"I've Got Whos-Its and Whats-Its Galore"

by Patti Wigington

It’s that time of year again. I went out to buy some cheese and a loaf of bread, and came back with six packages of college-ruled paper, ten boxes of crayons, a bunch of #2 pencils, and something like 47 glue sticks.

Why? Because I have a fondness for school supplies, and because I’ve got a pair of kids entering sixth grade in just twenty-eight days, but hey, who’s counting? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I enjoy back-to-school shopping. In fact, I don’t really like shopping for anything besides shoes and electronics. But what I do love is the smell of a freshly opened box of Crayolas, or the grinding sound that the sharpener makes the first time you stick a pencil in there, or the smooth white expanse of lined notebook paper which has yet to be doodled upon.

Sure, my kids get a list each summer. There’s the Master List, which always has the same stuff on it, year in and year out: pencils, notebooks, index cards, a box of Zip-Loc baggies, and some Kleenex. Then there’s also the teacher-specific lists. Some years we get the teachers who are happy with the contents of the Master List and demand nothing further. Other years, we get teachers who say, “Now, in addition to all that other stuff, I’ll need a four-pack of blue, green, red and black dry erase markers, a roll of 35 mm camera film, a 6.4 oz bottle of aloe scented hand sanitizer (not the store brand!), the T-34000 Mega Super Awesome Calculator, and a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle.”

And it doesn’t matter what they ask for, or whether I have the list right in front of me. There’s always something I have to go back for, either because it’s a last minute addition, or because every store in town was out of that ONE type of Post-It stickies that my kids have to have for their Science & Math Enrichment program.

So naturally, I came home from the store with my cheese, my bread, and $84 worth of school stuff. I’ve got more folders than anyone can use in a single school year, scissors that the art teacher probably won’t even ask for, and highlighters galore. I feel like Ariel, in “The Little Mermaid,” and just want to sing, “I’ve pencils and papers aplenty, I’ve got protractors and rulers galore… Sharpie pens? I’ve got twenty! No big deal… I want moooooooore.”

The night before school begins, my kids will root through the bags, pulling out what they need, checking off their lists. The remainder of the stuff will sit in a corner of my office, quietly waiting for me to suddenly yearn for a fresh pink eraser, or for that moment some time around December when I exclaim, “Wait, I actually DO have a roll of Scotch tape!”

And inevitably, that first afternoon, they’ll get off the bus and remind me of all the things I need to go pick up. Like those darn Zip-Loc bags that I forget every single year.


  1. I am a teacher. But I can't figure out the reason for so many boxes of Kleenex. What are these folks doing, building a Homecoming Parade float in their spare time? At home, my boys use about 10 Kleenexes a year. I can't believe the students are blowing their nose that much.

  2. Oh, but how could you not come away with all that? The Back to School displays are so huge and so chock full of all. Those. Markers!

  3. Val - I never understood it either until I started working in the school library. I've never seen so much snot collected in one place before.

    Sarah - YES! It's almost as if they... they WANT you to bring them all home!

  4. There's nothing like the fresh scent of Crayolas in the morning! Great post!

  5. You already had me nodding and shouting "Amen!", but when you broke out into song? Sold. I'm on my way out to find crayons and lined paper even though we don't buy school supplies over here :-)

  6. I am a teacher. I requested lined index cards. I had a really cool lesson plan that used them. I still cannot remember the plan. But a lot of 'lucky' moms now have the ability to write out 100 recipes. Or, you know, whatever one might write on 100 index cards.


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