recess radio program

9/07/04
First Day of School
    by Alisson Clark

As the summer draws to a close, the newspaper arrives at our house stuffed with advertisements for back-to-school supplies. Although it's been years since I've needed any of them, the sight of all those crisp new folders, boxes of pencils and assorted doodads still gives me a little thrill.

Back-to-school time was an opportunity to reinvent yourself, to trade up from those garish Lisa Frank folders with their neon colors to something immeasurably more mature, like leaping dolphins or a doe-eyed baby seal. So many choices to make -- book covers, pens, even Trapper Keepers -- the all-in-one organizer with a three-ring binder, zipper pockets and a Velcro fastener that sounded like a sonic boom when a whole class opened them simultaneously. Together, these materials formed the intellectual presence you put forth for an entire school year. This required some serious deliberation in the aisle of the drug store. " Hmm. . . what statement do I really want to make this year: Fluffy kitten, or fluffy puppy?"

Determining your destiny before the school year starts is a tall order for a schoolkid. It's little wonder some of our pricey Trapper Keepers were mysteriously lost in the lunchroom, begrudgingly replaced by our parents with some middle-of-the-year leftover from the discount store. Even the ignominy of a plain, solid-color folder was better than one covered with the name of last month's crush.

The only thing more complicated than back-to-school supplies was back-to-school clothing. In my family, this was the shopping expedition of the year. My mother had suffered through years of buying corduroy pants and flannel shirts for my older brothers, and now she had someone to send to school in gingham and lace. Never mind that no one else in the 1980s was wearing gingham and lace. I went to elementary school not so much dressed as festooned, carrying my weight in smocking and woolly tights. While the rest of my classmates climbed the monkey bars in their shorts and T-shirts, I sat on the swings, carefully, so as not to crush my crinoline.

Before I started the fifth grade, I had to put my foot down. I wanted to dress like all the other girls. And so, the Polly Flinders dresses were mothballed, coming out only for the first day of school, when I relented and let my mother have her way. For one day, I could stomach wearing those frilly, fluffy things -- as long as they matched my hot-pink unicorn folders.

Copyright 2004 Alisson Clark

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."