Spirit Week And Theme Days Are Kind Of A Bad Idea

by Rita Templeton
Originally Published: 
Crystal Lowery Comedian/Twitter and Caiaimage/Robert Daly/Getty

When you find out you’re going to have a baby, what do you do? You prepare yourself with an arsenal of stuff. You stock the closet with diapers, the drawers with adorable onesies and footie pajamas, and the nursery with special furniture.

But what you don’t anticipate is the need, later on down the road, for a whole different arsenal of stuff. Stuff like tie-dyed T-shirts, outlandish hats, tall socks with goofy patterns, and neon…well, everything.

Unless your kids are homeschooled, you will inevitably need these seemingly random things on a regular basis when their school decides to send home a last minute flyer announcing the event that prompts sighs and eye rolls from moms everywhere: Spirit Week.

It may be called something different in your kids’ school: Rally Days, Red Ribbon Week, Fill-in-the-Blanks Awareness Week. But whatever alias it goes by, it’s still the same thing — a series of school days when kids dress according to a different daily theme. Fun for them, but not so much fun for the parents who are in charge of putting together an acceptable ensemble of clothing items that literally no one ever keeps on hand.

Look, I have trouble getting my kids’ outfits together on a regular day. I can’t even count the number of mornings I’ve sent them out the door hoping no one notices the wrinkles that come from being stuffed in a laundry basket for 72 hours straight, or the fact that one of my sons is wearing his brother’s jeans that are too freaking short. So when it’s “1960s Day” and I have to track down the fringed vest and peace-sign sunglasses I bought for the last “1960s Day,” I can’t help feeling a little frazzled.

I know the goal is to foster a sense of community and school pride. I get it. But…

Maybe I could get my shit together and come up with one decent outfit. But no, tomorrow is “Funky Hat Day,” and I have to somehow procure the appropriate headwear. It can’t just be a baseball cap, though — it has to be funky. And it can’t be the one funky hat we do actually own, which happens to look like the iPhone poop emoji and is, therefore, unsuitable for school. Sigh.

I always envy mothers of long-haired girls on “Wacky Hair Day,” because they’ve got plenty of options. (Have you seen the hairstyle on Pinterest that looks like soda pouring from a bottle? I die!) I’m the mother of short-haired boys, and outside of spiking it up a little bit, which doesn’t even look all that different and falls flat within an hour or two, there’s not much I can do. This means I’m hauling ass to the drugstore to find temporary colored hairspray or something similar (which will, of course, rub off on their clothes and my couch and leave a festive ring around the bathtub).

And “Pajama Day?” Pssshh. If my kids aren’t sleeping in the buff or in their undies, they’re wearing their old, toddler-sized pajamas that are so short they look like capris (but which they insist “still fit” simply because they can shimmy into them). Either that, or they’re still sleeping in shorts and a tank top in the middle of winter, forcing me to buy seasonally-appropriate sleepwear that they’ll wear to school once and then deem “too hot to sleep in.”

Every Friday, my kids are supposed to wear their school colors, so I have to stay on top of the laundry successfully enough to have a selection of red and gray outfits at the ready. When our state’s sports teams have an important game, the kids are encouraged to wear — you guessed it — team apparel. A couple of weeks ago, I bought the ugliest fluorescent orange shirts you ever saw because the next day was “Wear Orange to Combat Bullying Day” (because we all know the color orange is a proven bully repellent). My eyes still hurt. Those poor teachers.

Keeping track of these things is difficult enough when you have one kid, but when you have multiple children across multiple schools, it’s a logistical nightmare. I have one in elementary, two in middle, and one in high school, and sometimes their schools have Spirit Week at the same time. But, while Monday is, say, “Twin Day” at one school (dress like your bestie! Whee!), it’s “Dress Like a Superhero Day” and “Beach Party Day” at the other two. Which means coordinating an outfit with whoever the “twin” is dressing like, finding a cape and other superhero apparel, and assembling a beach-themed ensemble that’s not actually all that beachy since it’s freaking coat weather.

I have trouble calling my kids by the right names, so to accurately remember who is supposed to be dressed like what on which day — and have the proper clothing and accessories on hand (and clean) — requires a level of brain power that I have trouble summoning, especially in the hours before I’m adequately caffeinated.

I manage to get my shit together most of the time, and send my kids to school in something reasonably aligned with whatever weirdly-themed days Spirit Week has in store. But I can’t help but wonder about the more serious toll it takes on families who don’t have the resources to scrape something together — whether they simply can’t afford to, or are fighting a debilitating illness, mental or physical, that makes it a monumental effort just to get their kids dressed and to school in the first place. Like, at all. I can only imagine that if it places this much extra stress on an average parent like me, it really could be horrible for the parents who are literally unable to do it. Add to that the inevitable guilt that comes along with your kid feeling left out, and suddenly the spirit of Spirit Week doesn’t seem so fun.

I know that these days are supposed to foster a sense of community and pride within the schools. I get it. It’s a noble cause. I want my kids (and everybody else’s) to feel like they’re a part of things and to realize the importance of participating when they’re able. I just wish there were a way to do it that’s less taxing on the people who find it truly difficult … and yes, that includes those of us suffering from chronic Mom Brain.

If it places this much extra stress on an average parent like me, it really could be horrible for the parents who are literally unable to do it.

Until that day comes, though, you can find me rummaging through last year’s Halloween costumes for a cape, buying four camouflage T-shirts, and frantically texting my neighbor at 7 a.m. to see if she’s got any red and gray face paint (pro tip: get to know your neighbors well enough to text at 7 a.m. and ask for face paint). It’s important to my children, and that makes it important to me. But I don’t have to like it.

For anyone whose kids have not yet reached school age, I humbly offer this tidbit of advice: It’s never too early to start stocking up on the most random, weird items. Get yourself a big box and fill it with hippie beads, socks with sunglasses or cats or slices of pizza all over them, floppy fedoras, various colors of temporary hair dye (and a bottle of Soft Scrub for that bathtub ring).

That way, when your kid comes home and announces that tomorrow is “Dress Like a 1960s Superhero With a Funky Hat and Quirky-Printed Socks for Flu Season Awareness Day,” you’ll be the mom who has it covered.

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