The school holidays are still in full swing, but many parents are already fretting over the old, old lament. Every summer, without fail, parents moan in pain as they scan the list of books required by their children for the new school year. Just as our own parents moaned before us. And no doubt their parents before them.
This discontent -- generation after generation of discontent -- must no longer be ignored. We're living through a vicious recession that's slashed or destroyed the earnings of every family in the land.
Given the scale of wealth destruction in this country, it's time to cast a cold eye over the expenses routinely passed on to parents for their children's schooling.
We're living in a new era of austerity; one that's likely to linger.
All of us, from the Government to employers to individual workers, are frantically trying to cut our spending. We have to live within our means if we're to survive.
We've seen the Government coldly inform pharmacists, for example, that it will pay less for drug-dispensing services. The same zeal has been shown in cutting payments to landlords of people on welfare, lawyers working for tribunals, and even TDs travelling on Government business.
Ah, but where's the squeeze on those costs that can be palmed off on parents? Entirely absent. It's not good enough.
Despite the frenzy of cost-cutting elsewhere, we parents are expected to meekly accept a list handed out by schools, file into a bookshop, nervously finger our cash as a sales assistant fills bag after bag, and then pay whatever price pops up at the till. No discussion, no consultation and certainly no negotiation.
How utterly 2005.
From my chats with other mothers, I gather that the cost of books is a burden that varies from school to school. If you're lucky, and we are, your children attend a school that rents out textbooks and makes parents buy only workbooks, journals and other materials that can be reused. Even so, you're likely to fork out at least €100 per child. Parents at schools that do things differently face even larger bills.
Multiply that, as many families must, by three, four or even five school-age children. The result is a large, annual chunk of cash that parents must pay (no quibbling, now) out of dwindling or non-existent wages. Schoolbooks aren't a discretionary purchase. Parents are required by law to send their children to school.
We can't decide to give it a miss this year, as we might with the holiday or hourseriding lessons.
Youngsters will stagger back to their desks bent double under backpacks filled at parents' expense.
Parents must make that happen, whether they can afford to fill those backpacks or not, despite having no say into what goes into them.
Cue eye-rolling from all those of you without children. Sure, what do parents expect, I hear you ask. Why this annual whinge? I expect the same knife that's slashing other costs in this economy to slice through MY share of the education bill. That's all.