes up for when she was 9 months old and would scream hysterically if anyone other than me tried to hold her when I was in the room, forcing me to hide around corners, out of sight, if  I wanted to take a breather from a baby on my hip.  It does not make up for when she was 3 years old, standing outside church with us in a beautiful frilly dress and sweet sunhat, chatting with other adults after service, when she dropped her Sunday school papers and emphatically yelled, “God da*% it, Jesus Christ!” in a shocking imitation of my voice.  I mean, she had the tone and pitch down perfectly.  I laughed at the time.  Because there was nothing else to do.  Also I figured my laughter would cover up whatever cuss word might come out next.  But I am not over it.  And we won’t be square on that one until Pretty is old enough to pay for my pedicures.

But I digress.

The point of this story is that the boys went back to school.  And, unlike in a lot of households, this was not a particularly stressful or expensive event for us.  That’s because when school ends in June, the kids come home and carefully unload the contents of their backpacks onto the craft closet shelves.   Hah!  Actually they dump their backpacks on the floor and, under much protest and complaining, are forced to empty folders and notebooks of their papers, put double sided paper in recycling, put paper only used on one side in the printer paper box, stack folders, dividers, and composition notebooks neatly on the shelves, sort through their pencil boxes and put crayons, markers, pencils, erasers, etc into the appropriately labeled containers.  I am very Mommie Dearest like that.  Although I admit a few wire hangers slipped past me.  Because when Middle got out his backpack to put supplies in for the new school year he discovered 8 plastic containers of trail mix that he had brought home on the last day of school.

My kids are always bringing home food that other kids didn’t eat and that the school was going to throw away.  I don’t mean the other kids’ bread crusts or anything.  (Well, Pretty was good about bringing home food scraps when we had Papa to feed.  And a lot of her friends that have been over here to visit the animals happily donate their scraps to Pretty to take home for the farm animals.  Girls would give the flip flops off their feet if they thought it was going to some cute, fluffy, and loveable farm animal that wanted flip flops.  They’re sweet like that.)

On special occasions, school lunches or snacks come in prepackaged containers that the school distributes with great hope and an honest commitment to childhood health.  And most of the apples, packages of mini carrots, raisins, or healthy trail mix (not the kind with M&Ms in it) come home in my child’s backpack.  Because it was that or let the other kids throw them in the trash.  And we’ve been telling our kids for years that if the school is going to throw it away then they can bring it home and we can put it in our pantry or feed it to the animals.  Really, the waste is shocking.  Although I bet a lot parents think my kid gathering that food from their friends to rescue it from the trash is shocking.  Or perhaps they think the school’s attempt to feed healthy food to kids raised on snack size packs of Cheetos is shocking.  I’m not sure.  Once you’ve reached the stage where you are stoically butchering a pig that you named and bottle fed as a piglet, or pragmatically feeding the carcass of your last roasted chicken back to the chicken flock, it’s hard to say what is considered shocking in polite society.

But I digress.

When the kids had their school lists we went back to the craft closet and hunted through their old supplies.  Pencil boxes can, of course, be reused–just wipe them out with a Lysol wipe to clean out the old pencil shavings and crayon smudges.  So can composition books that still have half their pages left (just tear out the used pages).  Any pocket folders where the pockets aren’t ripped or torn are still good.  Just use a blank address label to cover whatever subject it was labeled for last year.  Even better, find the one that says “Math” on it and use it for math class again this year.  Clipboards, page protectors, and plastic dividers usually still look brand new.  Slide on pencil top erasers that are at least halfway intact have another 3 months in them.  If the teacher asks for 3 glue sticks, you can certainly send in some that have been opened and used, just toss in a couple extra for good measure.  The kids don’t get new packs of crayons or markers or colored pencils—they dig through the containers of crayons and markers and choose the 10 or 12 colors that they want and toss them in the pencil box.  There are always left over 3×5 cards since they are sold in packs 0f 250 and even the AIG classes don’t use that many cards in a year.  Pencil sharpeners never get dull but they do need to be tossed if they are cracked.  You don’t have to be Joan Crawford to be horrified by a cracked sharpener that spills pencil shavings everywhere!

So, in the end all we needed to buy was a pack of  loose leaf paper, a plastic recipe box to hold the 3×5 cards, and some pencils.  The pencil purchase was annoying.  We have tons of pencils.  The school gives them away as prizes.  The kids get them in gift bags at birthday parties.  Every street fair or festival has vendors passing out free pencils.  But the class list specifically requested #2 “quality non-decorated” pencils.  I am assuming the funky, fancy pencils that are given away for free everywhere are made in China and have cheap leads that break easily or shavings that are poisonous if inhaled.  Or perhaps they don’t fill in the circles solidly enough for the machines grading the endless amounts of standardized tests that the kids take at school.  Ugh.  Just another reason to hate China.  And standardized tests.  I hope that 20 plain yellow #2 pencils from Office Max for $1 is considered “quality” enough.

Now you might wonder how my kids feel about bringing in “used” supplies.  And you probably won’t be surprised that they don’t fuss about it at all.  After all, they’re bringing home kids’ leftover lunch food ;P  But the reality is we’ve done this ever since Big started kindergarten.  As a matter of fact, ever since they were born they were taught to use stuff until it was all used up.  To reuse supplies from one project for the next project.  To hand down clothes, toys, and books.  It’s not sad.  It’s not shameful.  It’s not poverty-based.  It’s just common sense.

Around here we don’t buy things just because we can.  Or because everyone else around us is buying it.   Around here, we reuse and recycle because if you don’t spend money on the things you don’t need, then you have money for something else.  Like the kick balls and footballs and frisbees and jump ropes and sidewalk chalk that we sent in to the boys’ teachers to be used at recess.  Kick balls and footballs and frisbees and jump ropes and sidewalk chalk that we wouldn’t have donated to the school if we’d had to spend that money on brand new markers and folders and glue sticks.

We could have used the money for the baby wipes and tissues and Ziploc bags and hand sanitizers that the teachers always need.  But we decided on recess equipment.  Because apparently recess has to be structured this year and during the pathetic 20-30 minutes of outdoor recess time (if they even go outside–apparently it was too hot to be outside yesterday.  Not even for 20 minutes.) the kids have to be involved in an organized group activity or sport.  It’s part of the War on Obesity or No Child Can Be Left Out or Can Public School Get Any More Ridiculous agenda.  So we went sent in some sports equipment and a printed list of fun, different group games that the kids can play together with it.  I’m really not sure who I feel sorry for the most.  The kids, who can’t spend some time just sitting under the trees, chatting with their friends, swinging from monkey bars, or a playing a loosely formed, pick-up game of soccer.  Or the teachers, who can’t have a little breather from constantly directing and managing the children in order to sit on the school steps, relax, and catch up with the other teachers.  It’s really sad.  Much sadder than bringing used supplies to school.

Actually, it’s so sad that I think Pretty and I need to go out to lunch again just to take our minds off the sadness.  Yep.  We’ll be thinking of the poor boys the whole time we’re noshing on our chicken wraps.  Really, it’s the least we can do. 🙂


5 Responses to “Back to School.”

  1. lin
    July 18th, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

    I used to save and recycle all that stuff too! I would get the kids new crayons each year though, because, you know, there is just nothin’ like a new box of crayons to start the year. They are just so full of promise, aren’t they? Well…I think so.

    I always sent our half-used crayons over the kindergarten teachers, who kept tubs of those suckers on tables for the kids. They do a LOT of coloring in Kindergarten–and so they were always happy to get our cast-offs.

    Folders, fabric book-covers and binders were always re-used. Our glue-sticks and half-used pencils were used up at home for homework projects. And yes, (GASP!) we even used the SAME backpack for as many years as that sucker could hold out!! I never did understand those parents who bought new backpacks and lunch bags each year. That’s crazy.

    I would hate to see what is in those lunch room garbage cans. Our public schools did not allow food sharing, so I’m thinking there were a lot of apples and carrot sticks going into the cans while there was probably some hungry kid in the next row over who would have loved to have eaten them. Yes, all these “rules” are nuts.

    Enjoy that time with your chicky, for they grow up all too quickly.

    LOVE the toes!! 😉

  2. Carolynn
    July 19th, 2012 @ 7:31 am

    I don’t have kids, but if I did, I’d be adopting this method in a heartbeat. I don’t normally go in for all the painted toe art, but this I like! So cute and girly. Enjoy your girl time.

  3. debh
    July 19th, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    I love your stories! You say it perfectly…and I agree…try to fill your day with a little tedium while those boys are in school. Its the least you should do. 😉

  4. Andrew
    July 19th, 2012 @ 10:53 am

    Stevie, the recycling and reusing theme here reminds me so, so much of some children’s books (and a tv show) that I grew up with, The Wombles, by Elisabeth Beresford. The Wombles are described here ( ), and you can actually search for them on YouTube (It’s rather tame or slow stuff compared to today’s kids shows, but I loved it).

    The Wombles are all over the place, but the one burrow that Beresford wrote about was in Wimbledon Common in London. The Wombles are the ultimate recyclers as they spend their lives cleaning up the rubbish left behind by us humans, and then they find interesting ways to reuse the rubbish. They made recycling cool a long, long time before recycling was a (relatively, outside of Orange County) mainstream idea.

    It took me back just thinking about it all.

  5. Adri Fair
    July 21st, 2012 @ 6:00 am

    Amen! Great post. I’ll have to let my kids know that they actually are not “the only kids in the whole universe who aren’t allowed to buy new stuff for back to school.”

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