This time of year, I see back to school sales at office supply stores, I see commercials for back to school clothes, I see pictures of my friends from childhood sending their own kids back to school on Facebook, and I, like most people, get a little jolt of some emotion I cannot name. It’s part anxiety, part excitement, part mystery.
It is the feeling of back to school.
I loved school, so I loved back to school stuff even more. I didn’t always love myself as a kid, so I often thought of summer breaks as my chance to reinvent myself, become more of the person that the popular kids seemed to be looking for. It should be said that a) it never worked, and b) it always seemed to be more of the concept of popular kids that I liked more than the kids themselves. It didn’t take me too long to start not giving a shit what people thought of me, which then morphed into really caring what people thought of me, in that I hoped they thought I was weird. UNCOMFORTABLE TRUTHS!
The first part of back to schooling it would be clothes shopping for the new year.
Some of my best memories of childhood are from once-a-year clothes shopping trips with my mother and sister, and also some of my worst. We would go to Belk in the local mall, as back then they didn’t have clothing stores outside of department stores at our mall, and certainly not stores with clothes for tweens. We were not a political force. My sister and I were both morphing into people very different from each other, but because she was my big sister, I would constantly watch what she did and often try and emulate it, while denying I was ever doing this. My sister and I would wander around the Juniors section in Belk, increasingly moodily, picking out sweaters and pants and other cold weather items to try on. Our Mom, famously, would hold up things that she liked, ask “What about this, do you like this?” and 9 times out of 10 we’d say “Nooooo…..”, to which she’d reply “Well OKAY then”. It was a fun dance. Sometimes my Mom would stand outside the dressing room, asking if something was too tight and if we needed bigger sizes, and we would have epic meltdowns inside, because most likely, she was right. I see girls having breakdowns in Target dressing rooms now, their Moms yelling outside the locked door, and I smile and nod sympathetically.
As time went on, Belk suited our needs less and less, as my sister tended towards tailored business suits (I’m not kidding) and I tended towards band shirts and old men’s pants, but for the early years, we walked into Belk with a sense of excitement- we get a shopping spree, and anything could be in here! It was intoxicating.
After buying clothes came the ritual of Open House.
Open House, for the unaware, is when you go to your school in the early evening, with your parents, to meet your new teachers and check each other out. I got dressed for Open House very carefully, as it was an exotic evening for a middle schooler. First, you’re at school at night, which is just weird, and second, you want people to go “Holy shit, is that Emily?! She looks so grown up and hot!” Right? I actually still remember an outfit I wore to an elementary school Open House, which was knee-length white denim shorts, a pink t-shirt, and a floral vest. For some reason I was really into vests.
After collecting school supply requirements from teachers at Open House, the final part of the ritual would be going to Kmart to get school supplies. To this day, I have a bit of a fetish for school supplies. I love notebooks, I love portfolio holders, I LOVED Trapper Keepers more than anything. We’d run down the list of binders and paper types and pens and pencils, and I’d wander the office supply aisles, staring lovingly at desk cozies and other weird plastic things meant to hold other things. It was heaven. (Ask anyone, I still can lose myself in an Office Depot for at least an hour)
After the rituals are complete, the only thing left is to wait for school to start. I’d lay out my outfit, get in bed early, and drool in anticipation of using my new notecards or new pens. Like most things, the anticipation would be the best part. It was good to learn that early.