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Shopping for school a farce

Sunday, August 24, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:57 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I’ve seen the classroom setting from three points of view as a student, a mother of a student and as a teacher, so I think I’m qualified to give some tips for those who are sending students to school or going to start classes tomorrow.

The first day of school is VERY important to kids. As they get older they will deny this fact, but don’t believe them. Clothing will take center stage. I remember taking the brood to the mall in mid-August to purchase clothes for the upcoming year. Underwear and socks I bought another time (too boring). This trip was a quest for the “perfect” first-day outfit. Realize that by late July, most of the lightweight summer clothing has been reduced to near garage sale prices, and by August the stores are stuffed with turtlenecks, wool sweaters and a complete selection of heavy winter coats. (It makes me start to itch just thinking about pulling a wool sweater over my head at this time of year.)

We would return home with bags filled with jeans of every make and model, from straight leg and boot cut to button front and baggy. The kids would show Dad the long sleeve shirts, the occasional vest and, of course, their new winter coats. The problem with buying these items right before school is that none of them should be worn until late October, when the weather is cooler. So every year I had a battle on my hands because the kids didn’t want to wear their “old” summer clothes (old meaning three months of wear). They wanted to go to school looking like they were prepared for the first snow.

One year my son marched into the kitchen wearing his new jeans (he couldn’t bend his knees because the jeans were as stiff as a board). He topped it with a sweater (he said because it was a V-neck it would be cooler), and I’ll be darned if he wasn’t carrying his new coat. I think he would have added gloves and a scarf had I purchased them.

“YOU can’t wear that to school,” I yelled. “It’s going to be 110 degrees today: You’ll roast!”

“But MOM, it’s the first day and you’re supposed to wear your new stuff,” he pleaded.

“If you wear that, it’ll be your last. You’ll die of heat stroke.”

After more bickering (much more), I agreed that he could wear the jeans but he had to leave the sweater and coat at home.

New clothes aren’t the only important items needed for the first day of class. Each year the kids HAD to have new backpacks to carry all their school supplies. When they were younger their knapsacks featured the latest cartoon character. Then as they got older they dumped Tweety Bird for nasty looking aliens or macho men. Into these canvas bags they would put all their brand new supplies — pens and pencils, notebooks and binders.

I’ve never understood mothers who get teary the first day of school (unless, of course, it’s tears of joy). I was always as excited as my children for school to begin. And unlike many mothers who weep when their last child enters the hallowed halls of learning for the first time, I nearly pushed my youngest into the kindergarten class, waving and saying “Bu-bye.”

I was skipping as I got back to my car chanting, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I’m free at last.”

Of course it isn’t true, but it felt good for a few hours.

No mother should have to go to work on the first day of school. It’s important to be at home when the kids arrive. It’s more important to spend the day getting a pedicure, buying a new blouse or just wandering around the house listening to the silence. You only have about seven hours before it begins again.

“Mom, we’re home!”

“I HATE my classroom; it smells like chalk.”

“I want to take my lunch. The food in the cafeteria stinks!”

“I got Miss Smythe. She’s ancient. She must be 40!”

“I tore my new shirt at recess.”

“I got in trouble for talking in line.”

“I forgot the paper you’re supposed to sign and return by tomorrow.”

As a teacher, I realize the amount of effort and energy it takes to mold minds. But thank goodness I teach at the college level. It takes a special personality to spend the day in a classroom (and I can’t fathom teaching in one without air conditioning) filled with squirming fidgety students who ask you to repeat what you have just said or stare blankly out the window.

Wait a minute — I just described my class!


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