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COMMENTARY: Back to school shopping on an NCO’s budget

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Randy Redman
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

It is time for school again, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it means the lazy days of summer are sadly behind us. Instead of sleeping late and arguing about who gets the last Klondike bar, kids in kindergarten through high school will be making the daily commute, on foot or otherwise, to their particular educational facility.

On the other hand, it also means there are plenty of stay-at-home moms here on base that might actually get to enjoy 10 or 15 minutes of quiet in the house once the kids are gone to school. Military spouses face a cornucopia of problems compared to their civilian counterparts, not the least of which is acting as the head of the household when the active-duty member is deployed downrange or temporarily away for training. It takes a level head to make sure the kids are healthy, safe and emotionally secure when the family moves every two or three years.

By now, most parents have made the annual trek to the nearest multinational retail corporation to get the eight school-mandated multi-topic notebooks, 17 pens, and 78 bottles of hand sanitizer. Not to mention going to the trouble of making sure each child is smartly attired with pricey ripped jeans lovingly shredded by caged lions, tigers and bears. Trends come and go, and these days hi-fashion apparently incudes emojis, Chuck Taylors and velvet-coated sunglasses. Whatever happened to jorts? They were cool once, right?

I certainly appreciate the fact that I don’t have to waste a single brain cell on deciding what I wear to work every day. The Airman Battle Uniform might not be on the cover of Vanity Fair, but at least I don’t have to schlep my way through the mall to pick out my fall ensemble. My son, on the other hand, is a sophomore in high school, which means unless his sneakers look like technicolor marshmallows, he will be sitting with the outcasts at lunch while the cool kids giggle over the latest memes on their color-coordinated smart phones.

Some enjoy this annual shopping ritual, and don’t seem to mind battling the crowds. Personally, I believe it is much easier to order everything online. Why wait in line for an hour and pay retail prices when you can order everything at a discount online and have it shipped directly to your door for free? Of course, my wife prefers the battle-royal of families crowding the two aisles of school supplies during the annual tax-free weekend. This in turn, means I am required to join the fray; frantically snatching mechanical pencils and reams of college-ruled filler paper…not the wide-ruled for heaven’s sake! 

Silly me…college-ruled paper is far superior to wide-ruled, and will certainly stimulate the mind of my daughter to new heights of academic superiority. She may be starting 6th grade this year, but it is never too early to start grooming her for the demanding rigors of college. After all, somewhere out there is another 6th grader who has been using college-ruled paper since she was in diapers. Some day they might be competing for scholarships to an overpriced institute of higher learning. I need to make sure my kids have every advantage they can possibly get, even if it means I have to spend a few hundred dollars on pencils.

The first few weeks of school are always a challenge for the kids. Getting back into the morning routines, picking who to sit with on the bus and the loads of homework on challenging new topics are practically unbearable after a full summer of action movies, pool parties and binging on video games. I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it, much less my kids. We may have to cut back to only two or three zombie shows a night, and keep gaming strictly to weekends.

It will all be worth it someday, I hope. One day they will head off to college leaving my wife and I to the luxurious sounds of silence. Maybe I’ll be able to finish that novel I started writing when I was in college a million years ago. Perhaps we’ll be able to take a vacation that doesn’t include theme parks or $15 dollar stuffed animals.

Maybe, just maybe, we can enjoy a night out without having to worry about who is going to make sure everyone’s homework is done. For now though, I need to go see if there are any Klondike bars left.