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A Woman's View: What my kids really need to go back to school

Published: Sunday, Sept. 11 2011 3:09 p.m. MDT

"That is a very loose use of the word, 'need,'" my Papa used to tell me when I was a teenager and I told him I needed Candies shoes or the car that night. It seems in the 30 years since his pointing it out, I have not learned the meaning of the word.

Or only just.

I have spent too much time in my brief years as a mother focused on what I thought my kids needed and not nearly enough on what they truly did need. I wanted them to have everything, every thing. New shoes? Of course. New shirts? How many? Don't little boys need Star Wars guys?

I was prompted to think again about this flaw of mine when I heard the story on KSL that the average tally for back-to-school shopping per child this year is $603. That includes everything: clothes, pencils, notebooks, electronics, backpacks, the works. But still — $603! Down $3 from last year's $606 per child.

"I would choke on that," labor and delivery nurse Shauna Cheshire said on "A Woman's View." "I have four kids in school."

That would be $2,412 for Shauna's family. Two mortgage payments on average. A month and a half of groceries, unless you're a double coupon queen.

"I remember our mom taking us back-to-school shopping," Shauna reminisced. "The stress. We gotta find pants. We gotta find shoes. Now with our own kids. We look in all their drawers to see what fits. We take out what doesn't fit. We just can't put the kids in a new wardrobe every year. And besides, that's what Christmas is for. We give clothes for Christmas, too"

Jill Atwood, public relations director for the VA Health Care System, added, "Plus, my boys like to wear the same shirts over and over anyway. We tend to buy all year round and buy when there are sales. I just bought the boys sandals for next summer. I'm thrifty."

"Me too," Shauna mirrored. "I figure they will thank me later when we're helping them pay for college."

Thank me later.

As I heard her say that, I thought, "Will my kids thank me later?" For the shoes and the notebooks, I doubt it. Because those aren't the things they truly need.

What they truly need is time with their mother. Time with me looking over their shoulder while they do their spelling and playing with Star Wars guys. They need me in the kitchen, in their bedrooms — in their worlds. More than back-to-school clothes, that's what they need. And if I'm not giving them that, I'm not giving them what they need.

My Ethan just started first grade and Aiden is in preschool. They look so clean in their new shirts, at least when they leave in the morning. I'm grateful that I can provide new clothes for them, but more grateful that I finally learned the lesson my father tried to teach me three decades ago. No more loose use of the word "need."

When I was a child, I spoke as a child. I said I needed Candies shoes and the car on Saturday night.

I understood as a child. I thought my children needed the things I provided more than time with me.

I thought as a child. I thought if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Isn't that how it goes? So, I figured I ought to give myself whatever I need to be happy in order to keep them from being miserable. Sweet rationalization.

But when I became a mother, not just in fact but in spirit, I put away childish things. I realize, perhaps better late than never, what my children truly need. And I see back-to-school shopping now for what it is — just another chance to be together.

Thank you, Papa.

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah's Morning News, weekday mornings from 5-9 on KSL Newsradio, 102.7 FM and 1160 AM, and also "A Woman's View" heard Sundays at 11 a.m. You can follow Amanda on Twitter, Facebook or amandadickson.com.

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