We are well into Back to School mode at work. We are seeing people who want to homeschool and don’t know where to start, people who are in their first year of teaching and don’t know where to start, and people who have suddenly been moved from kindergarten to sixth grade. We see people who are excited about getting back into their classrooms, people who dread getting back into their classrooms, and people who can’t get into their classrooms because they are still under construction. We see people who want to match what they had before come hell or high water, people who want something new, and people whose lives would be perfect if only they could find the kid-drawn letters in multicolored gingham boxes instead of red ones.

The other part of back to school shopping, the part where I am a customer instead of a worker, is buying stuff for my kids. Since #1 daughter started kindergarten in 1987, I have each year taken my August 15th paycheck and headed out to do the Back to School shopping for one, two, three, and then four kids. We go to the office supply place first thing, then go out to breakfast before hitting the clothing stores. We follow my mother’s principle of being at the mall when it opens in hopes of avoiding the crowds, but that is hopeless in mid-August. We have lists and clothing inventories, and a sense of cooperation. By lunchtime we are home, and the kids are putting everything away. This is the time-honored ritual.

But this year, for the first time in 17 years, we will not need to follow this ritual. For one thing, #1 daughter is not only not going back to school, but for the first time in history she will nor be here for the back to school shopping trip. (She will be with her husband, many states away.) For another, #2 daughter worked all summer and is capable of buying her own gear. Third, both sons are now in secondary school, where we know to our cost that the supply lists in the stores bear no resemblance to what they actually need. And the most amazing thing: #1 son went online and found all the clothes he needs and emailed me his list. He measured to make sure he had the right size. He checked the companies in question to make sure that they did not employ sweatshop labor. And he helped his little brother do the same. What a guy!

We do not have a local, non-chain source of school clothes or school gear, so there is no moral objection to this plan.