In the “olden days,” when we began to get ready to go back to school, (in September!), it was quite an event. We would find out who our teacher was going to be toward the end of the summer and compare notes with the kids who lived in our neighborhood.
Actually a beautiful friendship of mine ended because he and I fought over who was going to have the best teacher. (Previously we had always been in the same class.) We ended up arguing over whose dad could beat up the other one’s dad and that’s when I decided to go home — even then I was a pacifist.
Then there was clothes shopping. It was so wonderful to have a day to have my mom all to myself. She usually took me to a little shop in Detroit proper that was so easy to navigate and I always loved the skirt and sweater outfits the best, as well as the cute hair accessories.
This was, of course, followed by shoe shopping. We frequented two family owned shoe stores —“Martin’s” and “Jerome’s.” The simplicity of the names is indicative of the relative ease of the process. There was always a “real” person to measure your foot with one of those sliding thingys and then my sisters and I could practice on each other, sitting on the “shoe horse” while we were waiting for him to come back out with a stack of shoe boxes taller than he was. (Most often it was a “he.”) We each got three pairs — school, party, and gym. Those lasted the entire year, usually. (Later on in the season, we got snow boots if there wasn’t a pair to be handed down.) Ah, the smell of new shoes.
Then, of course, there was shopping for school supplies once the list was mailed to us. Oh, how we loved sharpening and arranging all of our pencils in our new pencil cases, putting our lined paper and dividers with the little clear colored tabs in our loose-leaf binders and arranging our erasers, crayons, scissors, etc., in our (real) cigar boxes.
And we can’t forget our back to school haircuts — it was quite a project to get our straggly, chlorine-soaked hair looking shiny, stylish and worthy of a new school year.
The actual going back to school may have been a bit anticlimactic compared to the month-long event of getting ready.
When I became a mom with school age children, I tried to continue a similar ritual with my kids. Although back to school clothes were mostly jeans and T-shirts — the idea of multiple pairs of shoes was sort of scoffed at, and school supplies, well, just didn’t seem to have the same “je ne sai quoi” (although my daughter still says she remembers and absolutely loved shopping for them.)
And now, during the pandemic, I hope to try to help make the back to school preparations special for my grandchildren, although not being able to be close to or touch them is a bit of an issue.
My four-year-old granddaughter is a twirler, so I look forward to buying her a few outfits and watching her excitement (from a distance). The boys don’t like trying things on, but maybe school supplies will get them twirling.
The idea of back to school is frightening to me, now — for my grandchildren and also for my daughter, who is a teacher.
I just don’t remember school being that scary in the ’50s and ’60s — an occasional eminent blizzard where we had to quickly get home, or when my friend Aralyn brought her little brother for show and tell and he knocked out his front teeth on the drinking fountain, which looked like a murder scene.
I’m so glad my kids all have good heads on their shoulders, know and understand what is best for their children and that they are the ones making these decisions and not me.
Last fall, my daughter’s family was at our house for dinner one night, pre-COVID, and our (then) five-year-old grandson was telling us about his school day. He was especially excited because there had been a “lockdown” practice.
He was explaining how there could be a “bad” person in the school with a gun. I looked at his perfect little innocent face and I had to get up from the table as the tears welled up in my eyes. And, silly me, I thought fire drills were terrifying.
And now, I think of those beautiful children, wearing masks, sanitizing, trying to remember to stay far apart — when the teachers are less approachable as they will practically need to be wearing hazmat suits. It seems as though going back to school just gets more and more confusing.
We have our work cut out for us and I don’t just mean the school authorities. As you guys have probably figured out by now, I’m not the most practical person in the world, but it seems to me that somehow, some way we will keep networking, planning and making sure our voices are heard and we will figure out how to make schools safe again.
They say history repeats itself. Well, I truly think that we can find a way to go back to a less complicated time — a time when you needed party shoes and when the teacher’s lap during story time was the safest place in the school.