I have a special relationship with school theme days and spirit weeks. And by special relationship, I mean I hate them. I need Wednesday to be just another day my kid refuses to get ready for school. I can’t have Wednesday also be Bring Your 6th Favorite Stuffy To School To Celebrate the 47th Day Of School Day.
I get the excitement and the appeal, and I KNOW this can be a fun thing. But it’s NEVER fun for everyone. So enough with theme days, folks.
My oldest daughter is seven years old. She is an indecisive and insecure 2nd grader. This makes a special event the worst. Because here’s the thing: my kid wants to participate, but she doesn’t want to stand out. She wants to find something that will make her feel cool and confident for whatever the idea of the day is, but she can’t make decisions without knowing what her friends will be doing. The peer pressure at such an early age is heart breaking, but it is also maddening. She knows what she likes, but she is afraid of being judged.
Take this summer’s Spirit Week at my daughter’s day camp. Crazy Hair Day was not a blast. Before we unpack this, I have to make a confession: I have a ridiculous memory which is amplified by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This means I remember all the things. I have my moments of being overwhelmed, but I am usually pretty on top of extracurricular events. I am not bragging; I simply want to address the fact that while I remember the week of five “fun” days of wackiness, it is still a lot of emotional labor to do so. And for those of you who just can’t remember or don’t care to remember, I see you too. Adding ONE MORE THING to our day, our routine, and our mental checklist is too much.
Back to Crazy Hair Day. My daughter operates with one pony tail. Sometimes she wants it a little to the side, but for the most part, she wants a high and tight pony with “no bumps.” I am trying, people. I made the mistake of not giving her three weeks to consider what Crazy Hair Day would look like for her. I mentioned it the night before. And for about 30 minutes the morning of the big event, I let her look on Pinterest for inspiration.
That was a giant mistake.
Because I don’t have the props to make a unicorn anything nor do I have the skills to assemble a no bumps pony tail. WTF was I thinking? So not only was I setting her up for disappointment by telling her all of the cool options were off of the table, but I gave her too many options to panic about.
And of the hair styles that were manageable, they were too different from what she is used to wearing. Even though her friends would be participating, it felt like too much pressure to change her hairstyle without a friend’s approval. She became increasingly anxious and started to cry. She was full of doubt. When I told her she could skip it, she lost her shit. Not having crazy hair was as bad as having crazy hair.
There was really no winning this battle.
She went to camp with her usual style and a pocket full of hair ties in case she wanted one of her counselors to come up with something.
Once we got to camp, she realized that other friends were wearing their hair the way they normally do. I could see her body relax; she was fine. But for the hour before, she was not. And the whole week was that way. From Career Day to Hawaiian Shirt Day, every morning of the week was unnecessarily hard. My daughter’s anxiety was high, which made her mean and defiant.
My anxiety spiked too, and I had little patience. The entire household was impacted by the interruption of our regularly scheduled morning routine—which by the way is no picnic. Spirit Week and the days that went with it were exhausting.
The week was not just emotionally expensive, I lost money too. We didn’t have Hawaiian shirts in the house for Friday’s end-of-the week culmination of hell, so ran to Old Navy to pick out a few shirts for her to choose from. I snagged a traditional Hawaiian button shirt with palm trees and a couple of t-shirts with tropical prints of exotic birds and straw huts. I knew my kid wanted to fit in. I knew she needed choices, and I knew she was privileged to have the chance at both. She ended up with a new t-shirt and ended the week feeling confident.
But not all families can afford an un-budgeted shirt from Old Navy. A theme day may encompass something a child doesn’t have access to, and a parent may not be able to provide extra time or money to accommodate Dress Like Your Favorite Book Character Day. It sounds great in theory, but even if parents can remember to send their kid to school looking like Captain Underpants, who has the fucking time, money and energy to make an appropriate costume or the energy to talk their kid into something more manageable?
I see you Pinterest moms and moms who seem to have flexible kids and the right amount of their shit together.
But I just can’t.
Enough with the freaking theme days. Just thinking about it is making me twitchy.