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My Love-Hate Relationship With Back-to-School Shopping

I love back-to-school time! Crisp (still unstained, hole-free) clothes are laid out on the bed. Fresh pencils are sharpened. There's a general buzz of excitement in the air as my kids fill brand new backpacks with empty notebooks, the blank pages just waiting to be filled with class notes (Okay, fine — and mostly doodles).

I get a weird, school-supply-geek high from seeing all the glue sticks, boxes of tissues and unused pens spread out on the dining room table at the end of August. We haven't yet sunk into the November doldrums or started complaining about homework; the school year is still stretched out before us, full of promise, like a neatly organized box of 64 washable markers that still have all their caps.

However, actually doing the back-to-school shopping is a different story.

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Yes, I love having all the new school stuff, but I hate almost everything about getting it. Maybe that's because the arduous process begins with goading my unwilling children into trying on all their old school clothes, on the off chance they can still wear some of it. I know, it's a long shot, but I like to delude myself into believing that last year's pants might be this year's capris.

It all adds up, to the point where I start to worry I'm not going to have nearly enough vodka money left over to get me through one more minute of shopping!

Next comes the store. Oh, how I hate the store, with its crushing waves of desperate parents elbowing each other for the last pair of safety scissors, where the aisles are never wide enough to accommodate two passing carts even though the stores know that EVERYONE ON EARTH will be pressed in there together at once. And don't get me started about online shopping instead; the "preferred supplies" list comes from the teacher about five minutes before the first bell rings, and even then you can be pretty sure there'll be a revised list sent out the next day. Two-day shipping is nice, Amazon Prime, but back-to-school shopping requires two-days-ago shipping.

The only thing I feel comfortable ordering online are the kids' clothes and shoes, but that's only because cursing under my breath at home when nothing I ordered fits is slightly preferable to cursing under my breath at the mall while I wrestle children in and out of dressing rooms. One of these years I'm going to create a self-imposed uniform, comprised of seven sets of the first outfit we find that fits, and call it a day.

And then there's the expense. The clothes, the uber-rare non-toxic set of 32 watercolor pastels, the backpacks that'll be 90 percent glitter and broken zippers by the end of the week, the plastic six-inch rulers we buy every year even though no child in the history of EVER has used one after first grade — it all adds up, to the point where I start to worry I'm not going to have nearly enough vodka money left over to get me through one more minute of shopping!

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But then we bring it home, stack our haul on the dining room table to do one last review of the supply checklist — and all is right with the world.

The rows of supplies make me feel like maybe, just maybe, I can impose some order onto the chaos that's sure to descend as soon as the science folder gets lost and the first book report is assigned. After the whirlwind of back-to-school shopping, I like to sit with the stacks of college-ruled paper and the faint smell of unused Pink Pearl erasers, and relish that brief calm in the eye of the storm, before the hurricane school year blows in.

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