Thursday, August 23, 2007

Going Back to School.

As August advances toward the end of another summer, many heavy hearts face the start of another year. It's always seemed to me as if New Year's Day was rather misplaced. While it's true that the season doesn't officially conclude until well into September, I'm certain the nation's students would echo my viewpoint. It is the time of the year that hordes of harried parents trot their kids to Walmart for the latest in Fall fashions and back-to-school supplies. It may no longer be the age of trapper keepers and number two pencils, but I'm sure the basics of this annual consumerist extravaganza remain essentially the same. Perhaps the teens are wearing thongs instead of boxers, but if you listen very closely you can hear the almost imperceptible swipe of a million credit cards.

I remember, as the years went by, how my varying reactions to these pre-Autumn shopping treks evolved. When I was very small, I absolutely hated going to the store for new clothing. I could have cared less what my mother set out for me to wear in the morning. I'm sure that the process of dragging me out to the mall was tense and grueling. There were probably occasions when I just quit altogether and had to be screamed at before I'd get up off the floor of the local K-MART. An inevitable transformation began as I started my approach to my teen years. I began to care about what the other kids thought about me.

I grew up not far from the outlet stores in Reading. This became the yearly destination just prior to the start of school. My parents gave me a ballpark figure of what they would like to spend, and I was left generally to my own discretion. Figuring out what would be that year's "cool" look was always a challenge for me. I was definitely conscious of being a sort of perpetual outsider. For at least the first two years of high school, I definitely got it wrong. I feel a sort of sad sentimentality for the person I was- struggling to figure out the connection between the right clothes and the popular cliques. Now I mostly feel relief that I left that mentality behind me years ago. It's clear that many adults I interact with have never quite outgrown those concerns.

But there was another refreshing side to that whole situation. Because you could fail time and time again, and still hold out a glimmer of hope that the upcoming year would hold some new kind of promise. You always had an outside shot at changing your identity. In retrospect, there was probably even more possibility than I realized at that time. Kids are notoriously fickle, and the time in between early June and late August felt like years. In conjunction with the palpable physical changes that maturation brought, there was the unquestioning acceptance of superficial cues... including the clothes one chose to wear. It really wasn't out-of-the-question to go from "zero to hero" in ten weeks time. Just try that now in adulthood.

Imagine if you had an annual option to transform yourself in other people's eyes. You would see the rules change immediately. You wouldn't be constrained by employment woes, home mortgages, parenthood or practical social networks. The success of the new identity you assumed and attempted to project would quickly be determined through your initial interactions with those you'd see daily for the next ten months. There would be a lot riding on those crucial first days. Imagine the excitement and anticipation you'd feel. With the perspective of adulthood, you'd be able to appreciate the opportunity to make a bunch of decisions that didn't carry the weight of lifelong consequence. And you'd have the wisdom to realize that the game was constantly transforming, and that you'd get another shot next year. In that light, it doesn't seem half bad, does it?

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4 Comments:

Anonymous jefg said...

For adults, that'd be called moving to a new city periodically. Wouldn't work for me, but... Regardless, an interesting observation relating going back to school to the constraints of adulthood.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Dagrims said...

Remember the "Ugly Shirts"? Those mismatched rugby shirts with different patterns on each sleeve, front, and back?

Remember the time we bought them at the Reading outlets, thinking they were going to be in fashion?

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uniforms, including shoes, should be required. As a teacher in WV I saw too many educations of poor kids interferred with by fashion.
JM

9:12 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

jefg,

But adults still have economic and employment concerns that they can't outrun.

dagrims,

I hadn't until you brought them up again. WE were visionaries... that was when? 1986-1987? Those predated grunge, and would have fit the era perfectly. At least five years before our time, we were.

anon,

Who would pay for the uniforms?

5:56 PM  

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