The Back-to-School Scavenger Hunt


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School and office accessories on wooden background

Janet Stiegler,

The Back-to-School Scavenger Hunt

by Janet Stiegler, September 2022


When I was parenting two school-aged children, a low-grade anxiety would creep into my subconscious around mid-August. The leisurely summer pace was winding down, and in its place, lurking just around the corner, subtle but tenacious, prodding me to up my game–the Back-to-School Fall Frenzy.

Anyone who has raised children knows what I mean:  the rush to buy new school supplies and clothes; the flood of first-day papers, permission slips and emergency forms to be signed;  basketball tryouts and games; band practices and citrus sales; car washes, teacher meetings, hurried dinners and late-night homework…

So, why did I sign up to sponsor a child as part of Brunswick Family Assistance’s (BFA) Christmas in July campaign?   Maybe now that I’m retired and child-free, I secretly miss those hectic days. Or perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment. In any case, when I learned that BFA had 75 children in need of sponsors, I called the Program Manager. “I’ll take two,” I said. “Any age or gender, whatever you need.”

“That’s terrific,” he said. “I’ve got two fifth graders, a girl, Annie* and a boy, Bobby.*  We estimate the average cost per child will be about $100.   We prefer sponsors do the shopping due to our staffing constraints, but we also take donations. Anything to prepare these children for the first day of school.”  Then he sent me their clothes and shoe sizes, favorite colors, and in the case of Annie, her favorite TV show. I also got a lengthy 5th-grade school supply list. The scavenger hunt was on.

A local sports store was having a sale on backpacks, but a Google search told me that a department store in Wilmington had a purple one. And Annie liked purple. Bobby got a similar bag in black, one of his two favorite colors. I tested all the zippers and made sure the main compartment could fit a two-inch binder and several notebooks. Check! On the way to pay, I tossed several pairs of jeans, T-shirts, shorts and skorts into my cart.

The list said shoes, but don’t all kids wear sneakers? My favorite sports store carried name-brand running shoes in Bobby’s size. But the inventory for Annie’s petite feet was limited. It took some digging, but I finally nailed the perfect pair—superb cushioning and violet laces! Nothing but the best for my kids!

The school supply list was lengthy and relatively easy to address except for the earbuds. Why do 5th graders need earbuds? And what kind of quality did they expect? Husband came to the rescue. “You don’t want to get cheap stuff,” he said, now caught up in the frenzy. After checking out Consumer Report, he ordered purple and blue pairs online.

Despite my good intentions, I couldn’t help second-guessing myself. For instance, the TV show Annie liked was a mix of supernatural and horror. Did her tastes run more edgy than frilly? My thirty-something-year-old son emailed several links with the show’s related merchandise. Needless to say, I took the bait. Now I needed to get more stuff for Bobby to even things out.

“That’s quite a stockpile,” my husband observed as I spread the purchases out on the bed. A review of the receipts afterward suggested we had spent three times the estimated amount on each child. I let out of sigh of relief. Annie and Bobby would be ready for their first day of school. And unlike their parents, I wouldn’t have to sign all those back-to-school forms!

*Not the real names