James Lileks
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It’s time to celebrate the first month anniversary of back-to-school retail season!

Right after July 4th, the dreaded signs go up, reminding kids that heedless summer always ends with the jaws of institutional life snapping shut around their skeeter-bitten ankles. Some years Target hangs a giant yellow pencil over the front of the store — the Ticonderoga #2 of Damocles, if you wish.

For parents, there are three stages in reacting to this:

1. “Oh, stop it. You’re still selling flag-themed paper plates.”

2. “I wonder if the school’s supply list is online; I should check that tomorrow.”

3. “They’re out of everything, my child will fail fifth grade, and all that Mozart I played when she was 2 months old was for nothing.”

In case you don’t know what to get, here’s a typical list for first grade:

• 14 glue sticks, because first grade consists mostly of sticking one thing to another thing. This is an odd requirement, since all kids at this age can make things stick just by handling them.

• Scissors so dull they cannot cut a rotten noodle.

• A plastic ruler. It will be lost almost immediately; you will never see it again, and never, until this moment, wonder what happens to all the rulers you buy through the years. You are better off sending your tot to school with a yardstick duct-taped to their side. They will walk in an odd fashion, but at least they’ll stand up straight.

• A box of dry-erase markers because apparently grade school includes a lot of whiteboard presentations of quarterly results.

• A box of Wet Wipes because the class leaves the tables, chairs and doorknobs entirely snotified.

Here’s a typical list for 12th grade:

• 126 spiral-bound notebooks, lined, ruled.

• A ridiculously expensive “graphing calculator” that is more complicated and less effective than a $2.99 phone app. Like the rulers, you will never see this again, because on the last day of school, the kids take them into the parking lot and destroy them with stones, hooting like apes.

• 10 three-ring binders, the cumulative weight of which will make your child stoop like an old-country laborer bringing a load of peat to the manor on his back.

What if your child is between the two lists? Just add notebooks and subtract glue sticks.

This will be the first year in 13 that I haven’t had to worry about school supplies because Daughter not only graduated but left for Brazil yesterday. At the airport I secretly daubed my forearms with glue sticks to keep her from pulling away after a goodbye hug, but it didn’t work.

And that’s why the list never has Super Glue.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858