It seems like it hasn’t been that long since the school district broke for summer and now it’s already time for the kids to go back to school. When my kids were school age, they looked forward to shopping for new clothes, shoes, and school supplies. Every fall when those back to school shopping commercials began, my kids would get excited about the possibilities. My thoughts, of course, always centered on the cost associated with purchasing all of the things they wanted so badly. In general, I would discreetly spread the shopping out over a couple of weeks to keep from straining the household budget too much at one time. The lengthening of the process also allowed the teachers time to submit that second supply list with the one special item you could only find at one store in town. The other thing I would do is find out if there were family members who might be feeling the urge to share a little back to school love by contributing toward helping the kids get geared up for the new school year.
I found that the grandparents were always on board with the idea of sending their grand babies off to school looking sharp so I always provided the opportunity for them to join the back to school shopping initiative. Before the days of high school sports teams, we used to travel south mid summer to visit the grandparents so the kids would start their school shopping down south. Grammy and Papa would fund a couple of outfits and Grandma, in keeping with her practical shopping theme, would buy a couple of school outfits and something for them to wear to church. In addition, I could usually count on my mother, Grandma, to send a check right before school started to help with the other things.
Mama taught school for forty-two years before retiring so for her there couldn’t be too much preparation for the school year. My mother firmly believed that students had a more positive experience when they felt good about their learning environments and that included how they felt about themselves. As a child, I can remember her shopping for her own school clothes. I don’t think her students ever knew that she cared for them so much that she wanted to project her concern, compassion, and pride for them and their learning environment through her wardrobe. I am pretty sure they didn’t know that she carefully selected clothing that would make her look professional, yet approachable, to them and their families. From the holiday sweaters to the denim dresses and colorful coordinated accessories, she modeled respect for the educational process while she served as a teacher. As a retiree and grandmother, she wanted that for her grandchildren too.
So, while I was being shocked by the back to school signage, commercials and challenging the system about whether or not all of this was about need or just marketing campaigns, my mother was busy celebrating and encouraging the process. My mother reminded me to embrace the freshness and new potential of each school year with the excitement of a child instead of focusing on the challenges of the process. While I was dealing with the shock of the realization that their toes were at the ends of their shoes and that the clothes I bought in the spring were too small, she planted seeds of hope. While I was complaining about having to buy yet another backpack, she was filling the kids with ideas that promoted enthusiasm about school and learning. Mama expressed her passion for teaching and learning to the kids with soft words and anecdotal stories about the children she taught. Mama balanced the back to school drama with a calm and collected presence. Everybody working through the back to school shopping challenges needs someone like mama in their village.
Mama always kept the discussions with the kids centered on what they might learn and what they expected from the school year. They talked to her about their friends or the kinds of friends and teachers they hoped to have in their classes. She never talked to them about the things that challenged me like the budget for the clothes and how to stretch the money to cover those clothes and the stuff they needed to fill the backpacks. Mama taught me that my budgetary concerns were not concerns for my children. She forced me to manage my budget and grown up concerns and let the kids be kids and think on kid things. She forced me to see that I should not make the kids feel any guilt about the cost of their clothing increasing as their clothing sizes increased. All kids, like mine, ought to be able to concern themselves with the business of being kids and the things that come with that come with that like laughter, dreaming, healthy curiosity for new adventures and challenges and playing. Grown ups ought to be tasked with figuring out how. Therefore, the issue of budgeting for their needs rested with me.
Encourage your children to be excited about learning. Don’t muffle the sounds of their playful energy or stifle their development with your grown up stress. Don’t restrict their potential because your grown up life may have some limitations. Allow children in your community to enter the schoolyard free to explore and absorb the spirit of youthful pleasures. I am forever grateful to Mama for her maturity and expertise as an educator and parent. I am grateful that she didn’t restrict her wisdom to the confines of her physical classroom, but sought every opportunity to teach and parent. Mama taught me the value of extending myself and my gifts beyond the theoretical and expected arenas into a larger audience thirsting for the gift of an excellent villager.