When I was a kid, Labor Day marked the end of Summer’s. We had to stop wearing white and trade in our chlorine soaked swimsuits for back to school clothing. To me at that moment it seemed as if the fireflies went away and the wind picked up overnight. All of a sudden the leaves would begin to rustle. But the moment that stands out most strongly in my memory to signify the end was summer was my mom loading us into her car and schlepping us to the mall to buy our back to school clothing.
Growing up on the East Coast with four seasons, this time of year was the time when we embraced our new shoe sizes, we exchanged our old clothes for the next size up and we watched ourselves mature by the clothing we bought. It was when we said goodbye to bare legs and arms, and we slipped into the layers of knits that would soon keep us warm from the weather. For our family, this was a rite of passage.
I realize now what a privilege this concept of back to school shopping is because so many families cannot afford to revamp a wardrobe every season. But for me, this was and still is a special time, a bonding of sorts. I think back to school shopping for my family had an extra layer of importance because it also fell around the time when we were preparing for the High Holidays, the Jewish Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Mixed in with the school outfits were the dresses, bows and endless fabrics for synagogue. This brings back memories of endless battles over tights because I hated the way they constricted my legs. I wanted to wear sweatpants and soccer shorts but apparently God would not let me into the synagogue wearing such things. It made me realize at a young age how often we dress for others rather than for ourselves. I rolled my eyes and did it for my mom, but today, I sort of understand as now I am the mom wanting my kids to wear certain clothes. Is it for me, for them, for others? I don't know.
I think my favorite store was Stride Rite, the shoe store. I remember measuring my foot on those silver feet measurers and then skipping through the store picking out the most sparkly and rainbow shoes I could possibly find. Even though I sported Umbros and Hypercolor tee-shirts, I made room for glitter shoes until the day came when I traded Stride Rite for Adidas Sambas and never looked back.
I remember being exhausted and finding ourselves finally at the food court, with the myriad of faux fast food restaurants and sitting down with trays of food as we excitedly peeked through our new bags. Thinking back, I can’t imagine how tired my mom was, but also the joy this time gave her and still does - even at 40, she still likes to take me shopping and I now like to take my boys.
The funny thing about the back to school shopping is that I very much remember that the clothes we bought were heavy - wool coats, corduroy pants, sweaters and I remember running out of the house to the bus stop on that first day after Labor Day in September and sweating. There I was head to toe in my new Fall and Winter clothes overheating in the 75 degree day.
Last year before school began, I took Jake and Jones to our local mall (which is so desperately sad and empty) and we laughed our way through as they picked out their shoes and a few items of clothing. For them, the shoes were also the highlight of the experience. I watched each of their personalities pick their shoes. Jones clinging to his one pair and Jake wanting to buy five pairs. Jones feels good in colors that are culturally accepted as boys colors and Jake takes in all of the colors of the rainbow.
This year feels different. We are home in our PJ’s. I am spending my money on desks for the kids, a quiet place for them to learn online and less on the clothing that will dress their bodies. I took my boys to Target this year, which was more fun than I thought it would be, and let them pick out pencils, notebooks, crayons and a few other things to mark this shift in time. I bought Jones an alphabet that we could pin up above his desk so he can start to learn to read.
Even with the sheer sadness of this time and the loss and despair it has caused at moments like this I wonder if we'll look back to this moment with nostalgia? Will I miss having my kids so close to me and being a bigger part of their education? I am not sure. All I know is that this year, I might just have to buy myself some sparkly sneakers so I can be reminded of the time of my life that felt innocent, carefree and bring some of that into our life now.
Tell me about your back to school experiences. I love to hear the wide array of various stories in how we grew up, what our school experiences were and how we are parenting now.
With love and an apple for the teacher,