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Dirtying white sneakers & other back-to-school rituals

“Step on my shoes. Please, just step on them.”

I spent about $75 on back-to-school shoes for my kids and now I’m being asked to scuff them up so they don’t look new.

You know summer is over when you have to squeeze your bare feet into shoes again and the annual dirty-the-white-sneakers ritual resumes.

Even without looking at the calendar I could tell you that a new school year is here. I spent last weekend cleaning and organizing the house with this incredible, overwhelming sense of expectation, almost like the nesting instinct that kicked in right before I gave birth. 

A mother’s body just knows when something big is about to go down.

Every family has its own rituals for getting back into the school swing. With comforting predictability, we’ve returned to our own traditions, big and small, signaling the seasonal shift. Outside, it may still be so hot that you have to drive your car with two fingers, but in our minds and habits, autumn is upon us. 

I read recently about a mom who bought a copy of “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” by Dr. Seuss, and wrote a note to her son in the front cover on his first day of kindergarten. On the last day of school, she asked her son’s teacher to add a note. She did this in secret each year. When her son graduated from high school, she gave him the book as a gift.

I’m about 10 years too late to be that clever, so my kids have to settle for the subtle, less creative back-to-school routines we’ve established. 

The new school supplies have been laid out like offerings on a sacred altar. 

I’ve started (unsuccessfully) trying to get the kids to bed earlier, hoping to trigger normal sleep cycles so the 6 o’clock alarm won’t be too much of a shock Monday morning. 

I’ve reluctantly abandoned the new lunch box buying routine because we have now entered the age of the brown bag. (It’s a high school thing.)

I’ve dug out my old Crock-Pot and quickie family dinner recipes (because eating at 9 p.m. doesn’t fly during the school year).

I’ve begun stockpiling miniature yogurts and granola bars like a squirrel hoarding nuts. 

The fresh sheets of notebook paper have been clamped into the new, three-ring binders. The new Polo-style shirts and khaki shorts have been washed so they appear as worn as the no-longer-new tennis shoes (Keds for the youngest, Converse for the oldest – proof that one uterus can indeed spawn two totally different species).

All that’s left is the first day of school photo – and the annual lump in my throat as I watch them walk away.

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