The desk drawers at my house are filled with the stuff – crayons, notebook paper, markers, construction paper. A lot of it for some inexplicable reason has been around for years. Instead of putting it to good use when the bell sounded signaling a new school year, we must have decided that our kids needed fresh materials.
That’s as plausible a reason as any to explain why we continued to buy new school supplies for our children when the stuff from prior years would have performed just fine. It must have been some magnetic tug that lured us into national retailers armed with our annual school supply list. Some marketer did her job well.
But for the first time since our firstborn headed off to pre-school 18 years ago, we no longer have need of school supplies. The last of our three has finished high school and is headed for college, which requires a costlier kind of school supply.
Our need for crayons has been replaced by wireless printers; our markers and notebook paper by laptops. Instead of construction paper, we’re buying rugs for dorm rooms and cleaning supplies that allegedly will be put to good use. At this point, I don’t know which was the better deal, the grade-school stuff or the more expensive needs of a college student? Make that three college students, two undergraduates and one graduate student.
The attachment we’ve felt at the loss of our annual trip to the school supply list store will soon be replaced by a much more different emotion. How will it feel to have an empty house? What will we do with our time now that the youngest is about to begin her own journey? Will we make the trip to Oxford for Ole Miss football Saturdays as I’ve always wanted to do? Or will we take a little time to enjoy the quiet home that we have never experienced? My vote is to do both. My vote is to do whatever we want to do, to take the opportunity to be spontaneous. We knew that feeling once, in the early years of our 27-year marriage, when impromptu weekend trips were frequent. Our children find it hard to believe that we have ever been without them – a feeling not too far from our own.
In a few weeks, we’ll know what that’s like again. They will be within reach. But there’s something about college life that signals the beginning of a permanent separation period. Unlike those school supplies, which seem glued to our desk drawers, it truly is the beginning of something new – for them and for us. The Grove seems like a good place to start our new life. When she was my girlfriend, we enjoyed quiet, picturesque picnics with the squirrels and the shade of the trees. I don’t mind sharing the Grove with several thousand football fans. Since we’re inching closer to the empty nest thing, that idea is starting to sound better and better.
— Ronnie Agnew, a former executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger, is the executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. E-mail him at Ronnie.Agnew@mpbonline.org