As an elementary student, my favorite part of going back to school was shopping for school supplies the week before classes began. I have vivid memories of strolling the aisles of Wal-Mart with my parents, shopping cart in tow, mulling over the hand-written shopping list supplied by my school.
Five two-pocket folders. I think I’ll go with these beauties. They say “No Fear” and have some kind of distorted cartoon kid playing baseball. I’m going to be so organized this year, these teachers don’t even know! I will label each folder with a subject on the outside, and each of the inside pockets will be labeled “graded” and “ungraded.” Folders…check!
Up next…pencils. All of those other eight-year old fools will walk into school with yellow, number two pencils. Not me. No sir! I have graduated to the much more sophisticated mechanical pencils with…wait for it…point 7 lead. I’ll take this 10 pack. That will get me through the whole year. And an extra tube of lead just in case. Pencils…check.
Moving on to one of the most crucial purchases…the trapper keeper. I need something simple that still makes a statement. It should say, “I’m ready to learn, but I still know how to have a pizza party.” A solid color (green, of course) so as not to draw attention to myself, but still special enough that I can pick it out of a crowd. I open and close the brand new zipper to feel how smoothly it glides along the tracks. And the three rings on the inside! They snap open and closed like a freshly-oiled bear trap. Trapper keeper…check.
And now, the Holy Grail. The crayons. My God, the crayons. I do not care, Mom and Dad, that RoseArt crayons are eighty percent less expensive than Crayola, and I also do not care that my shopping list asks for a box of 16. I must have this box of 96 with a built-in sharpener in the back. I must! After all, Mom and Dad, do you want me coming home with mediocre alligator coloring pages, or do you want an alligator with believably shaded and textured skin? The choice is yours. 96? That’s what I thought. And, oh, just look at the points of those crayons. Perfectly peaked like a beautiful rainbow mountain range. 96 perfectly sharpened cylinders. The paper on each one is crisp and clean, clearly displaying the beautiful name of each color in the box. Caribbean Green. Pacific Blue. Raw Sienna. Cerulean. Isn’t that beautiful? I think I will name my first child Cerulean. Cerulean Andrulonis. Crayons…double check.
Without fail, every year, one month into school and the newness had worn off. Just getting through the next eight months was a daily battle to survive.
Each of my folders is held together by the grace of God and a single strip of silver duct tape down the spine. Although I did label them by subject, there is no telling what you will find in each one. A math paper in the science folder. A science paper in the math folder. Half of a bologna sandwich in the history folder. And a bag of dead crickets that I was supposed to bring in for the class pet lizard might explain the foul odor coming from the English folder.
Nine of the mechanical pencils are M.I.A. I loaned one to a friend, who up and moved out of town over the weekend. Suspicious. Only the Lord knows where the others have gone. Possibly somewhere into the depths of my desk or possibly tossed in the garbage by a disgruntled custodian. The one remaining pencil I have is pathetic. The eraser is missing so the end is plugged with tissue to keep that elusive point 7 lead from falling out. And the extra tube of lead? I traded it for a role of Bubble Tape. It was definitely a rash decision.
My beautiful green trapper keeper looks more like camouflage now, thanks to a few dirt and Dorito stains. The zipper that once glided so effortlessly now takes three second-graders to undo, so I opt to leave it unzipped and hold it closed with an oversized rubberband. The three rings on the inside are a mess, too. I think someone stepped on it during gym class and it hasn’t been the same since. The prongs do not align nor close completely.
And my once beautiful crayons look like they have just returned from war. Limbs are missing, some are bandaged together with tape, and some have no identification at all. Except the white crayon. It still looks brand new because it is never used. Poor white. Never able to realize its intended purpose as a crayon.
Now that I teach, I have noticed a similar pattern. Each school year begins with a brand new wardrobe, neatly typed lesson plans that are hot off the press, and yes, even new supplies. But as the realities of teaching set in, the school year is like a runaway train and if you try to stop, you die. So my wardrobe gets less polished, and my lesson plans get marked up with hand-written notes and tweaks, and my supplies get sparse, and I resort to borrowing from colleagues.
But in a way, I love that. It means I am being used. I am not the white crayon that remains in the box, never able to fulfill its purpose. I am Cerulean. Used every day to the best of my abilities by 300 students who need me. I may be broken, worn down to a nub, and taped back together (just go with it), but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Bring it on, year six. I’m ready to be used!