SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Back to school and back in debt
Scripps Howard News Service


September 25, 2006

Back-to-school shopping always seems like a summertime taste of Christmas.

Such a haul: new clothes, new sneakers, new backpack, new lunchbox. Bright yellow pencils and crisp white paper.

For the kids, it's as if Santa came to visit in his vacation clothes. For the parents, though, it can be a nail-biting, heartburn-inducing exercise in breaking the bank.

Small kids demand that all clothes and school supplies come decorated with trademarked characters from Marvel or Mattel or Disney or Nintendo. No matter which character your child loves best, all the goods bearing that likeness sold out last February.

If parents try to inflict anything else - plain T-shirts, for example, or a notebook decorated with Barney instead of Pikachu - the children will roll on the floor, howl and kick their little feet.

It's easy to spot those kids' parents. They're the nomads wandering from store to store, weeping and clutching handfuls of their own hair.

If you're lucky enough to stumble upon a hoard of the correct goods, the sticker shock will make your eyes jump out of your head and roll around the floor. Ten bucks for a binder? Thirty bucks for little bitty jeans? Sixty dollars for sneakers?

Before you know it, you've racked up a credit card debt that won't be paid off until the little beggars are off to college.

And for what? Clothes the children will ruin or outgrow by winter break. School supplies that will be lost or destroyed. (Has any kid, anywhere, ever made it through the school year with an intact protractor?) A backpack that produces an odd, musty smell you can't eradicate. And, of course, after a month or two, the kids will decide Pokemon is pass? - or so all the parents pray.

By the time Christmas does roll around, it's time to replace everything. And it's hard to fit a new NASCAR lunchbox in a stocking.

I'd like to say it gets easier as kids get older, but that would be lying. Fashions change, but the demands are much the same. Instead of screaming for a pink Barbie lunchbox, your daughter will insist on a pink Paris Hilton crop top. Your son will object to any pants that aren't large enough to house a family of six.

And the sneakers just keep getting pricier.

Some parents of teens simply hand over a credit card and lie down in a dimly lit room until it's over. Others participate in the shopping, but must budget for stress remedies such as bourbon.

There is hope. Eventually, the kids' growth slows, so they might wear a garment more than, say, twice. The household fills up with so many backpacks and lunchboxes and binders, a child might actually re-use one, assuming it doesn't smell too funky.

This year, our two teenage sons showed little interest in back-to-school shopping. The older one, who's in the fifth year of his ratty rock-and-roller phase, refuses to wear clothes unless they have more holes than a screen door. The younger one never throws anything out, so his closet is overflowing. They both had relatively new, stink-free backpacks.

So I left the boys at home when I did the back-to-school shopping. I returned with a sackful of composition books and pens and said, "Here you go. You're all set."

I know it's not over. Teachers will demand specialized goods. Backpacks will be lost. Tattered clothing will turn to dust.

But I'm hoping we can hold out until Christmas.


Redding, Calif., author Steve Brewer's latest book is called "Bank Job."
Contact him at ABQBrewer(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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Ketchikan, Alaska