The scene was familiar for a late-August morning, when the sky outside was dark with clouds and the hum from the indoor fluorescent lights, hanging from the ceiling dozens of feet above, was just as loud as the hum of the few customers in the Costco two minutes after the doors had opened for the day.
A father and his three high-school aged daughters huddled around a cart, planning out their path through the massive store, making sure to stop in all the aisles that held important back-to-school items, and bypass the rows of unnecessities, the kitchen appliances, the vacuum cleaners, the large coolers filled with frozen meats.
The oldest daughter bore the look of a young woman who had done this entirely too often, the distant, feigned-interest look that suggested that she was ready for this shopping trip to end and for her (presumably) final year of high school to begin. The youngest showed no emotion, no indication of her nerves as she was about to (I'm guessing) enter her first year in a new school. It was the middle daughter, the one who stood closest to her father as they pushed the shopping cart through the entrance of the store, who was the most enthusiastic, pointing out items on the flyer that they didn't need but still piqued her curiosity. As a distant observer, I presumed that this trip, for her, was about more than just picking up back-to-school supplies; it was, instead, a final chance for her sisters and her father to spend time together, outside, before September arrived and their days would be spent in classrooms and at lockers.
I am not easily surprised, but this morning, at this Costco, the father, shepherding his daughters through this big-box store, surprised me. Instead of going through a list of things to buy, or even asking his daughters what they needed, individually, he stopped the shopping cart, looked carefully at each one of the young women in front of him, and spoke to them, slowly:
"Tell me your biggest hope for the next school year. Tell me what's scaring you, tell me what's exciting you. Tell me what you think your sisters should know about their year ahead. Together, knowing all of this, we'll make a plan to have an amazing year—and that plan will start here, with our shopping trip."
I'm not sure if I'm ever going to have children, but if I do, I will owe a debt of gratitude to that father who taught me that back-to-school was about more than books and supplies, but about learning about my child's aspirations, and working together to achieve them.