Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Packing up for school



It’s that time of year again when both kids and parents get the pit in their stomach when they get that letter.

The letters are, of course, all upbeat and saying, “This year is going to be better than ever!”

But bottom line is: “Back to school!”

Of course, being involved without micro-managing those lists can be tricky. I often think of the story of the child who refuses to get up on the first day of school.

The mother goes into the bedroom to try to rouse him from bed.

“Wake up, son. It’s time to go to school!”

“But Mom, I don’t want to go.”

“Give me two reasons why you don’t want to go.”
“Well, the kids hate me for one, and the teachers hate me, too!”

“Oh, that’s no reason not to go to school. Come on now and get ready.”

“Give me two reasons why I should go to school.”

“Well, for one, you’re 52 years old. And for another, you’re the principal!”

I am fortunately not a principal and don’t have to deal with the talmidim and teachers on a day-to-day basis, but in no way will I mitigate the tremendous zechus and responsibility for close to seven hundred talmidim and scores of staff members.

And that is enough to put a pit in the stomach. But despite that, there is one greater fear that I have about back-to-school. It is a word plastered on signs in the windows of stores across our area, touting their back-to-school sales. The phrase back-to-school does not faze me. It is that one additional word, placed after the words back-to-school that turns my stomach.

We carry back-to-school “supplies”!

Going back to school is a pleasure, but supplies? Oy a broch.

The supplies list that our children bring home must be treated with the same regards as kisvei kodesh. The immunization forms, registration, busing forms, and all the other information crucial to the children’s education can be treated with maximum neglect. They can be crumbled and stuffed in the recesses of a backpack, only to be found Chanukah time. They can be stained with every type of food item, including peanut butter and cream cheese. They can be ripped and shredded, as if there is no sanctity or importance to them. But the supplies list?  Heaven help us if somehow it gets wet, dirtied, or in the slightest way sullied.

I am in the front office and don’t get involved in the school supplies area of my particular yeshiva.

From my seat as an administrator, I will not question the importance of the specificity of requested items. And though I never wanted my position to interfere with the nitty-gritty decisions of the reckonings of the lists of school supplies, if a teacher demanded three different colored erasers, I would not hold my peace.

Over the course of parenting more than a dozen elementary school kids, my wife and I have surely learned about the specificity of certain products and how the exact shade of crimson red is the only acceptable marker for a third grade girl.

I’ll never forget one request for 31 highlighters…or was that markers? And don’t you dare ask, “What’s the difference?” I warn all parents of little girls: Do not ever mix up the most crucial difference between a marker and a highlighter. Markers are for coloring. Highlighters are for, well, highlighting.

After all, can’t you see the marked difference (no pun intended) between Lime and Sea Foam Green? And prefixes have to be highlighted in Laser Lemon, while the roots must be highlighted in Neon Yellow. Of course, that is if it is a verb. Nouns get Palm Leaf and Kiwi.

And then there are dividers.

For those of you who have not been blessed with the experience of looking for dividers in a stationary, drug, department, or office supplies store, I shall explain. Dividers are one of the most crucial components of a loose-leaf binder. They are specially made, manila-colored, card stock inserts with colored protrusions. These colored protrusions are made from plastic, are often double-sided, with the ability to insert the ever important subject delineator in between the sleeve. These dividers come with a perforated piece of card stock. The card is supposed to be divided on the tiny perforations. Then the name of the subject is written on both sides of the post-perforated paper. The tiny piece of paper with the (misspelled, of course) name of the subgect (sic)) is supposed to be stuck inside the brightly covered sleeve. In this manner, you can tell exactly which subject goes where.

Like the granite walls between the milchige and fleishige counters and sinks, the divider ensures that notes and assignments regarding Mathematics do not, Heaven forbid, get intermingled with notes on American History.

Of course, dividers are not able to help separate kodesh and chol, even according the most lenient of teachers, moros or rabbeim. You need a separate set of loose-leaf, notebooks, binders and of course dividers for those subjects. But there is no one who would ever put kodesh and chol in the same notebook, even with an extra heavy divider. Maybe not even in the same knapsack. That would be like cooking gefilte fish like a kishke in a cholent pot, even if the parchment paper wrapper was protecting it!

What could go wrong? Everything, of course!

The card stock does not rip correctly, leaving you with half pieces of paper. The folded paper did not fit into the plastic protrude sleeve, and the subject of Geometry was misspelled “Gee! I’m a Tree!” forcing you to find a tweezers to remove the slip of card stock that is now tightly wedged into the divider protrude.

And then there was an item that I am not sure is as relevant today as it was in yesteryear, but I still remember this particular item being requested with the utmost urgency as the name implies. Reinforcements! My kids would ask for them with the same sense of exigency that Patton used on D-Day. We need reinforcements! We must have reinforcements!  

Once again, for all of you, reinforcements are like lifesavers. Literally. Back when I was a kid, reinforcements were these cloth-like white rings that you would lick and carefully glue onto pieces of loose leaf paper to protect the round holes from ripping. After all, if a page of math work would inadvertently rip from its mooring and end up inadvertently in the science section or, worse, on the floor…I need not describe the disaster. Even a divider would not help.

Enter reinforcements. They reinforce the outer perimeter of the loose-leaf hole, and like the troops at Normandy, they save us from disaster. The reinforcements came in little boxes of about 1,000, of which about ten percent were used for their actual intended purpose. The rest were usually glued onto the cover of the loose-leaf, spelling words and epitaphs, some that cannot be quoted in this article. Others would find their way to the backs of some of the less popular students, often spelling invitations that would lead to disaster.

Modern advances have changed all that. Self-sticking reinforcements on a roll have now eliminated the mess of licking and sticking and the waste of 700 little O rings littering the floor. And now loose leaf paper manufacturers have incorporated a plastic reinforcement around the three holes of their lined paper, thus totally eliminating the need for reinforcements.

As my kids got older, supplies got more sophisticated. I learned that the slide rule was banned by the United States Government for calculating math and geometry, and protractors and compasses have become a thing of the past.

Does anyone remember the name “Texas Instruments”? When my kids were in school, it still existed. One model of calculator is never sufficient. If one year you spent a fortune on a TI-84 Plus, the next year you’d need a TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition. I am not sure if calculators are permitted anymore at all. I have not seen one in ages. Maybe they look too much like smartphones.

And where do they put it all? In the holy knapsack! I won’t even go there. Who remembers the leather-esque briefcases with handles that looked like oversized doctor bags? They are defunct or maybe used by 80-year-old lawyers going to a closing.

But all that aside, school has either begun or will begin imminently. Hatzlocha to the future of Klal Yisroel.




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