By Mordechai Schmutter

School is starting soon, and, as a parent, you have a lot to do before it starts, in case you thought you could just spend these two weeks going on vacation. But at least you can rest assured that once your kids start school, it will be smooth sailing for about ten months, with zero responsibilities and no calls from the school about, for example, your kid not already knowing the stuff that they’re supposed to be teaching him. So let’s get this over with.

Firstly, you have to go to the store to buy enough school supplies for the entire year in one go. And you should also do that with groceries, while you’re at it. You want your kid to come in on the first day with a huge stack of graph paper he’s not going to need until Chanukah, like there’s no way he’s not going to use it all up before then playing dot games.

The only place it really makes sense to ask for all the supplies up front is high schools. I know this because I attempt to teach in a high school, and my students show up on the first day without pens.

And I’m like, “You couldn’t figure out that you would need pens in school after ten years of going to school?”

So on the first day every year, I say, “OK, you need to bring in pens.” And sure enough, the next day, they still don’t have pens. Because they dorm. They don’t go home every night. Where are they getting pens? If someone doesn’t have a pen today, he’s not going to have a pen that whole month. He’s not leaving during supper to run out and buy pens. And especially not with the money his parents gave him to buy food in case the yeshiva meals they already spent their money on aren’t good enough for his sophisticated palate that sometimes will make grilled cheese with an iron and then eat it off a textbook. Pens are supposed to grow on trees. Or come free at the doctor’s office.

So I say, “OK, well at least when you go home for the off-Shabbos, bring back a pen.” And then he comes back the next week and says, “Oh, I forgot.” How’s he supposed to remember? Should he write it down? He doesn’t have a pen!

You also want to make sure that your kids have enough clothes for the entire year. Because even though your child fit into the same clothes for ten months, you take them off for two months and suddenly they’re too small. Maybe it’s all the sunlight that’s making them grow in the summer. Either way, put a kid in a little room with 20 other kids for ten months, and he won’t grow as much. Like goldfish.

For some schools, you have to buy uniforms. Uniforms are a great way to let everyone in town know which school your kids go to and whether there’s class that day. And the benefit of uniforms is that instead of going around to stores finding clothing that fits the standards, you just buy six of the same outfit. If these weren’t uniforms, wearing the same outfit six days a week would get you ostracized. Unless it’s a boys’ school.

Sure, uniforms make it harder to shop around. But the good news is that one of the parents has probably started some kind of exchange program once they realized they had six of every size uniform, and that there is no one in the world who doesn’t go to that school that they can give these clothes to who would be happy to get six of the same thing in every size.

You also have to buy shoes. You encourage your kids to run around in the summer, but it turns out that running around kills shoes. And you have to go to a kids’ shoe store, and those are the worst. There are shoes all over the floor, which is every parent’s nightmare. Someone is always screaming, and one child is standing on top of the shelves, trying on the single shoes. And you have to keep stepping over parents on the ground.

And you can’t just start putting shoes on them. You have to get the kids’ feet measured professionally with one of those metal things that hurts when you drop it on your toe. So, first you have to wait for the professional teenager who works in the store to measure each kid’s feet and tell you what size he is so you can request a slightly bigger size so he has something to grow into, because you don’t want to come back here in three months. The guy will insist that you get the size that the device says, in part because he wants to sell you more shoes later, and in part because he didn’t go to foot-measuring school to be questioned by a parent whose child was wearing his shoes on the wrong feet.

Then you get a pair of shoes on your kid’s foot, and, metal device or no metal device, you have to do that thing where you mush your child’s toes down with your thumb. If the kid says, “Ow!” the shoes are too small. Well, not too small; he got them on. But you want there to be room to grow. You have no idea how much he’ll grow, but you’re guessing it won’t be more than the width of your thumb.

OK, so it’s a little big for now. I’ll leave the tissue paper in.

Each shoe has tissue paper crammed into the toe that you have to pull out, like it’s a gift wrapped by someone during their first day on the job, and he thinks that maybe the gift gets wrapped around the wrapping. And when you’re done, you have to cram it all back in for the next person. You’d think that you’re just inconveniencing the other person, but you can’t get the shoebox closed if you don’t do it, so you may as well.

Should I also unthread all the laces for the next person? It’s like whoever packages shoes at the factory has no idea how to thread laces all the way. He starts doing it and says, “Eh, who’s going to know?” and just crams them into the shoebox.

And then you have to start the process again with the next kid. And schlep the previous kid’s shoes around the store.

“Why not let the first kid carry his own shoes?”

Right?

Here, don’t put these down. The box looks exactly like every other box in the store.

Here’s a piece of advice, though: Resist the urge to buy all your kids matching shoes. Matching clothes is one thing; it helps you pick your kids out of a crowd. You’re not picking them out of a crowd by their shoes. But here’s what you are going to do: You’re going to find shoes all over your living room, and they’re all going to look exactly alike. “How many times have I picked up this shoe? Whose is this?” You’re going to have to check the size every single time, until the number rubs out and you can only tell whose it is by playing Cinderella every time.

Then there are nit checks. As far as I know, kids can pick up nits at any point of the year, but let’s do the bulk of our checking at the end of the summer. Where are they getting nits from in the summer? Sleepaway camp? Sleepaway camp! The schools assume these sleepaway camps are infested with nits. The summer I was in sleepaway camp, there were no nits, but we did have a skunk problem. So make sure to get your kids checked for skunks.

If you want to make absolutely sure your kids have no lice, you can get some prescription shampoo, which is really easy to obtain. You don’t even have to go in to the doctor. You call the doctor and say, “I think my kid might have lice. Should I come in?” and he’ll automatically write you a prescription.

Because there’s no way the school checks are thorough. You stand on long lines consisting of every child in the entire school, and when you get to the front, someone spends literally ten seconds on your child and then signs a form. There’s no way she’s checking between every single hair. So my guess is that with nits, they’re either nowhere or they’re everywhere. There’s no such thing as a small lice community hiding out in the corner of your head. If they move in, they move in with enough friends to start their own country with its own system of government and road construction and sanitation, committees to prevent deforestation, and even a president who denies deforestation and keeps promising he’s going to make your head great again. It’s not like a few lice who want to live in a nice, quiet area away from it all with a couple of kids and a dog. They have a ton of kids and a school system, with parents running around and buying school supplies and clothes and shoes and checking their heads for skunks.

And each kid needs three pairs of shoes, and they all have to match. So what are you complaining about? 

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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