Planning for school is quite a task—choosing curriculum, ordering books, purchasing supplies. It takes a lot of time and thought. My mother never homeschooled her five children, but her job to prepare us for school was just as challenging. She had an incredibly organized system to accomplish that goal, but the process never took precedence over making each of us children feel special.
A TRADITION IS BORN
In early August we took inventory of our clothing. Mom sat on the edge of my bed with notepad in hand, recording my needs with the most beautiful cursive writing. Ours was an extremely frugal family and often my list was short since I had an older sister whose hand-me-downs supplied most of my wardrobe. My sister was much taller than I and the clothes never fit perfectly, but Mom altered them often by ripping out the seams and remaking the garment using the worn material. There was one exception and that was the outfit for the first day of school. Mom always made sure that we had something new to wear.
Our first stop was the upstairs sewing room where we’d pour over boxes of patterns and stacks of fabric my mother had bought inexpensively at a local warehouse. I’d choose a pattern and fabric for my new shirt, skirt, gauchos, or pants. If the fabric inventory was low or mom didn’t have a pattern in my size, we went to the fabric store, sat side-by-side paging through pattern books, and searched the remnant table for the perfect piece of fabric.
A few weeks later, with list in hand, Mom and I went school shopping for the things she could not sew. This was a highlight of my year! With four siblings, I recognized the treasure of having Mom all to myself for a few hours. We generally started at Kmart (before the Wal-Mart years) and purchased the “foundational garments” mom couldn’t make. Sometimes we bought shoes but our family most often went to a friend’s store to purchase everyone’s shoes at the same time. We bought new notebooks, folders, notebook paper, a new box of 64 Crayola crayons complete with sharpener (I still love the smell of those crayons!), and whatever else we needed that year—a lock for a locker, an assignment book, or a book bag (pre-backpack years). When every item on the list had been crossed off, Mom let us pick out something special that we wanted. Once I chose a set of watercolors. Another time we got a treat from the Kmart food counter—cherry red Icees with pictures of polar bears on the cup. When I came home with my bags of treasures, I presented them to my siblings and later to my dad when he got home from work.
Our shopping days changed a bit over the years. When I was in eighth grade, we went to the outlets in Redding, PA. The following year when I was in high school, there were only three children at home and money wasn’t quite as tight. We began to buy jeans and a few other things at the mall, but Mom still sewed whatever she could. I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but she managed to make stylish clothes by combining several patterns for one garment or allowing us to help design our own pattern. On our last school shopping trip, for college, she helped me find a rug remnant and coordinating comforters for my dorm room. I remember little of the items we purchased over the years, but I still feel the warmth of uninterrupted time with Mom.
EMBRACING THE TRADITION
Now I am making precious back-to-school memories with our four daughters. The first year I began to homeschool, I had a five-year-old, a two-year-old, and a six-week-old. I wasn’t really thinking about shopping. I was just glad to have my curriculum! School days were short and we had many opportunities to shop for new clothes or school supplies we needed. As the girls got older, I recognized the need to spend one-on-one time with them and my heart remembered those special shopping days with Mom.
We adopted the tradition of back-to-school shopping days, but with a Moore family twist. We still take inventory of clothing, pass along the hand-me-downs (a rare thing since all the girls are now nearly the same size!) and I make a list of what each one needs. We also take inventory of what school supplies each daughter has and will need in the coming school year. I schedule a day for each daughter and together we “conquer the list.” There is no sewing room or fabric or patterns. I high-tail it to Wal-Mart! We collect our school supplies first, and then we pick up any “foundational garments” and hit the sales racks. Depending on what’s on the list, we may end up at our favorite thrift shop. In our area of Virginia, it’s not always easy to find winter clothes in August, so we often finish our shopping later in the season.
Like my mom, I let the girls choose something they’d like—something that isn’t a necessity. Over the years, Abigail chose a bendable pink ruler, Anna chose a collapsible ruler, Elisabeth chose a paint-by-number picture of a horse, and Victoria chose a beautifully decorated journal notebook. If it fits in the budget, we may get some ice cream or even have lunch at a fast food restaurant. Most of all I make opportunity laugh and to listen. I don’t want it to be a totally serious time, but if it seems appropriate I’ll ask what they liked or disliked about the school year before, what they’re looking forward to, and what they’re thinking about for the future. And like days gone by, when we return home one sister joyfully shares her newly-purchased treasures with the other sisters.
This year I thought we’d try something different. Since time was limited because of our Guatemala missions trip, I thought we’d do a joint shopping day at an outlet center sometime in the fall. It seemed like a good idea at the time since two are at the community college and didn’t really need much in the way of supplies or clothing. But here I am, three weeks into school, feeling the loss of those special moments with my girls. I don’t miss the shopping, but it’s not really about shopping. I miss the one-on-one time with my daughters, one way I can communicate to them how precious and valuable they are to me. It doesn't matter that we’ve already started school. I’ll squeeze in some time with my girls between Chemistry and Algebra 2, and thank my mom for taking time to make back-to-school memories with me.