Breath held, I hit “post” on my social media page. The PTA moms would no doubt see it.
Respectfully, I wrote, it had been a long teach-at-home year given the lockdown. Now that we were back in person, would it be possible to spare parents the mental load of those monthly “dress your child like a ________” days?
Everyone knew that of which I spoke. They called them “spirit weeks.” In honor of ________ Awareness, your child was to wear school colors to school on Monday, her favorite color on Tuesday. Maybe we’d get a scaled-down respite for “odd sock” Wednesday, before stretching (clearly stretching) into “lighten up Thursday” (pastels only). By Friday, what remained of teacher creativity and parent patience was channeled into some abstract application of the theme like “colors in my heart” or “shades of togetherness”.
We’d all been that parent who forgot a day. Many who saw my social media post admitted – privately – that their child had worn the scarlet tee of shame in a sea of “black or white if you do testing RIGHT!” The sin of omission was worse when a spirit week required costuming. History day, Hollywood day. “Dress like a Dr. Seuss character” was a perennial choice – sometimes for literacy promotion, but once I saw it during “Say No to Drugs” week. (Have you seen a Dr. Seuss character? Was the anti-drug campaign supposed to result in someone coming up to your child and asking what they were on?)
But why not, a neighbor shrugged. Spirit weeks didn’t cost, and they made the kids feel “unity.” He disregarded the emotional cost to the parent responsible for child-dressing, for remembering, calendaring, cajoling.
And when I thought about it, that was my issue with spirit week. It wasn’t the forced awareness or conformity. It was the exhaustion of trivial rule-following, after feeling judged for an entire pandemic year over how my children appeared in public, or didn’t. It was online learning in which teachers could scrutinize how neatly I maintained my kitchen table. It was the fear of choosing wrong on an offer of play with neighbors, where saying no could (psychologists said) send my kids down a deep vortex of social isolation.
It was the fear of my child missing out versus the fear that my child would die of participation.
I was too tired for Pajama Day. Yet it of all things had survived the plague.
I couldn’t control the school. But my work team? That was different. As we trickled back into the office, we’d be beyond trivial requirements. We’d relax! And so I announced:
Upon return, in solidarity, jeans are highly encouraged.