It can't be that complicated, can it?

By Chuck Kajer

Back to school time is a complicated process in a family. As a husband and father, I'm often accused - and rightfully so - of not appreciating just how complicated things can be.

For the first time in many years, we only have one student in the family. Josh, at 23, is more than two years past any schooling and lives on his own while Andrew, a recent high school graduate, knows what he wants to study and where, but is taking some time off to earn money before resuming his education. That leaves just Robert, a high school sophomore.

Jenny has been staring at the calendar for more than a month, trying to figure out exactly how to fit in all of the things that need to be done before the school year begins. I've always wondered why she put up such a fuss. As far as I was concerned, you just go out and buy some new clothes and shoes and a bunch of notebooks and pens. It can't be that complicated can it?

I'm sure that my sentiments are shared by most men. I'm almost equally sure that most women seethe when they hear that. On behalf of men everywhere, I offer apologies.

I've never been the most organized person in the world - something my coworkers will acknowledge. My wife, on the other hand, likes to be prepared for any eventuality. And when you have a teenage boy who shares his father's lack of organization, back to school time can get very complicated and frustrating.

The clothes shopping began in July with a couple of purchases - nothing major, but with a soon to be 16-year-old who has grown several inches since the spring, the top priority was jeans.

Our other two sons were fairly good-sized kids, but Robert has always been on the slender side. Josh and Andrew outgrew a lot of jeans before they had the chance to wear them down. But when we find the jeans that were long enough for Andrew and Josh, we've found they are too big around the waist for Robert. that means a trip to the store to buy slims for Robert. Fortunately, his tastes are simple. Three or four pairs of jeans and a khaki pair of pants will suffice. Oh, and because he's in band, he'll need a pair of black pants - he's much too tall for the ones we had to go buy the day before the band concert last year. All of that becomes a process of several hours because the slims are hard to find.

Then there are the shirts. Robert's sense of style mandates that we have plenty of hooded sweatshirts. So we get a couple of New Prague shirts, a Wild shirt, a Gophers shirt and a few other assorted hoodies, and he can wear whatever T-shirt he likes underneath. That's probably the easiest purchase.

On to shoes. I asked Robert if he needed new shoes and he said no. Fine, I thought, one less thing to buy. Of course, mom, being more thorough, sees his toes are pushing against the end of the shoes, so we had to run to the shoe store. Again, not one, but two pairs of shoes are needed, since he needs black shoes for band.

Then there are the school supplies. Like I said, a few notebooks and pens and pencils, right?

I find out again that things can't be so simple. The notebooks and pens are required, but there are other supplies, and undoubtedly there will be more once we get his schedule. And the notebooks - well we need to make sure there are five different colors - one for each of his subjects. Each teacher also has his or her own required materials. If they've got a math class, you've got to make sure they have the right kind of calculator. We're hoping that the Texas Instruments calculator that's made it through the last three years will be good enough.

Then there are all the little things. Last night, I had to write out three checks, one for a yearbook, one for photos and one for the school lunch account. I know from experience these are just the first of many checks that will be written over the next nine months. One positive, though, is that Robert will not be driving to school this year... No need to purchase a parking pass.

All of these things and just for one high school kid... A few years ago, when we had three in school, it must really have been crazy. I guess I never really noticed how much work went into it. I am just glad my wife did most of the legwork.

Thanks, dear.

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