An Open Letter To Theme Days At My Child's School

by Marika Seigel
Originally Published: 
parenting fails
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You’re a sneaky son of a bitch—I’ll give you that. You always pop up when I least expect it, even though I was surely alerted to your approach by a crumpled-up note in my son’s folder, sandwiched between the pages of the book order and the PTO Carnival sign-up sheet:

Wednesday is Hawaiian Beach Day!

Thursday is Dress Like a Reading Superhero Day!

Monday is Pajamas Day!

Friday is Hat, Sunglasses, and an Article of Clothing in a Color That We Guarantee Your Child Doesn’t Own Day!

I see that note, and my intentions toward you are good. I think to myself, I should really dig out a pair of sunglasses even though it is the middle of winter. I should really set a reminder for this superhero day, because it will take a while to put a costume together. I should really make sure that my kid’s one pair of PJs that fits and doesn’t look like it was chewed on by rats is clean.

But the thing is, I have a job, a family, friends, and a life that doesn’t revolve around satisfying your bizarre whims, Theme Day. The honest truth is, I’m just not that into you.

And then, somehow, just when I’ve blissfully forgotten about your existence, and I’m feeling pretty good that the kids are up at a reasonable hour, eating breakfast, and on track to catch the bus, my son looks up from his peanut butter toast and asks, “What should I wear for my superhero costume today, Mom? It needs to be related to a book we’re reading.”

And there you are, suddenly in my kitchen, pointing at me and laughing. And my husband is saying, “Why don’t we just put him in a T-shirt with a superhero on it?” but I’m already rummaging through boxes in the basement and sweating, and my son is distraught that his costume is going to be totally lame, and I’m saying, “No, no, it’s not lame! It’s going to be unique! It’s going to be creative!” Then I’m cutting lopsided eyeholes in a bandana to make a superhero mask, frantically safety-pinning felt to all available surfaces, and looking for something, anything, that will serve as a cape (yes, this sequined shawl will do nicely). And my son and I are both kind of crying and freaking out, grasping at straws.

“Mom, what about some gloves? What about this stuffed snake hanging around my neck?”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, yes, yes. It is all perfect.”

But you and I, Theme Day, we both know that it isn’t perfect. You and I know that the costume’s lack of perfection directly reflects on my worth as a mother and that my worth as a mother reflects on my worth as a human being because we haven’t gotten that far beyond 1963 after all. We both know that I’m screwing up this parenting thing and that you enjoy rubbing it in my face, you sadistic, second-wave-feminism–denying monster.

I hope you’re satisfied with yourself.

When we lived abroad for a year, I thought I had left you safely behind in the good ol’ USA, but you followed us to a small school in the northernmost reaches of Europe for Dress Up Like a Character From Your Favorite Fairy Tale Day. What the hell, Theme Day? Couldn’t you leave us in peace for one year?

(By the way, the “wolf costume” consisting of a stained grey shirt, grey pants, a brown scarf tied to one of the belt loops for a “tail” was not my proudest parenting moment. You humiliated me on the international stage, Theme Day, and for that, I will never forgive you.)

Yes, I know that the kids like you. My son looks forward to your arrival. You’re a fun guy, breaking up the monotony of the school day, breaking up the worksheets and testing and lining up in alphabetical order. Maybe we wouldn’t need you so much if education was less about order and discipline, less about fill-in-the-blank and fit-in-this-box. But here we are.

So even though I despise you, and even though I try to ignore you, I still cut and pin and scramble when I realize you’ve arrived, even if I realize it 10 minutes before the bus comes. I still somehow manage to send my costumed kid to school, happy in his pieced-together, made-up, good enough, vaguely book-themed superhero guise and eager to show it to his friends, even though the eyeholes in the mask are lopsided.

And this is where I am supposed to look into those shining, grateful eyes and say that it’s all worth it, that I take back all the mean things I said about you, that next time you come around, I will treat you with the respect that I now realize you deserve.

But instead I say this, on behalf of frazzled parents everywhere: Eat shit and die, Theme Day. EAT. SHIT. AND. DIE.

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