- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2006

Greetings, parents and students: We hope you had a good summer. Please be advised that all students are required to bring four three-ring binders, six glitter pens, an abacus, a kazoo and a forklift on the first day of school. Students will no longer be allowed to wear stilts, tiaras, footie pajamas, hip boots, zoot suits or tricorn hats. Pet owls should be left at home, along with ant farms and weasels. We look forward to a great year …

Yes, here at the Back to School Desk & Complaint Center, we, too, are looking forward to a great school year. Our new penny loafers will be too tight, and we will forget our lunch money, our locker combination and all four of the three-ring binders in the grand tradition of children everywhere.

Of course, the great back-to-school migration is more complicated than in those halcyon days when young scholars arrived with a sack lunch, a single No. 2 pencil and an old cigar box, ready to be confused by long division and dangling participles. The more daring among them ate library paste. They marveled over anyone who rated a 64-pack Crayola box — the one with the exotic and exciting built-in sharpener — and such exotic and exciting colors as copper, periwinkle and salmon.

Ah, yes. We now will have a moment of silence for all the slugs on the Back to School Desk & Complaint Center who are getting mawkish about schoolyard icons of yore — PF Flyers, the beloved Roy Rogers lunchbox with matching thermos, giant pink erasers. Done? Feel better? OK; time’s up.

Back-to-school not only has become a hyphenated word, it is also a force to be reckoned with — a cataclysmic event and psychotic condition that starts, roughly, in June, when all the new, must-have back-to-school paraphernalia arrives at the CVS. Children avoid that aisle as if it held kryptonite.

Somehow, the summer wanes, sparking a moment of sudden realization among children and their loyal guardians: Uh-oh. It’s time. There can be no more denial that backpacks and protractors lurk on Aisle 5 and that all the store mannequins at the Gap are suddenly wearing plaids and long-sleeved shirts. Panic ensues as parents and offspring wander the halls of commerce, waving 55-item back-to-school lists and fretting over the tyranny of back-to-school fashion.

Kmart, for example, has just announced it will sell 3,702 tons of bluejeans — probably in the next five minutes — to children returning to the classroom with assorted sartorial challenges.

“Leggings, skinny jeans and skull motifs top back-to-school shopping lists,” says Mervyns, a California-based clothier for the young and restless. The company, which has stores in 10 states, swears that tattoo motifs, camouflage, “girlie goth” and sequins are de rigueur for the girlies, while boys should don trousers that showcase “fashion-forward surf and skate looks, heavy-washing and mid-level destruction.”

At the opposite end of the universe is Pink Twinkle, a new line of sugar-scented lip glosses, body glitter and perfumes for girls ages 6 to 13 from a Chicago manufacturer called Club Libby Lu.

“For our VIPs. Very important princesses,” notes spokeswoman Tina Spagnola, who suggests that mothers might want to buy a few items themselves.

Not to be outdone, Office Depot is pushing a newfangled take on the old-fangled string-around-the-finger reminder for incoming pupils.

“Use visible reminders to help the chronically forgetful,” the company recommends in its back-to-school guide. “Try using a simple, wearable reminder system that can help to jog your child’s memory. Mead Wrist Reminders are temporary paper bracelets that children can wear (and write on) to remember to do anything.”

Imagine Junior in his midlevel destruction pants submitting to wearing a paper reminder bracelet.

Yet all of the back-to-school pandemonium is evidence that American parents surely are a caring, generous, well-meaning bunch, eager to make their children well-prepared and stylish, even if it costs them $527.08. That is how much it takes this year to equip a child for the classroom, from the midlevel destruction pants to No. 2 pencils, which are still, miraculously, in heavy use.

This is according to the National Retail Federation. If it seems that back-to-school is yet another cog in the great spending wheel — well, even the federation admits that the first day of school has metamorphosed into a whole time block, maybe even an era.

“The back-to-school shopping season serves as an important bellwether for the holiday season,” spokeswoman Tracy Mullen says.

But not to worry. Children value back-to-school shopping as family time, according to Capitol One Financial Corp., which interviewed 1,000 youngsters and parents to find that 87 percent of the children eagerly anticipated that big shopping trip — with more than half saying they contribute their own cash to the cause. And, by the way, simple Crayolas still rule, even in our age of complexity. The average American child will wear down 730 crayons by age 10 — or more than 11 boxes of those coveted 64s, this according to our pals at Binney and Smith, which makes them.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and pink erasers for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at 202/636-3085 or [email protected]washingtontime.com.

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