Here’s a Bunch of Back-to-School Stuff I Think It’s Only Fair You Know

True to my benevolent nature, this handy guide I made for you is filled with things you won’t hear from anyone else.

That’s because others are trying to keep you from the vast, insider secrets that make up the back-to-school ritual.

It’s probably a conspiracy, but I can’t say for sure.

I’m an experienced parent, so I feel obliged to tell you these things

This year is my little darling’s senior year—between my two darlings and my gf’s two darlings, this is our last back-to-school rodeo.

So I hereby distill my vast accumulation of knowledge for you. Consider this your rough guide to knowing what would be a bunch of smoke and mirrors otherwise.

I’ll warn you, though, I’m covering a variety of ages here, plus it’s a little all over the place. Like I said, my knowledge is vast, and we don’t have all day.

Drum roll, please…. Here’s your random-y but super useful guide


Depending on Junior’s age, Junior may not be as excited about going back to school as Junior is about back-to-school shopping.

Especially if there are clothes involved.

And shoes. Especially shoes.

Because newsflash, Junior’s back-to-school enthusiasm decreases annually in direct proportion to Junior’s increase in age, whereas Junior’s wardrobe enthusiasm trends the other way around.


If it’s going to make you bitchy, do not sign the volunteer sheet.

You may have been lead to believe otherwise, but there really are other ways to be of use. (See #12.)


You can go out and buy all the school supplies from the list they provide you before school starts, but Junior’s gonna come home with an entirely new list on the first day of school.

So save your receipts.


It’s somewhere within the first two weeks of school that Junior may come home with a fundraiser packet.

If you’ve been buying stuff from other people’s kids for years, then by all means, hit those parents up right this second.


Don’t buy the expensive pencils (which really are better) if your high-end pencils are going to be dumped into a shared pencil pool.

No sense in letting someone else’s little neanderthal chew up all the Ticonderoga pencils that you sprung for because of your painful memories of those stupid cheap pencils that break every time you sharpen them.


If you’re a poor working schmuck and your child is in elementary school—or heaven help you, preschool—you’re shit out of luck, because every time you turn around, there’s something cute or special or meaningful you need to show up for.

You may need a more flexible job at this time, which I realize is a ridiculous thing for me to spring on you at this late hour.


If you cannot attend said programs, you will be judged.

Mostly by the teachers, followed by the other parents who must have a secret income source that they’re keeping from you, because somehow they seem to have nothing else to do during the day.

(If there is a conspiracy, these parents are part of it.)


If your child does something stupid one day—like throws a hissy fit over not wanting to wear a coat on a bitterly cold day, or refuses to comb their hair or wear reasonable clothes—you will be judged by the teachers.

The mom will be judged more harshly than the dad in these cases.

This is a good time to pin the “I dressed myself today” button on Junior—have it at the ready. (It’s really too bad you can’t use this thing all the way through high school.)


Or if your child is maybe an asshole or a whiny princess at school, you will be judged by the teachers—and I mean all of them, not just your own child’s teacher.

Because teachers talk about your kid to other teachers. And they talk about you, too.


If you are said working schmuck and cannot make it to all the programs and cute events, make it abundantly clear that you work.

Look very busy.


If you work from home, you are are advised to keep this information to yourself, so just let it be known that you work.

Again, try to look very busy, because the teachers really don’t give a shit that you work from home, especially in the early grades—if they find out you’re home all day, they will assert that you should be available to come to the school.

In their defense, teachers need all the help they can get, so if volunteering is your thing, make it work and go for it.

But seriously, refer to #2 if volunteering makes you want to commit a crime.


Pro tip: You can get on a teacher’s good side nice and fast by picking up things on the “we could also use…” list while you’re doing all that back-to-school shopping.

These are things that the teacher needs and will buy out of their own pocket, ’cause god knows our tax dollars aren’t going where they ought.

You can even get a little crazy here and give the teacher gift cards periodically throughout the year—this is brown-nosing as an art form, but the teacher will be okay with it.

This is also a good way to counter #2.


At some point around 4th or 5th grade, after all you’ve done for this kid, everything changes and Junior no longer wants to see your loving face at school for pretty much anything at all ever.



Go ahead and get a stash of poster board, foam core, and a tri-fold display board or two to have on hand.

Do this now.

You’ll need these things around 10 o’clock one night, quite unexpectedly.

Oh, and have some old magazines stashed somewhere, too—a collage will be involved.

You’re welcome.

Pro tip: The Dollar Tree carries this stuff, so run over there and spend five or six dollars real quick—don’t bother with Staples and their fancy pants prices.

And by the way, it’s entirely possible to re-use the same tri-fold board a few times. As long as Junior doesn’t get too princess-y on you, that is.


Glue sticks multiply.


It is universally known that all children are impossible to wake up on school mornings, yet the young ones will shoot out of bed at 7 AM on the weekends.

Whereas teenagers, of course, are sleepwalking till at least noon every day.

I realize I’m stating the obvious here, but this happens to everyone, not just in your house—the bed force is strong on school mornings across the land.

(I  feel certain we could change the course of the nation if we sent all the teenagers to night school. I mean, judging by all the noise coming from somewhere near the kitchen while you’re trying to get to bed on time, they’re obviously very productive in the wee hours.)


I know you’re trying to save money, but don’t skimp on the backpack.

The discount backpack will fall apart, you’ll have to rush out and get another one before school is over and nothing’s on sale anymore, and you’ll end up wishing you’d just gotten the LL Bean or the Jansport in the first place.

And whatever you do, don’t get sucked into the messenger bag trend—Junior will tire of this inconvenient thing, so don’t waste your money.


As soon as you have to buy the $100 calculator (middle school), paint Junior’s name on it really huge because someone wants to steal that damned calculator.

Tell Junior you are unconcerned with how stupid the $100 calculator looks now that it has JUNIOR SMITH painted on it in red nail polish.


If Junior is going to middle school, this is when they decide whether or not to join the band.

My advice to you is this: talk to Junior ahead of time about the virtues of the flute.

It’s very small—and since Junior is already carrying more than you’d need to climb Mt. Everest, small is a clear advantage.

Also, though, the flute produces the least offensive sound of all the band instruments, which is especially important for you at home since Junior may or may not be particularly musical.

Which you will soon find out.


Try to get the events schedule early in the year—dances, football games, concerts, festivals, plays, field trips, and so forth.

Because Junior will know ZERO of this stuff ahead of time, but instead will announce every damned thing to you at the latest possible moment.

Get this mess on your calendar as soon as possible so you don’t get blindsided by the serious nickel-and-diming these things require.

You’ll also be able to cut back on your drinking in time to get in the car and go get Junior from the dance or the midnight-arriving field trip or whatever.


Not only will you have to pay a fairly hefty athletic fee at the beginning of the year should Junior play a sport, but you will also have to pay to attend Junior’s games.

Yes, you have to pay to see Junior play. Even if Junior is on the bench, you have to pay.


Be warned that sports teams sometimes practice very early in the morning and play well into the night. This is true even when the game is two hours away, sometimes bringing Junior home near midnight.

And nowadays games and matches are held any day of the week, even on Sunday mornings and days like Easter, forgodssake.

This system appears to be designed to make Junior too tired to both do homework and get a good night’s rest.


If this is senior year, BRACE YOURSELF.

This will be the most expensive year of your life thus far.

Senior pictures, class ring, personalized pages in the yearbook, cap and gown (yes, you have to buy those—and of course they’re overpriced), Senior trip, Homecoming, Prom, graduation invitations, college applications—these are in the neighborhood of $75 now!

(And the school will have Junior applying to far more colleges than you and I even knew existed in our day.)

But do take tissues with you to graduation. It’ll get to you, no matter how jaded you are by now.


I realize this is a little down the road from the actual back-to-school season, but you need all the ammunition you can get when it comes to senior year:

Senior skip day and senior prank day may be institutions, but it doesn’t mean they’ve gotten all the kinks out.

Ask Junior a lot of questions, lest your child piss off the principal real bad for removing all the seating from the assembly hall on senior prank day, say, like mine did.

(This required time and tools—I honestly don’t know how my child pulled this off. Nothing on this scale ever happens at home.)

As for senior skip day, you might be surprised to learn that it’s not universally okay with all of Junior’s teachers, and Junior may need to attend school for part of the day.

Or Junior may ask you to write a note, which defeats the point of skipping school, but if any of Junior’s teachers are a hard-ass about it, just indulge them and write the damned note.


School lunches have not improved, yet it is still very uncool to take a homemade lunch. Just accept this fact, Emeril. You’ll be appreciated later in life.

OR, alternately, Junior will develop some sort of allergy to school lunches, which will require you to have cool food handy that Junior will not trade or simply give away to some kid who appreciates food in any form.

Your leftovers will probably not cut it.

So basically, you’re SOL either way on this one.


When it’s time for Junior to start driving to school, start saving—the high school’s parking fee is gonna kill you. It’s upwards of $60, maybe $70 and more now.

Yes, I know you didn’t have to pay to park at school. This has changed.


Junior will not use the desk that you lovingly researched, invested in, and set up for homework. Junior may not even do homework at the kitchen table like we used to do.

Instead, it’s more likely that Junior will loaf around with a computer or an iPad or even a phone in an unmade bed and look entirely unproductive doing so.

You will find this disturbing.


Show up at orientation.

Dress kind of nice and talk to everyone—you can make or break Junior’s entire school year depending on the impression you make on the teachers and staff at orientation.

Yes, I know your mom and dad didn’t do this shit. This, too, has changed.

Do not blow this off.


And most important of all back-to-school advice that no one else will tell you is this: Do not fuck up the carpool line.

Someone younger than you will (nearly) die of embarrassment and also, everyone will hate you if you fuck up the car pool line.

Seriously, they’ll hate you, so don’t even think about it.

p.s. If you have any advice of your own, don’t keep it a secret—spill that shit in the comments. Help a parent out, forgodssake.

p.p.s. I homeschooled one of my brilliant offspring for five years, so the beauties of homeschooling are not lost on me. But this smart-assed and possibly useful list is not so much for the homeschool set but for the people who send their children for hours on end five days a week to a building that is not their house.

tired teenager with backpack on first day of school
My high-schooler at 6:50 a.m.—maybe she’s not terribly enthusiastic that time of day.


4 thoughts on “Here’s a Bunch of Back-to-School Stuff I Think It’s Only Fair You Know”

    • We had all kinds of fun homeschooling. Those were fun years. And you’re right, it wasn’t nearly as complicated as regular school—so many moving parts! Thanks for reading!

    • Yeah, the “I dressed myself today” button is second to none in my book.

      And as for #20, it took me years to figure this one out—I’d be blindsided every year before I finally wised up and realized that I had not given birth to a natural-born planner.


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