My Dad was an architect and each back to school season, he would stack my textbooks on the kitchen table and – while we were sleeping – he would meticulously wrap each text book in unfolded brown paper grocery bags. He was a master builder with his hands and his careful textbook wrapping was a work of art, a task he clearly took pride in. As a child, you never think about taking a picture of the kind things that people did for you – especially your parents – but I would love to see those tight, neatly wrapped corners and his black block lettering across the top with my name, the subject and the date. I filled those otherwise blank covers with doodles of my name next to the last names of cute boys in social studies and chain linked block S’s that connected with butterflies, peace signs and ying yangs. I was living my best ’90’s life and back to school was a blur of new clothes, old and new friends, homework to ignore, notes to pass, and cute boys.
There are still old and new friends, I still doodle, and my house is filled with cute boys – but this time, those boys are my husband and son, and I’m the parent.
We’re starting our own back to school traditions, which so far consist of me crying every time someone mentions it. I never appreciated the routine of having the freshest wrapped textbooks in fifth grade, but looking back now, it’s my most vivid back to school memory. As our family creates our own memories, our life looks a little different than it did for my parents – two hardworking Romanian immigrants who were doing the best that they could in their second language for two generally unappreciative children in suburban New Jersey.
For one, my children have their life and my successes and failures on public view because I took a job and live a life that allows me to try, fail, succeed and learn out loud for the benefit (and amusement) of us all. My parents tried to talk about giving back in their own way, but when the uncertainty of having enough for yourself is a reality, it changes your view on the world. We have more resources than my parents had and because of those resources, we have more time with our children and can have the important conversations about the opportunity and responsibility that comes with that privilege. So, the Smiths are working to establish some back to school routines of our own and I wanted to share them with you here (and I can’t wait to hear yours!).
We talk about kindness. Full disclosure, this is year round because of my work at Born This Way Foundation but during back to school season in particular, we talk about making new friends, standing up for yourself and others, and how to treat people the way that we’d want to be treated. We talk about, model, and role play kindness in the cafeteria, in the classroom, on the playground, and with teachers and other friends. Our children watch us and – just as my daughter walks around in a princess dress, mimicking being too busy to answer any questions because she’s on a phone, headed to the airport for yet another flight – they learn kindness, empathy, and friendship from watching how my husband and I talk to each other, to our family, to strangers, and to ourselves. (Want to make kindness a part of your back to school routine? Join our 21 Days To Be Kind challenge.)
We buy (at least) two of everything. I was shocked by the price of glue sticks and if you want a sparkly folder, they are twice of those matte versions (if you wanted to be on trend with the Lisa Frank’s – or whatever the 2018 version of that is – then we’re paying more than $4 for a folder piece of hard paper). I am grateful that I can complain about the prices without having to worry about them. I am able to buy the most custom of colored pencil carrying cases and monogrammed journals but I don’t love my children more than the many, many parents that cannot afford these basic school supplies and, certainly, my children don’t deserve them any more than other children. This year, I started a conversation on an online mom’s forum and found a teacher who shared that she spends more than $450 out of her own pocket for her 28 students. I asked her what she most urgently needed, she told me, my daughter and I went shopping, and this is a picture of a bag near my front door that she’ll pick up tomorrow.
We donate on DonorsChoose.org. This incredible community was founded by Charles Best, based on his experiences as a teacher in New York City. If I’m in a bad mood, or having a rough day, I’ll go online and donate to these incredible teachers and their beautiful classrooms. I went to a school that needed for nothing, as will my children. All children should have books, sensory appropriate classrooms, access to mental and emotional wellness curricula, and so much more and DonorsChoose.org does important work in trying to increase access and equity in education.
We volunteer. I have alerts set up for Volunteer Match projects in our community and I’m constantly on the hunt to providing tangible opportunities for my children to be in a community of people focused on acts in service to someone else, without the expectation of anything in return. Whether it’s at the food bank for Family Sort weekends, or through one of our favorite local organizations, Mindful Littles, or the constant coloring of lunch bags for Kids Food Basket that my children do, back to school season is an incredible opportunity to focus on friendship, community, and generosity.
We (I) cry. Again, and again and again.
I’m new at this. I’m pretty sure my babies were just born yesterday and that they are way too young to be wearing backpacks and in the care of other people for hours a day, reading books and learning things other than my coffee order at Starbucks, but here we are. When the textbooks start coming home, I’ll call my Dad and ask him about his tight wrapping techniques and his heart will swell with the memories that I am living right now.
Happy, Kind Back To School, Friends.