Staples and the human condition (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

It’s often said people don’t miss what they don’t know, and that is a maxim proven true many times in my life. Like right now.

When I was a kid, back-to-school shopping involved little more than perusing the two aisles of office supplies at the local Roses, where the selection was limited and the quality was debatable. But now there’s Staples. If there had been a Staples when I was in school, I’m sure I would have roamed the aisles of notebooks and pencils with the same sense of wonder and excitement my children are displaying.

Shedding the outdoors for a classroom is now a call to arms. One look at the sheet of necessary supplies in my wife’s hand that came directly from the school officials confirms it. Pencils, notebook paper, backpack, glue, tape, composition book, erasers, and kid-friendly scissors are just a few of the necessary items. I feel like I’m sending my kids off to college rather than second grade and kindergarten.

Although I am at times not so patient a father, on this day and in this store understanding comes easy. My kids are regarding our trip here with the perfect blend of excitement and seriousness. A tiny seed of knowledge is being planted within them that somehow this supply shopping is no errand. In a few years it will sprout and grow into the knowledge that what they are doing is the physical manifestation of a spiritual truth. They will see this a holy rite, and a universal one at that.

Because if my children are anything like me, all this shopping and ogling over school supplies and all this excitement over starting a new year will likely one day be replaced by a determination not to screw things up yet again.

I was never a standout in school. Nowhere near honor-role caliber. Average at best. I suppose I had the smarts to do better and be more, but not the drive or discipline. What people thought of me and how I fit in mattered much more than learning the Pythagorean theorem or how photosynthesis worked. Then, and sometimes now, the things that really shouldn’t matter at all mattered very much.

For me, the best days of the school year were the first few and the last few. The first few because they always held the most promise. The last few because by then I had firmly entrenched myself in my yearly rut of getting by rather than pulling ahead, and just wanted everything over with.

But summer vacation is the Great Eraser, three months of sunshine and play that put enough distance between me and the previous nine months to suggest the next year might be mine to own. Back-to-school shopping would always cement that thought. All those fresh notebooks with empty pages waiting to be filled with knowledge? Pencils sharp and wood-scented, ready to chew on in deep thought? And of course there was the epitome of student organization, the Trapper Keeper. Those were the weapons I would wield in the battle against myself.

And it always worked for the first few weeks, after which those notebooks would be filled with doodles born of boredom and angst, the pencils would be thrown at either a classmate or the ceiling, and my Trapper Keeper would have been torn to shreds and abandoned in the bottom of my locker.

We have good intentions, don’t we? Every notion to make the next day our best, to rise above petty thoughts and empty words and become who we know we can be. And still every night we close our eyes with the nagging thoughts of who we let down and what we couldn’t measure up to.

Just as we can’t be the perfect student, we’ll never be the perfect people. Deep down we all know this. But we also know that just because our feet are stuck in the mud of this world doesn’t mean our hands can’t reach ever higher toward the sky. Just because we cannot fly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand tall.

That’s what I want my children to know as they walk these aisles.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

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19 Responses to “Staples and the human condition (by Billy Coffey)”

  1. S. Etole August 16, 2010 at 1:33 am #

    That’s why I like the pencils with the erasers that don’t leave smudges …

  2. michael August 16, 2010 at 8:39 am #

    Ethan starts kindergarten in a few weeks and I’m disappointed that I don’t get to do the supply shopping for him. The private school that he goes to purchase everything for them. Actually we pay for it though.

    As to the point of this post, it really hits hard. Most things do start out with good intentions. Awesome post Billy.
    .-= michael´s last blog ..Customer Service Is An Art Form By Peter Pollock =-.

  3. *~Michelle~* August 16, 2010 at 9:00 am #

    The Great Eraser.

    Love that.

    As I am scrambling to get my homeschooling year organized, I have the same aspirations and intentions.

    And as far as in my life, I am thankful that I am given a new day each day, to once again….give “getting it right” another try.
    .-= *~Michelle~*´s last blog ..A thorn in my side =-.

  4. Cassandra Frear August 16, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Now that my sons are men, it feels odd in August to walk by the school supplies. I have no one to buy them for.

    For nearly two decades, I shopped and planned and strategized. We homeschooled all the way through to high school. Both sons have gone on to college where they have thrived. But before that, we had school and we had it together — all of it, good and bad.

    I’m thinking I might just need to buy a notebook and a shiny new box of crayons now. Just because.
    .-= Cassandra Frear´s last blog ..A Dream of a Day =-.

  5. Robin M Arnold August 16, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    I loved school more than I was good at school. I didn’t get close to honor roll until I started going steady with my husband. He made me better, and still does.
    .-= Robin M Arnold´s last blog ..Get a lot done dayhopefully =-.

  6. Jennifer@GDWJ August 16, 2010 at 9:28 am #


    As with all your posts, this one is certainly memorable. In fact, your words were rolling around in my mind last week as I perused the binders, notebooks and washable markers with my girls.

    Love the idea of summer as the Great Eraser. We all need a do-over every now and again.
    .-= Jennifer@GDWJ´s last blog ..On Being Me A Guest Post by a Simple Country Girl =-.

  7. A Simple Country Girl August 16, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    Your last paragraph is right on for me today. Actually it is for each day. (pssst I am adding it to my Billy quote file)

    “Trapper Keeper” is a word I haven’t heard for twenty years…and back in-the-day all we were asked to bring to school was our selves, some paper, and a pencil. Remember the dude with the pile of loose paper and no fancy-pants TK? The one from my school now handles large sums of other people’s money.

    *Please also remember the kids who cannot afford lunch, let alone such school supplies–perhaps buy some extras and give them to your child’s teacher…

    .-= A Simple Country Girl´s last blog ..On Being Me =-.

  8. Maureen August 16, 2010 at 11:41 am #

    Love Susan’s comment.

    At different times over my only’s school life, I’d also tuck in among all the other stuff he had to carry little notes, just to let him know his mom cared. Finding them at the bottom of his backpack at the end of the year was a sign he’d always read them.
    .-= Maureen´s last blog ..Thought for the Day =-.

  9. David @ Red Letter Believers August 16, 2010 at 11:54 am #

    While my kids are long gone away from home, I am reminded of back to school by Target ads and school-zone speed traps. I do miss the hype, the hope and the tears of back to school days.

    If summer is indeed, the great eraser, what is fall? The Great Pencil?

  10. Helen August 16, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    New beginnings. As adults, we have fewer opportunities for those, don’t we?

  11. Megan Willome August 16, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    Billy, it makes me feel good to know that you were just an average student. In fact, your description of your approach to academic life sounds frighteningly like my son. Maybe it will all work out, although it’s hard for an honor roll girl like me to comprehend how.

  12. jasonS August 16, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    Great post, Billy. Thanks. I like new beginnings. I’m very thankful for them…
    .-= jasonS´s last blog ..The Serving Church Unstuck =-.

  13. Kathy August 16, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    That was incredible! Kat, I’m glad your blog let me on here this time…I kept getting server errors 🙁
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Im so easy to make happy =-.

  14. Joanne Sher August 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    Remember and LOVE this one, Billy. Love that “big eraser.”
    .-= Joanne Sher´s last blog ..We Have A Winner and not just in my giveaway =-.

  15. Sandra Heska King August 16, 2010 at 6:45 pm #

    Always the promise of a fresh start. I’m gonna go get some new pencils and crayons and notebooks. For me.
    .-= Sandra Heska King´s last blog ..In the Yard =-.

  16. Linda August 16, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    I am every thankful for new beginnings – for mercies new every morning. And I have always loved new notebooks and pencils.
    .-= Linda´s last blog ..Multitude Monday =-.

  17. Moondustwriter August 21, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    My children are at the point where life and choices loom in the forefront. As a parent, my job now is to encourage – stepping back from the forefront has the eraser feel to it.

    Thanks Billy

  18. kim s October 4, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    I used to pray every year before school started for God to make me “normal.” I wanted to be like everyone else, not so “weird.” Somewhere along the line (well after high school), I started to enjoy being different.


  1. Staples and the human condition : Billy Coffey - August 16, 2010

    […] this week of things you might’ve missed the first time around. The first on is over at katdish’s site. And appropriately enough, it’s about back-to-school shopping. Hop on over there. Say hey. […]

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