Memory of Back to School Clothes Still Causes Angst

One of my mixed emotions from the first day of school was wearing new clothes. My mom would take me school shopping a few days before the school year started and bought a few pairs of pants, several nice shirts, and two pairs of shoes: dress shoes and gym shoes.

My mom never bought me blue jeans for school when I was a kid; instead, she bought me trousers because she didn't want me to be cool and stylish.

The pants were made out of remnants of the same plaid fabric as the 1970s discount couches, probably in the same factory. I would beg and plead with my mom not to buy those particular pants because the other kids would make fun of me. I would have been happy to go in my underwear if it meant not wearing those pants.

That was my pants in 4th grade.
"If they make fun of you, they're not your real friends," she said, an adherent to the June Cleaver philosophy of parenting. Every 9-year-old knows these are the only friends you have, and they're going to give you a raft of crap about everything.

"They make fun of you because they're jealous," she told me another time about something else. At least, I hope it was about something else; I don't think anyone would have been jealous of my pants.

I sometimes think my mom was born an adult because she never understood what children thought, did, or said. Kids absolutely brutalized each other over any weakness or shortcoming at that age. To be fair, we were all morons who thought fart jokes were hysterical and making fun of each other's clothes were comedy gold. Absolutely no one was jealous of anything we wore.

Each year, a few days before school started, my mom took me to the mall and made me try on new clothes. I always hated trying on new clothes because she picked things based on last fall's sizes, which were always too small.

I would break into a nervous flop sweat because nothing would fit. So she would ask the couch manufacturer if they had anything in a bigger size in the back. They always did, and I would get stuck with whatever plaid fashion crime she handed me.

She would make sure to buy pants that were a little too big because "you'll grow into them." One year, I had a growth spurt and outgrew my pants a couple of months after school started. But we didn't get new ones right away, in case I outgrew those too.

For several weeks, I wore high water pants that caused my not-real friends to express their "jealousy" in several cutting insults, which was not at all scarring or the subject of more than one tear-filled therapy session.

The problem finally got solved at Christmas when I got that one gift every young boy dreams of: More pants.

Shoes were a different matter, though; I liked getting new shoes. I always felt special and spiffy with new shoes and was totally convinced that new tennis shoes made me run faster.

At the start of each school year, I got a new pair of gym shoes and a pair of dress shoes. The rule was that I could only wear the gym shoes on gym day and wear dress shoes on non-gym days. I was not allowed to wear gym shoes on the non-gym days.

Of course, she quickly abandoned this rule because I would scuff up the dress shoes by wearing them at recess. Or one time, by stopping my bike by dragging my feet behind me, toes down.

Then my mom would forbid me to wear the dress shoes unless we did something special, like go out to dinner.

We almost never went out to dinner. My family was not a go-out-to-dinner family. 

Like, it had to be someone's birthday, or you had to save the president's life for us to go out to dinner. So I rarely wore my dress shoes and often outgrew them between outings, which my mom believed I did on purpose.

With new clothes on my back and new school supplies in my school box, we both started each new school year with an unrealistic sense of optimism.

"I'm going to be more organized," I declared at the start of every school year. By the third day, my desk looked like the library threw up in it.

"This year, he's going to dress neatly and not scuff the hell out of his shoes," my mom said every year. Within two weeks, everything was stained and permanently rumpled, like I had fought a bear over a taco.

When I entered high school, I was finally allowed to dress the way I wanted: dark blue jeans and golf shirts, and I parted my hair down the middle.

And yes, I was every bit as cool as that sounds.

My mom no longer selected my pants either. She only bought the jeans I wanted, and I was very happy.

The furniture store went out of business that winter, though.

Photo credit: Marinha (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

My humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.