It all began with an orange folder. Not any orange folder — a plastic orange folder with pockets and prongs. That’s what my son’s third grade teacher specifically asked for on his back-to-school supply list.
I thought I found one, after days of searching through piles of red and blue, cardboard and clear presentation folders in various office supply stores. I saw the orange glow — the faint sheen from the overhead lights indicating its non-paper material — and I triumphantly snatched it from the back of the shelf, carefully attempting to smooth out the creased front cover before flipping it open and discovering the lack of prongs.
I imagined my third grader as an adult, wearing prison orange (his jumpsuit matching the folder he did not have) as he picked up trash on the side of the road under the watchful eye of a sheriff, all because his mom gave up on her quest to complete his school supply list satisfactorily. An orange plastic folder with pockets but no prongs simply will not do. Sending him without the folder isn’t an option either — I might as well send him on the first day of school wearing a shirt that says, “My Mom Does Not Have Her S*** Together.” My goal for this year is to get through at least one semester before the teacher catches on to that fact.
With my head hung in despair, I wondered where the orange folders have gone. I came up with three theories:
1. School supply organized crime ring: A group of entrepreneurial moms gets together two weeks before school starts to pool their resources, choose one or two essential items and wipe every single store in the area clean. Working out of minivans parked in the alleyways of big box stores, these moms then identify their targets by the pained look on their faces as they consider a trip to yet another store in the summer heat, waving them over with promises of the elusive orange duo prong folder in hushed tones
(Along with, perhaps, some of those purple glue sticks, because you didn’t buy your kid the store brand white ones, did you? Those weren’t on the list. It’s like buying your kid Rose Art crayons… fine if you don’t love your child, but don’t you love your child?)
2. Teacher mind games: Maybe the teachers have somehow acquired all of the orange folders. Maybe they aren’t selling them at overinflated prices — perhaps this is their way of asserting their dominance over parents early in the year. By manufacturing a shortage, they can potentially convince parents that it’s a lack of effort on their part that is the problem. “Oh, little Johnny scored poorly on the standardized test? Well, he was at a disadvantage all along since his folder didn’t have prongs,” they could say, while sadly shaking their heads.
3. Orange omission: My 11-year-old, who has an uncanny fondness for facts, randomly informed me that studies have shown that orange can bring aggravation to the human soul. So what if no one actually makes orange plastic folders with pockets and prongs anymore? What if they used to in the past, but orange will soon be to colors what Pluto was to planets? Do the teachers confirm that the items on the lists exist, or are they just picking random things with the end result being an unsolvable scavenger hunt with my child’s law-abiding future hanging precariously in the balance? I considered emailing the teacher to ask if she knows for a fact that orange plastic folders with pockets and prongs are a real life thing, and to please prove it, but my husband asked me not to, and by asked, I mean begged. She could be wrong, though. After all, I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary.
So, my search for the perfect folder continues in the war-torn aisles that boast back-to-school sales. I sit on the floor to go through the boxes of folders on the bottom shelves and on occasion, another worn out mom looks down and asks if I’ve seen any orange ones. I shake my head and give her a sympathetic look, despite knowing that I wouldn’t tell her if I did find an orange plastic folder with pockets and prongs. I have become ruthless in this endeavor.
I consider the change in my demeanor and feel a twinge of remorse. I decide then and there that next year will be different. I will not let the school supply shopping list strip me of my humanity in this way, unwilling to help a fellow mom in order to save myself.
Next August, I will own all of the orange folders. If you need one, you can find me in a darkened alley in my minivan. Bring cash. And maybe coffee.
By Ashley McCann.
Ashley McCann is the writer of Ashley Quite Frankly, a mother of two and a parenting blogger for eBay, where you can find everything you need (here) to organize your own school supply scalping ring… minivans, wide-brimmed hats, pay as you go phones and orange plastic folders with pockets and prongs.