Back To School Jitters (For Parents): What Should I Wear To My Son’s New School?

Hi Folks.

Just back from a whirlwind tour of the East Coast of the U.S. and still a bit jet-lagged. But I wanted to jump on RealDelia for a moment to say hello and let you know that I’m back in action. I’ll post tomorrow about some thoughts I had about my home country while on vacation. But given that millions of children the world over return to school this week, I thought I’d post on that time-honored topic: back to school jitters.

We all know that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling you get when you go back to school following a long summer vacation. You wonder what your new classroom will look like, whether your friends will have changed at all, and if you’ll get that part in the school play.

But it isn’t just kids who get the jitters. Parents get them too. A colleague of mine over at Politics Daily, Michelle Brafman, has even coined a term for this phenomenon. She calls it Placement Anxiety Disorder. It encompasses “all that stuff parents worry about when confronted with the reality that another school year is about to begin: is this teacher a good fit for my child? Will the class jell?” Or in my case: do I really have to pack another school lunch?

I’m having these jitters in spades this year because my son is starting a new school tomorrow. And – as with so many things once you’re a parent – he’s fine and I’m a wreck.

Why is it that anything to do with our children’s schools brings out our inner 15-year-old?

Take clothing. I don’t think I’ve agonized so much over what to wear to an event in the past five years. And by “event,” allow me to clarify that I’m talking about the five minutes it takes to deposit my son at the front gate of his new school, at which point he will no doubt distance himself from my clinging arms as fast as he possibly can. It’s not like anyone knows who I am, so why should I possibly care what I wear? (Especially given that, for the past three years, I’ve shown up at most drop-offs in some version of my pajamas?)

Still, for the last week or so I’ve repeatedly stewed over the *right* outfit for this occasion. Will a jacket look too professional? A tee-shirt too casual? A skirt too severe?

I finally settled on a white cable-knit sweater set –  I believe that “twin set” is the technical term – that my mother gave me when I was back in the States. I guess I figued that, when in doubt, it’s always a plus to look like you’ve just returned from Centre Court at Wimbledon. (Sadly – according to Wikipedia, at least – the twin set denotes “frumpiness” or “conservatism.” Darn.)

But clothes, of course, are just a reflection of a deeper set of anxieties about fitting in. When I first moved to London three years ago and enrolled my son in his previous school, I gazed at the sea of unfamiliar faces and wondered how on earth I’d ever cut it in this new crowd. The answer turned out to be joining the PTA, which conferred an instant legitimacy.

This time, I’ve decided – for the moment, at least – to eschew all voluntary parental activities and just stay on the sidelines and watch. My hope is that at one of the zillion parent events scheduled this Fall, some poor soul will pick me out of the crowd and say “Hey, that new girl, she’s not so bad.”

I just hope that when, as and if that does happen, I’m wearing the right shoes…


Image: Back to School 2008 004 by Tom H. Jones via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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10 Responses to Back To School Jitters (For Parents): What Should I Wear To My Son’s New School?

  1. Katie says:

    Laughed at your comment about showing up for the school run in some version of your pajamas. I mulled through this quandry all of last year: If I sleep in my yoga pants do they or do they not count as ‘outdoor’ clothing the next morning … ?

  2. LPC says:

    For some of us the deconstruction of outfits is a symbolic task equal to a reading of Sanskrit. In this case, I would err on the side of make no mistakes. Dress to be invisible and comfortable. Then use your powers of observation to figure out what “fitting in” looks like and how much of that you even want to do.

  3. delialloyd says:

    great advice, thank you! (ps does this mean ditching the twin set?!?!)

  4. LPC says:

    I think so, if it’s not too late. The twin set isn’t terrible, but a v-neck “jumper” as they say on that side of the pond is even more neutral. Navy blue is always good unless it makes you look like a mailman. Postman, sorry. And unless everyone is terribly fancy, I think good jeans have become the universal uniform. Then put on some shoes that are just a little bit nifty. Only those who care will bother to look all the way down to your feet, and those who care will take note. Carry a purse that looks like you might be a working woman and you have kind of covered your bases.

    This, of course, is the Northern California deconstruction. I don’t have context any more about London…

  5. delialloyd says:

    LPC (or should I call you skyepeale?…) thanks for this. I got it too late to avoid the twin set but will keep your sartorial advice close at hand for next week’s parents evening. Totally agree on shoes. I myself was checking out one lady’s shoes at drop off this morning-she showed up with an impossibly bronzed skin, lithe build and some sort of sarong-type dress. Shoes looked like something Imelda Marcos might wear. I felt wan and small next to her but was pleased I wasn’t wearing flats…

  6. LPC says:

    LPC is good. Those are my real initials:). I think you should never feel wan and small. You write and people publish it. That’s just neither wan nor small in my book and if clothing could be made from your accomplishments it’d be a Balmain jacket;).

  7. delialloyd says:

    thank you, LPC! I just googled “balmain jacket” and I’m all over it!

  8. […] may recall that a few months back, my son started a new school. And while I was very excited for *him* to make new friends…take new classes…heck, even […]

  9. […] for the school run – OK, one reason *I* don’t do it, except when it’s a new school – is that in not dressing up, I’m also trying to signal to other parents that, some […]

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