When I was a kid, August was the month Mom took me to buy notebooks and a pencil box for the new school year. (And always a protractor. For the LIFE of me, I cannot fathom why I needed a protractor in third grade.) 

In late August, a package would arrive in the mail from Grandma containing her hand-sewn “first day of school” outfit for me — invariably a polished cotton dress with short puffy sleeves and a gathered waist. Then we’d go to the shoe store.

Before even trying on a pair of Buster Browns, I stepped up to a big wooden podium to have my feet measured for accurate size by an x-ray shoe-fitting machine. Remember these? 

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I got a huge kick out of seeing the bones in my feet. At the peak of this machine’s popularity in the early 1950s, there were at least 10,000 in the United States. But by 1970, 33 states had banned these shoe-fitting fluoroscopes due to potential radiation hazard. 

On the night before school started in early September, I’d lay out my outfit on the bedroom floor — white socks, red Buster Browns, Lollypop underpants, white cotton undershirt, and Grandma’s dress. I hardly slept because I was so excited to go back to school.

The same pattern echoed when my two kids, Alex and Chris, were starting back to Willard Elementary School in Ridgewood, New Jersey. In August we’d go downtown to Drapkins and buy their Snoopy and Cinderella notebooks, psychedelic-colored pencil boxes, yellow rulers and fat pink erasers.

The night before school started, I’d go into their bedrooms to say good night. Their outfits were always laid out on the rug: Keds sneakers for her, Nike anythings for him; corduroy pants and striped Danskin shirt for him, embroidered red jumper with matching knee socks for her. 


This week daughter Alex called and asked if I’d join her and 11-year-old Maddie for back-to-school shopping. She and her brother Max head back to school on August 28 — a full week BEFORE Labor Day. 

They’re not alone. Many kids across the United States are in school already. Alabama and Arizona schools opened in early August while Arkansas and Colorado schools have been open for two weeks now. 

First item on Maddie’s wish list:  black high-top Chicky Chucks. “And there’s a dress code, Mom, so we can’t buy any tops or shirts that are too scoopy or cut out,” Alex said. “And they have to fall well below the waist.” Well of course they should, I thought. She’s 11 years old!


Later, when we unpacked Maddie’s new duds, I asked if she knew which outfit she’d wear the first day — the blue leggings with tie dye sweatshirt or the black leggings with teal and black shirt. She wasn’t sure. “But the night before I’ll lay my outfit out on the floor near my bed, just like I always have,” she said.

I love it when history repeats itself.