Back-to-school rituals

A sign of summer’s end and a return to schedules, routine

By Ken Partridge

It always started in August and it always felt like an intrusion on my summer holidays. The dreaded back-to-school period.

While I was busy wringing the last drop of summer out of every day, staying out till after dark and coming up with ridiculous reasons and games that, if I just believed in them hard enough, would somehow stave off the arrival of September, my mom was busy planning her return to sanity.

It usually began with a visit to the doctor’s office sometime around mid-month. Our annual check-up, she called it. Step on the scale, measure our height, get us to cough, look in our mouth and ears, make a bunch of notes, and send us off. Easily a half-day lost when I could have been in the field behind our house defending the “fort” from invading hordes. I put fort in quotation marks because a single wide plank nailed to an accommodatingly perpendicular tree branch requires a certain amount of imagination to really appreciate.
A trip to the dentist always came next. This was much more serious then the doctor’s visit. While the doctor always seemed like a waste of time, the dentist was far from an inconvenience. He wanted to poke and prod, to scrape and occasionally fill something. Yeah, no matter how much the sun shone on those days, it always seemed gloomy.

The one bright spot of the annual ritual was shopping day. In my house, my mother and grandmother engaged in this mysterious ritual called Saturday Shopping. It always started early in the morning on while cartoons were just getting into full swing, and it lasted till after supper time. Kids were definitely not invited. Except once a year when we got to peek behind the curtain.

Back-to-school shopping meant one by one each of us kids would get to join the weekly outing. We tagged along to all the places mom and nan went, ate lunch in a restaurant, and usually came back with a new toy. In between you had to put up with a lot of boring clothing stores, especially the ones just for women, try on several outfits, and accept they always thought you looked the best in the clothes you hated the most. Still, it was an adventure.

Eventually I had a son of my own and attempted to continue the same program, because that’s what good parents do, right? It was a little more challenging since his mom and I were no longer together and she had her own ideas of how the back-to-school ritual was supposed to go, but many of the same elements persisted: the clothes shopping, the school supplies, the medical visits.

Fast forward even further to my second son, and everything has changed. Clothes shopping? His maternal grandmother loves to buy clothes for gifts, so between Christmas, birthday, Easter, grading, and her several trips away during the year, he needs little in the way of new clothes come September. Medical check-ups? Those are on set schedules and booked way in advance, so they have little to do with going back to school. School supplies? Teachers prefer to buy their own supplies these days, so it’s more a case of dropping off a cheque.

What about you? Do you have any memories of back-to-school rituals you’re willing to share? We would love to hear about them. Tell us what your parents used to do or how you’ve adapted it to your family. We always enjoy hearing stories from our readers.

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