School Days, part two

My girls had their first-day back-to-school outfits laid out well in advance. The spanking new jeans, faux tartan top, motorcycle jacket, and FEDORA were enlisted to dazzle the masses like so much sparkling vampire flesh. The Pixie’s choice of Cinderella dress and silver slippers looked downright dull in comparison. But, given the fact that it was still very much summer at the time, my young fashionista went off to school the first day wearing an emo looking vest with cheerful skulls over a t-shirt with shorts and bright blue high top sneakers, to which I said: Whatever. We’ve already established I’m fashion challenged.

She loved her outfit, loved her school, her new teacher, her friends. She left excited. She came home disgusted. The fourth grade teacher read The Little Engine That Could to the class. To be fair she’d been a kindergarten teacher up until that day. She’s since overcome her first-day faux pas by being “the nicest teacher in the whole world” and my daughter continues to go off to school eagerly every morning in adorably bizarre outfits with hair styles culled from teen magazines.

Her brother? I have no idea where he goes each morning or what he does there all day. He’s a closed book. His sister had been the intermediary but now they’re at different schools. I have him mostly to myself at the crack of dawn and have been trying new conversational tactics. Direct questioning rarely works. Instead I shock him into talking with references to health class or by teasingly poking his armpits and asking if he remembered deodorant. Deodorant has become a big issue here. My ever-helpful husband picked some up for the kids. Did he buy some for himself so I could have mine all to myself? No. But the boy and girl got theirs. Adidas – very sporty – for her and Axe for him. Yes, Axe. I had to sneak out to the store for something prettier smelling for the girl and something just plain less smelling for the boy. I glanced over my shoulders, surreptitiously sniffing deodorants like someone deranged. For the record, Teen Spirit is my favorite. Axe? No. Not so much.

The Pixie needs no prompting. She comes off the school bus talking, although it’s usually about someone else.

“I have something really, really, really, really bad to tell you.” Dramatic pause wherein I imagine she’s been expelled already. “Two boys had to go to the office today.”

Whew. “Why?”

“How should I know?”

“You are polite to your teacher, aren’t you?”

“Yesss. But guess what. One girl in class cries like a baby. All day.”

“That’s awful. Do you try to cheer her up?”

“No. She wants her mommy. She’s not the only one either.”

“Do you miss me at school?”

“No. Silly. What’s for dinner?”

The first day of kindergarten I was dutifully snapping pictures while she waited for the bus. There are several shots of her hand blocking the lens. It made me feel old. Unnecessary. The bus came and she got on. No hesitation, no glances back. I remembered my cousin’s daughter on her first day of kindergarten eleven years ago. She climbed on the bus and turned back to wave to her mother. My Pixie walked straight to her seat, sat facing directly forward, and waited. I wondered if I should cry. And then I realized: She was on an adventure.

It occurred to me her teachers are on an adventure too, they just don’t know it yet. When she came back that afternoon she was full of guess-whats and guess-what-elses. But the first thing to come out of her mouth? “Kindergarten has a LOT of rules!” I wasn’t too surprised to find a note from the teacher in her backpack a moment later. Apparently one of the rules is that you must wear shoes. I immediately bought her shoes with laces, hoping to slow down the kicking off of shoes at every opportunity. The next day was spent showing off her shoe tying (and untying) expertise. Everything is an adventure when you’re five.


School Days


Tomorrow the Pixie will go to school. She’s ready. All paperwork has been filed, immunizations given, pink butterfly book bag appropriated. Gymboree, Gap, and her sister’s dresser drawers have been picked clean. She knows the alphabet and can read and write a handful of words. Mostly our names – including MOM, proof of which is in black permanent marker on the kitchen counter. Yes, she wrote MOM in big, black letters and then grew wide-eyed when I asked her who did it. She looked from one sister to the other as if in horror they could even contemplate such defacement. What an actress! Luckily, I have a pretty good sense of humor and my husband is a cabinetmaker so, like the cobbler’s barefoot children, our kitchen is a serious candidate for Extreme Home Makeover. My faked signature adds character. Because, you know, we didn’t already have enough.

Tonight she’s sleeping with the pink butterfly book bag and matching lunch box. If she’s sleeping at all. Giddiness came free with the set and she skipped through the house all afternoon singing about the joys of owning a book bag – set to the tune of Polly Put the Kettle On. From the top bunk her sister is probably still trying to convince her not to humiliate her, not to ruin her life, not to wear the Cinderella dress and silver sparkle slippers on the first day of school. She’d like her to wear something grown-up and fashionable. A tunic. Not a shirt, a tunic. With leggings. This discussion’s been ongoing the past few days and has made a few people ask what a tunic is. The idiots. She rolls her eyes. I asked if the item in question weren’t more of a swing shirt rather than a tunic and got a glare so hot my skin peeled. My daughter is a fashionista. Do not mess with her.

The Fashionista is fun to shop with though, assuming you have enough money. She loves clothes. She loves to accessorize. She loves to love the clothes I hate. I’m told this is my fault. I have no fashion sense. Possibly true, since she’s not the first to say so. What’s fun about shopping with her is that she’s enthusiastic. She spots a black motorcycle jacket and gauzy red plaid tunic and has to have them. Has to. I hadn’t even noticed them, but now they look kinda cute together. “See? See? Mom! They’re adorable! I can wear this jacket with everything. I can wear the tunic by itself. I can wear them the first day of school. No, it’s not too hot. It’s never too hot to be stylish. And look! The zipper is asymmetrical! Asymmetrical, Mom! Can you believe it?” Before long I want a black motorcycle jacket with a diagonal, asymmetrically placed, unbelievably cool and hot zipper. What’s not fun is shopping with her with the rest of the clan in tow. And they must be towed. They are not willing participants. The Pixie gambols through shops like a young gazelle, leaping in the air and crashing down, clearing shelves with a delighted shriek. Or she drags herself behind us, sullen, sweeping her arms out idly now and then to clear the shelves. She’s unpredictable. It’s like carrying a lit fuse in your purse. She may seem like a perfect little lady at the moment, but you’d be wise to remember she has dismantled window displays and been caught dancing with mannequins. It’s only a matter of time. The Boy is completely predictable. He is not a shopper. We spent days searching for clothes and he liked one shirt. A wide striped one he wanted to buy in six colors so he wouldn’t have to shop anymore. I had visions of Charlie Brown, wearing the same shirt forever. This would suit my son just fine since variety is not the spice of his life.

The first day of school he wore an old t-shirt anyway. The Fashionista deemed this so cool it was uncool, as if he cared. The first day for them came a week ago and that made the Pixie wail. All summer long she’d been waiting and now she had to wait a little more. The day is almost here though and I’m excited for her. I hope I can sleep.



I told the kids come June they’d suffer for all those snow closings and delays this past winter. I also told them that when I was a kid we walked to school in snow. Piles and piles of it. Blizzards even. Barefoot. None of that was true. I did not walk in blizzards barefoot. There may have been slush, but not six foot drifts.

And they are not suffering. Not even close. Yes, school’s been extended into summer to make up for those days spent sledding. Mid-June, their days are spent in the classroom rather than in the backyard climbing trees. They don’t care. Friday I found out why. I’d been invited to an authors’ tea by the third grade. I had no idea what to expect. I asked if I should dress up, which got a laugh from my nine year old. Apparently not. I put my gloves back in the drawer. In the end there were no dainty tea cups or diminutive sandwiches anyway. The authors’ tea featured punch and cookies while the kids took turns reading books they’d written aloud. This is how we spent the morning. I stayed for lunch, which I ate surrounded by giggling girls doing one another’s hair. I saw the fifth grade teachers carrying out tubs of Italian ice for their class party. The rest of the school picnicked under trees with their parents. I passed out chocolate bars to the girls and we went to the playground. They are not suffering. This is one long party. I’m glad.

Flash back to Thursday night’s fifth grade graduation. Belatedly my fifth grader remembered there was a dress code. (Boys!) Everyone scrambled to change into something nicer or even just cleaner and I phoned a friend for advice. Two of her children had already been down this road and a third would give the official welcome that night. The welcomer answered with a “hey”. I asked what he was wearing, thinking to make a joke about it, but he surprised me with “a blazer”. A what? A sport coat? “Mom got me a flower to go on it.” A boutonniere??  I was seriously underdressed. My daughter, who knows everything about everyone, informed me then that a certain fifth grade girl (she of the sun-gold hair and pink sweaters – ah, poetic puberty) had gotten flowers and that all of the graduates were getting gifts. This is fifth grade! We didn’t have grand graduation ceremonies in fifth grade and we certainly didn’t get gifts. We got beat if we DIDN’T graduate to the sixth grade, that’s what we got! I considered telling my children this, then thought better of it. My humor is sometimes lost on them.

Instead I rummaged through my son’s room. He’s allergic to nice clothes, but I knew he had some. If you’ve ever broken an arm you know what I’m saying here: Everyone needs at least one button down shirt. This boy has broken his arm twice. I knew those shirts were in there. I came out waving a pale green dress shirt and matching tie triumphantly. He crossed his arms and set his jaw. Wrestling him to the floor and forcing him into the shirt was a momentary possibility, but I’d spent too much time doing my hair. We compromised. A short sleeve shirt – tucked in. Black trousers – with sneakers. I added a belt, he refused socks. It was a really nice belt though. Worth the loss of the socks. At the last second the phone rang. Could we bring an extra shirt with us? I guessed it was for some underdressed child and we’d never see it again. My son eyed the green shirt and tie. He’s generous.

And then we were sitting in the auditorium. There were speeches and award presentations. They went on forever. Yes, my friends’ children and even my own son gave speeches and were presented awards. You know what I mean though. It went on f o r e v e r.  At the end was a slide show the teachers had put together. A baby picture would appear on the screen, then a photo of a chubby toddler, a toothless grinning six year old, and finally a current picture along with the student’s name. The graduates loved it. As soon as they could guess, they shouted out the names to go with the faces. “Phil!” “Kimmie!” “Tommy!” I had tears welling up long before the image of my sweet little six month old boy in red overalls appeared. I was reminded that this whole production, which I’d thought overkill on a grand scale, was for them. They deserved it. And it would not go on forever. It would go on for a few moments of my life and then they’d be gone. The baby in red overalls became a toddler in nothing but a diaper and cowboy boots riding a stick horse, then a blonde boy rolled on the ground laughing with a big yellow dog and I couldn’t tell them apart by sight or smell. There were turtles and toads in buckets on my back step and pockets filled with marbles and rocks and BBs. He’s discovered where the lost teeth he put under his pillow went. He plays chess. He questions my logic. It won’t go on forever.