I’m dragging an open pair of scissors down the well-taped seam of a brown cardboard box. Generally speaking, this is a common occurrence in our household, given that my Amazon Prime membership makes it so incredibly easy to get basic, everyday items delivered to me in just two days.
But although having a package to open isn’t unusual, the contents inside are far from ordinary.
My daughter Zoey is next to me, her hands clasped tightly together, her little legs propelling her up and down into joyful, happy jumps.
“What’s taking you so long?” Zoey exclaims, throwing her arms up in the air. “Hurry up! Please?!”
“What are you talking about?” I ask as I slow down how fast I’m slicing through the tape. “I’m going as fast as a possibly I can. I mean, they did a really good job packaging this up. So good, in fact, that my arm’s getting tired.”
I set the scissors down on the kitchen table and feign exhaustion. “I don’t know, Zoey, I think I may need a break.”
“Mommy!” Zoey says, collapsing in a fit of giggles. But she recovers remarkably quickly, and when she does, her anticipation gets the better of her. She reaches for the box and rips open its top two cardboard flaps, and then, after a brief moment of reverence, I hear Zoey draw in a sharp breath as she pulls out what’s inside.
“Ohmygosh,” she whispers, turning toward me.
In her hands, she holds her brand-spanking-new matching lunchbox and backpack—the ones she had seen online that she’d proclaimed perfect for a first grader. Pink, orange, and red flowers bloom between dark purple bird silhouettes, and together, they all dance upon a sea of soft, pale turquoise. And on the backpack, in a darker turquoise, four capital letters are proudly embroidered across the front: ZOEY.
Zoey gathers them up close and squeezes them hard, smiling from ear to ear.
“I love getting new school supplies,” she says. “It’s just the best.”
* * *
Although my own school days are all but forgotten, I remember those happy feelings well, so I can’t help but agree with her.
I loved school as a child. I loved being picked to be the line leader or the one who got to clean the chalkboard erasers, for the teacher-approved excuse to step outside into the sunshine to clap them together and be surrounded by that telltale chalky, white dust. I loved standing at the wall-mounted pencil sharpener, slowly perfecting the points of my No. 2 pencils. I loved getting my homework back when it was proudly adorned with the first letter of the alphabet and check pluses and smiley faces and encouraging words and shiny, red stars. I loved art class and snack time and my wise, kind, passionate teachers. I loved showing up at school, ready to discover the unknown, and I loved leaving at the end of the day feeling like I’d learned something.
And as much as I loved the long, lazy, hazy days of summer break, I even loved the anticipation of going back to school as that first day grew closer. I looked forward to catching up with friends and seeing where my desk was that year and finding out who I would be sitting next to. I loved making new friends and learning new things and having that first Scholastic book order form of the year appear inside my folder.
But of all the things I loved about school, there was one thing that I loved best. It was the one thing I looked forward to from the minute the last day of school arrived, the thing I looked forward to all summer long, the one that I am nostalgic for every year when August rolls around: Buying new school supplies.
I remember walking up and down those magical aisles of the store with my mom—school supply list in hand—feeling deliriously happy. There were untouched bottles of Elmer’s glue and brand new boxes of Crayola crayons and rainbow-colored markers. There were classic black-and-white composition books and colorfully patterned Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers and Five Star First Gear notebooks. There were pocket folders and pronged folders and report covers and packages of wide-ruled and college-ruled paper. There were roller-ball pens and yellow pencils and Pink Pearl erasers and Fiskars safety scissors. There were binders and backpacks and books and pencil boxes.
I’d take the task of getting those school supplies very seriously, crossing each one off as I placed its counterpart in the cart. Later, I’d carefully hold the bags of them in my lap as we drove home, holding vigil for these special, shiny things, and then, when we got home, I’d set them out—one by one—and revel in them again before I’d start packing them up in my (most likely) brand new backpack.
Of all the things I remember about my childhood, getting new school supplies is perhaps the one thing I’m most nostalgic about.
* * *
Zoey proudly slides the backpack on her shoulders.
“Can I go put some stuff in it?” she asks.
“Of course,” I say. “I’ll just be here in the kitchen making dinner.”
I cook to the happy sounds of Zoey busying herself in her room, getting ready for first grade, even though she doesn’t start school for another month. In between my chopping and slicing, I hear her opening of boxes and Ziploc bags and pencil cases. I hear Zoey talking to herself, trying to make the difficult decisions that only a 6-year-old has: Where should I put my markers? How many glue sticks should I take? Which box of crayons should I use first?
With her words, I am reminded of my own childhood days, and it transports me back to that simpler time. All of a sudden, even though that backpack isn’t mine, I feel just as happy as Zoey is right now. That’s the wonder and beauty of nostalgia—having a past memory bring sparkle to a current moment.
Later, after I put Zoey to bed, I sneak a peak at what she’s placed inside her backpack. There are notebooks and crayons and watercolors. There is a book and a bookmark and a calculator. And in between all these school supplies, I can’t help but see something else, a few hidden things that the untrained eye might not see: I see Zoey’s joy and anticipation for a brand new school year, meeting new friends, discovering new things to learn, and creating new memories that may last a lifetime.
Inside Zoey’s backpack, I see her excitement for new beginnings.
And in this moment—this one where I I think about how I see the contents inside Zoey’s backpack can represent so much more than just what they are—I suddenly realize something: As a child, these things were simply school supplies to me, but as an adult, I’m able to look back and see that hidden in these nostalgic, childhood tools, some pretty important life lessons can be found.
* * *
Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned From My School Supplies:
Important Life Lessons I Found in 10 Nostalgic Childhood Tools
Everything you do will always leave a mark.
So be patient, compassionate, kind, and understanding.
And love—fiercely and fearlessly—for it is the one thing that shapes our legacy the most.
Be careful what you make permanent in your life. Choose wisely.
But even if you don’t, it’s important to remember: all of our decisions—both good and bad—shape us into who we are today. Embrace the choices that have made you who you are.
You are the author of your own story, so be sure to write a good one.
And if it hasn’t been good up until this point,
take advantage of the blank pages you have left.
We all make mistakes, and that’s okay.
Just remember to learn from them.
The important things in life will stick. Everything else?
Well, they probably weren’t that necessary, were they?
Measure your value and the quality of your life with only positive, happy numbers.
Because on a ruler, negative ones don’t exist—and they shouldn’t in your life, either.
8) Pencil Box
Proof that many different things can live harmoniously amongst one another.
Remember we’re all in this together.
You are only capable of carrying so many things.
Make sure the ones you do choose to carry are the ones that matter most.
* * *
Although I loved being a child and the sweet anticipation of the happy, fun things in life it held—like going back to school and buying new school supplies—I also love being an adult. Because my years of experience have provided me with perspective, perspective that has helped me to see that no matter where you look, lessons can be found in some of the happiest, most unexpected places.
So did I learn everything I ever needed to know in kindergarten?
Nope—I learned it from my school supplies.
(Wait…There’s something here I think. Perhaps I should write this down somewhere other than on my computer. Perhaps in a new notebook, with a pencil. Or maybe a new pen. I think I know just what I need to go do: Buy some school supplies. Oh, happy day!)
Let me know: Do you ever find life lessons in unexpected places? What was your favorite school supply? What are you nostalgic about when it comes to school?
Just joining me on my journey? Catch up on the Everyday Nostalgia series here.
At The Nostalgia Diaries, our goal is to help you simplify, enhance, and engage your lives by focusing on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.