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We've graduated beyond school lists
Scripps Howard News Service


August 29, 2005

I was bracing myself for the annual debacle that is back-to-school shopping when my 16-year-old son said, "Nope, we don't need to go."

Huh-wha? That can't be right. Every August, we troop into the air-conditioned confines of the nearest mall to select school supplies and new clothes. We spend too much money on cartoon-character notebooks and brittle plastic protractors and dozens of mechanical pencils when plain old Nos. 2 would do just fine.

We argue over saggy jeans and rock band T-shirts and enormous sneakers. We load our loot into the minivan and drive home and immediately lose many of the new purchases in our pigsty bedrooms.

It's an annual tradition, as sacrosanct as Halloween candy and cost-of-living raises. And now, suddenly, after all these years, we don't need to go?

My son shook his head, causing his shoulder-length hair to swing about so much, the movement registered on seismographs in neighboring states.

"We've got everything we need to get started," he said. "Once school begins, the teachers will hand out more lists, and we can fill in the blanks."

I was so stunned by this, my head snapped backward, giving me a minor whiplash. After I recovered, several things came to mind:

1. That's a pretty mature stance for a 16-year-old to take. In years past, he would've insisted on all new school stuff, whether he needed it or not.

2. We apparently have reached some sort of critical mass when it comes to school supplies stored in our home. I've known for some time that we own enough pencils, pens, notebooks, etc., to outfit the educational system of a small African country, but apparently my son has recognized that such supplies have unlimited shelf life and the ones we have on hand haven't spoiled.

3. My son hates shopping even more than I do, and he's using this school supply ruse to escape buying new clothes.

You must understand: My son wears rags. All his clothes have holes and rips and ragged tears, many intentionally inflicted. Nearly all his clothes are black, or at least they were when new, and some have designs and random words directly applied with Sharpie pens. Add in studded belts and bracelets, ratty Converse high-tops and that mane of blond hair, and he looks like Robert Plant after a sparring session with Edward Scissorhands.

Did I make it clear that this look is his choice? Once a month or so, I offer to buy him new clothes, and he always says: "No, thanks. These are fine." A teenager who turns down shopping for new clothes. How wrong is that?

Our 13-year-old son, meanwhile, has all the clothes in the world because he regularly gets new stuff, plus all the hand-me-downs his brother refused to wear because they weren't shredded and/or black enough.

The younger boy hasn't weighed in on the school-supply shopping issue yet, which means he either agrees with his brother that it's unnecessary or he's in denial about the end of summer.

Either way, it looks like this year I won't be marching into an office supply store and demanding the clerks fill my cart with "two of everything," as in years past.

Instead, we'll do an inventory of the school supplies currently stored in the household, compare it with the lists from school and simply fill in the blanks, as my son said.

Because he's taking such a frugal approach, I'll be happy to pay for anything he needs.

Except scissors.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer is the author of "Trophy
Husband: A Survival Guide to Working at Home."
Contact him at ABQBrewer (at)

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