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But You're So Close to the Summer Finish Line

Tech. Sgt. Kerri Spero/Air National Guard

I think of the end of summer like the end of a race. The last round of a workout. The last two weeks of a deployment. The last five pounds before reaching my goal weight.

Scratch that last one, now that I think about it. The first three things are attainable, but those last five pounds are probably a permanent companion.

In any case, you're almost there -- we're almost there -- but this final push is going to be the hardest.

Have you downloaded the supply lists yet? Gone to the open house(s)? Checked in with the parent-teacher association? Do you even know what day school starts?

I couldn't wait to go school shopping the year my oldest started kindergarten. I felt like I finally got to join the "real" parents club. We shopped early, when Target first cleared out the American flag tablecloths and replaced them with notebooks and folders, way before the school supply aisle looked like every-Kroger-in-the-South-before-a-snowstorm.

I bought everything on the "Needed" and the "Recommended" lists. I bought stuff that wasn't even on the lists but just seemed like a good idea. And then, a few days before school started, the lists were all updated and most of the stuff I'd bought was not only not needed but specifically requested that parents not send.

And the new lists? Oh yeah, They included really specific-sized dry erase markers in really specific colors and some style of notepad that could be purchased at only one store that was open for only three hours a week.

This year, that little boy starts middle school, his middle sister starts second grade and the baby is signed up for a Monday-through-Friday pre-K program.

And I am hardened. Jaded. Over it.

I've learned my lessons over the years. Now, I wait until the last minute and I Amazon everything. If it doesn't arrive on time, nothing bad happens. Seriously. No one even cares.

Y'all, my back-to-school shopping list this year is pages long. I feel like I'm outfitting an Everest expedition. It's not enough to buy, say, a pencil box. It has to be a certain type of pencil box (per the teacher) and a certain color (per my children). For the younger two, it also has to have the right cartoon characters on it. And it's not enough to buy a backpack, it has to be both the "right" backpack (their concern) and also look like it might hold up for more than a month (my concern).

I'm not unsympathetic to children's pickiness. I get it. They're the ones who will have to use these things every single day. Their friends will get so used to seeing these things that they will associate my offspring with them.

I feel their pain. When I was in the sixth grade, I asked my mother to buy me a black leather jacket. I wanted a cool-looking motorcycle one, preferably with a Nine Inch Nails bumper sticker on the back. She bought me a western wear one, with buckles and fringe all over it. I left a Hansel and Gretel trail of fringe everywhere I went for more than a year.

Back-to-school time also means briefings on what it means to be a nut-free facility (hello, Sunbutter!) and how this year's fundraising and volunteer goals are even larger than last year's. And, yes, they say that every year. I've been to enough to expect it by now.

(By the way, one great thing about being a military family is getting to feign ignorance about the fundraising and volunteering every few years when we move.)

For the last two years, I've written one big check at the beginning of the school year just so I won't feel guilty about not pressuring my family members to buy cheese, cookie dough and wrapping paper. This also allows me to immediately throw away any letters I find in their backpacks with the suffix "-athon."

I don't -athon.

Anything. Ever.

(Marathon, walkathon, jumpathon ... guilt-athon.)

And that reminds me. I need to set up a system for the paper, somewhere to put all the forms and the homework. Because there will be so much paper.

SO. MUCH. PAPER.

Every time an American teacher says "homework," a tree in Georgia dies. Did you know that?

At least, that's how it looks at my kitchen table. Stacks and stacks of workbook pages and dittos, and, yes, I still call them "dittos," a term from the 1970s. My kids have no idea what I'm talking about. That makes me happy, so I keep doing it. Sometimes, I call them "Xeroxes" just to add to the confusion. #OldSchoolForTheWin

The race is on, everybody. Lace up, stay hydrated and run hard. The finish line is in sight.

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting Family and Spouse

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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