The building was a sea of plaid dresses, white button down shirts, knee socks and ties that always seemed to yearn for a bit more length down the torso of boys who seemed constricted by the very fabric draped around their pencil thin necks. During cold winter mornings, on the short walk to school I yearned to add color to an otherwise gray morning. Clothed in layers of dark and dreary colors, I would steal glimpses of the public school kids in their bright cheery winter coats, and envisioned their layers of color beneath, believing each piece was somehow responsible for the bounce in their step, the smile on their face, the halo of light around them. I was happy too, but it was hard to see my smile as it was smothered in darkness beginning right below my chin with the navy tie that held my neck hostage, to the dark plaid jumper in hues of grays, hunter green and navy, down to the navy knee socks trapped in black leather school standard shoes.
As I walked in the brightness of the freshly fallen white canvas of winter I felt like I was letting it down, unable to provide the bright hues which it so desperately seemed to crave. Approaching the schoolyard, I wondered what higher powers deemed it necessary to stifle any semblance of individuality and in anger pushed my knee socks down until they bunched at my ankles leaving my skin exposed but welcoming the chilling sting. Yanking my tie off my neck and shoving it into my pocket, even with the knowledge that it would only be a matter of time before one of the nuns would notice and I would be forced to retrieve it, I breathed a little easier. I found ways to embrace my individuality from the way I wore my hair -short and curly boy cut- to that year’s lunchbox selection or the keychain characters I hung from my backpack. There were ways…there were always ways.
Those days seemed so long ago until this past week, when I found myself shopping for school uniforms for my own children. The dreary uniform colors hit me along with a sudden wave of nausea, but I kept my cool as I helped them find the right sizes in hunter green polo shirts, and khaki bottoms. As we approached the endless racks, I heard someone’s high-pitched voice tell them how great they had it not to have to worry about selecting a different outfit each day. We rounded a corner and that same voice cheerfully directed them to the hideous plaid uniforms pointing out how lucky they were to walk past that rack. As we approached the fitting room arms weighed down in dull tones, that same voice had the audacity to tell them even if they didn’t love the color, they should be comforted to know everyone else’s attire would be the same.
Then something strange happened. Just at the moment I realized that voice full of false enthusiasm was my own, a small voice called from inside the fitting room. “Mom, can you come in here?” One look at my daughter’s face took me back to the little girl who bunched up her socks and stuffed her tie in her pocket desperate to hang on to some semblance of herself. As I looked at her, I remembered a tiny note I came across a few years back while cleaning her room. It is just one of many snippets of poetry I’ve come across scattered on her desk.
Maybe another mom would have continued to try to convince her child of all the benefits of wearing a uniform.
Maybe another mom would have recited the reasons it is important to neutralize differences such as income level, avoid cliques, and provide an inclusive environment for students.
I’m not that mom.
Instead, I helped her find ways to hang on to a little bit of herself, secretly wishing that little girl of yesteryear would have had the option of leaving rainbow clad Converse footprints in the snow.
What is your stance on school uniforms? With more public schools enforcing a uniform policy they are no longer limited to private schools. Do you believe they are necessary?