My favorite part of high school was homecoming week. We had big elaborate themed days where the students went all out. Having a mom who worked in clothing retail and a passion for thrift shopping, I had a wardrobe far beyond our actual economic status. I had clothes for any theme, and day, any year. For decades day I once donned a vintage fringe flapper girl dress that earned me extra credit in my American history class. For celebrity day my emo teen heart was a perfect Amy Lee. I say all this to say, themed days were a huge deal to me.
On these days the only things that stood out more than the costumes were the kids who didn’t participate. I often thought of them as party poopers, wall flowers, or just plain boring. Who wouldn’t want a day to get out of the dreary uniforms we were forced to wear?
As a parent now, who has spent more years than I care to admit below the poverty line, I see my high schooler mindset was entirely skewed.
These themed days are an unnecessary burden on lower income families. With three kids now in school participating in red ribbon week, I am staring at a long list of clothing items I have to find before next week. A red shirt here, a crazy sock there, these things add up quickly.
Jersey day? We aren’t a sports family; we don’t own any.
Hawaiian day? Where does on find a Hawaiian shirt in October?
Pajama day? We sleep in underwear or stained shirts around here.
This list goes on and on. If I only participated in days we already have the clothes or accessories for, my kids might get one day each in during Red Ribbon Week. I could easily just skip it, eh? Except, two of my three kids are aware of the coming week and look forward to it. One of my children particularly already has a hard time fitting in with his peers and skipping the day that other kids celebrate will only further him from them. Kids absolutely notice being left out, even if it’s just a silly shirt making them do so.
With the obstacle of money aside, demand is another demon. When you tell a school of 400 kids to all wear a black and orange shirt on Friday, there’s not going to be any black and orange shirts available in a 20 miles radius.
“Why not make it yourself? It’s fun!”
DIY still costs money. DIY still costs time. We are already out here making/spending on their costumes for Halloween and you want us to spend and do even more?
On the subject of Halloween, story book dress-up day really dampens my Halloween spirit. My kids love and look forward to Halloween and what scary costume they can conjure up. Most years however, we can only afford one costume per child. They of course never choose storybook characters because Halloween is about being scary to them. So, on top of this Red Ribbon list of demands I have a list of supplies to pick up for the easiest story book character DIY we could come up with.
Maybe I’m bitter because I have been on the “We can’t afford this school activity” end one too many times. Regardless, it is a fact that these days affect lower income families negatively more than they raise any source of awareness.
What can we do instead? That I am not sure. Perhaps themes we know kids from all backgrounds can likely participate in such as favorite shirt day, mis-match day, inside out day, etc. I’m sure, collectively, we can come up with better ways for our kids to enjoy themed weeks that doesn’t burden the teachers or parents.