I know this isn't the kind of thing a grown woman should admit, but I'm stressed about my back-to-school outfit. "You?'' a colleague asked when I sought wardrobe advice. "You're going to go back to school?'' Technically, my son's the one starting kindergarten. But I'm the one with the jitters. My firstborn is so nonchalant--about making friends, meeting his teachers--that he asked if he could walk himself to school when it starts.
"It's just across the park,'' he protested when I told him that if a 5-year-old showed up alone, the authorities might get involved. "But there are no cars,'' he said. Need I mention that his back-to-school outfit has not crossed his mind? (In fact, I'm pretty sure that as someone who doesn't even glance in the mirror after a haircut, he's not familiar with the concept of a back-to-school outfit.)
Besides, he really has only one look: Little Boy. If only my wardrobe choice were that simple. My outfit will send a message, and I have to decide what it will be: Working Mom? Workout Mom? Worked-up Mom?
Here I am, two decades out of high school, and I'm still worrying about being popular. What if none of the other moms talk to me during drop-off? Or ask me on any play dates? Suppose the PTA president asks me to spearhead the wrapping-paper fund-raising drive and, pleading work pressure, I turn her down, and she goes into gossip overdrive? Those Mean Girls we have heard so much about can grow into Mean Moms, you know.
Then there's all that academic pressure (on me). Sure, my son will have a lot to learn, but he's smart, and he's not expected to possess kindergarten-level knowledge already, as, ahem, I am. Can someone explain the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise--quick? And the sky is blue why exactly?
I have known for years that I would send my son to public school, but I had no idea just how public it would be, as in what mom packs for lunch will be on display for all to see. (Note to self: Include apple slices and baby carrots, even if you know they'll go uneaten. Better some wasted food than a nutrition lecture from the school nurse.)
"You shouldn't worry so much,'' my colleague said when I mentioned my fear of art projects. "Enjoy the last days of summer.''
Easy for her to say. Too young to have children, she has no idea how all-consuming it can be to try to win over your child's teacher--volunteering to chaperone field trips, donating supplies, bringing in books for the class to read. If you're not naturally the goody-two-shoes type, it's all quite exhausting.
The back-to-school catalogs only up the anxiety. Pottery Barn Kids, with its jaunty chalkboards and gingham-lined storage bins, was the worst: "As kids' activities multiply with the start of the new school year,'' it began ominously, prompting me to think of all the kiddie activities I had yet to sign up for, "so does the need for organization.'' Organization? Until a few days ago, I didn't know what time school started or, for that matter, when the year began. I know the information's here somewhere, I thought as I rummaged through the tattered messenger bag in which I file my most important papers. Gingham lined it's not.