School Series:Back to School Shopping

It's been a while. It's been hard getting my brain to think and complete whole sentences, so that's the reason for my absence. I'm hoping a combination of really strong coffee and an hour of silence will help me break this blogging dry spell. There have been many new developments for us. For one we moved to Aiea, or central Hawaii. Also my son, who was just a baby yesterday, started kindergarten and my daughter who is now 3 started preschool at the same school. In Hawaii kids start school at the end of July so its been a whole month and 1/2 so far. Its been an incredible blessing having the kids out of the house during the day but it does come with it's own set of challenges and revelations. Like, I thought I was past the point of having crazy meltdowns regarding my son's behavior, but then... homework. I thought I was past the point of wanting to rip out what still remains of my hair (the rest is slowly growing back thanks to postpartum baldness) but then... getting ready in the morning... and school drop off and pickup etc. So this is going to be a series of a few posts about the whole going to school experience.  This one is about back to school shopping.

I remember printing the list of back to school supplies, it was daunting because the list was like a mile long. It listed really specific things like, "4 bottles of Aloe Vera hand soap" and "fine tipped dry erase maker." We bought all the stuff and I ordered awesome cute labels and we diligently labeled each crayon, pen, pencil, notebook etc.

Then the whole buying book bags and lunch boxes was super stressful. Joe and I decided on going to a discount department store.  It took us forever to pick which lunch boxes and book bags would be best. Joe picked up one with the Disney Pixar's Car theme and I was like "That's so preschool and 2011" and I wondered, maybe kindergarten boys are out of the whole picking-a-cartoon phase, and now they're into name brands like Nike. What if all the other kids have Nike and Adidas book bags, and Joey's the only one with a cartoon-ish book bag. Then with Kaitlyn too, should we do a Frozen book bag, which we are all so over BTW, or a Puma one? Or is Hello Kitty still cool? Joe triumphantly found a Batman book bag and said it had to be the one, but I was like "What if that's not cool right now" his response was "Batman is always cool." so that's how that ended. We spent 20 minutes discussing comparing and picking new book bags, clothes, and lunch boxes. We decided on cartoon themed book bags and sport name brand lunch boxes.

The first day of school started and as I saw all the kids gather in their class, I realized that they all shopped at the same discount department store, because each child had either a book bag or lunch box of one of the items we considered. They all had the same ones! Joey was the only one with a batman book bag though (dad fist pump). I think half the girls in the school had the same Hello Kitty book bag that Kaitlyn had too. Not only that, but a mom dropping her kid off was wearing the same dress as me! It was like we looked at each other and knew we both shopped at the discount rack at the discount department store, and that's way more information than you need to know about someone before you even meet them. Needless to say we quickly looked the other way.

Now every time I drop my son off at school and I see all their lunch boxes laid out, I can't help but laugh. I wonder if the other parents stressed about it the way I did. I realized there was a reason I stressed about it. I remember when I was young my parents did not care at all about what we wore and what kind of book bag we had. I remember going to school in Adidios sneakers with 5 stripes instead of 3, or sneakers that looked like Sketchers, (which were all the rage in the mid nineties) but they didn't have the name "Sketchers" on them or any label at all, and they had 6 stripes instead of 2. And I carried a BonSport book bag instead of a JanSport. To my parents the difference was negligible, just a few letters missing and a couple extra stripes, but in the intricate and brutal social strata of middle school, it had profound consequences. It was bad enough that I was one of the only Asians in the entire school and that I looked different from everybody else, no matter what I wore, but having weird inaccessible knock-offs made it that much more difficult. It almost looked like my parents went out of their way to buy me fake stuff. When people would snicker and I would tell my mom, her response was always "They're jealous!"... Right..I wanted to say, "No one is jealous of my BonSport book bag mom!! Why would they be jealous when they have JanSport book bags!!" but I never did. When we were standing there fretting over Batman or Nike, or Frozen or Hello Kitty, we were fretting over something more. We want more for our kids than what we had. I want more for my kids than to just get good grades and learn, but I want them to have a positive school experience, unlike the one I had.

It made me think about being a second generation Asian American parent. We might have shook our fists at our tiger parents growing up. We kicked down the door of our childhood and adolescence and emerged into adulthood with a list called "Things My Parents Did That I Will Never Do." After becoming a parent though I've slowly had to cross things off that list because I've become guilty of doing them. Not only that, I see the list differently now. I understand my parents now in a way I didn't back then. I remember my mom would scold us during the summer and say "How can you watch TV all summer? When you go to school you are going to be behind!!!" My brother and I would look at each other incredulously. "Doesn't she know it's summer as in 'There Is No School!!'" But I understand now that my mom didn't want to compare us to other kids. She was comparing us to her standard. My parents poured their lives into raising us and giving us every opportunity they might not have received themselves. Just as they wanted us to have what they didn't, I want my son to have all that I had, and more.

These are some of the things I've been thinking about since school started. Realizing these subconscious wishes for my kids, and finding myself identifying with my parents along the way, helps me to prioritize, and it helps me refocus on what is important now and the plethora of similar lunch boxes and book bags at my son's school are a daily reminder of that. In the end I know I need to enjoy the first year of school, and many more "firsts" to come.

Speaking of, here are some pictures of their first school carnival!

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