Leaves dappled with black spots blow into my yard with more frequency, signalling the onset of Fall, the season of sweaters, boots, and back to school. I loved getting my “Supply List” at the beginning of the year and used to gleefully skip down the clothing and stationery isles at Macleod’s, the discount department store that came before Zellers at our neighbourhood shopping center called Market Mall.
In elementary school we would covertly gather at the store’s modest collection of ladies lingerie that hung on white plastic hangers. As we fingered our way through the cheap lacey garments, it was the crotchless panties that really held our interest. Although the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of them escaped us, somewhere in our adolescent tissues these items registered as sexual and interesting.
Each year we were required to purchase pink erasers, HB pencils, LePage glue, geometry sets, Hilroy lined notebooks, scissors, Bic pens, Laurentian pencil crayons, and pencil sharpeners (or we could use the manual version located in each classroom). As we ascended through the grades, extra things like math calculators and the Dent’s Canadian Metric Atlas were needed. To my horror, my mom bought me the Oxford World Atlas instead. Why? Maybe it was cheaper, or she thought “Oxford” sounded more official.
Whatever the reason, it made doing geography assignments hard because my page numbers diverged from those on the assignment. I remember hating every page of that book, with its ugly rust coloured display of Canada’s natural mineral deposits and information about national GDP on the opposite page.
Being stuck with this atlas was embarrassing because it marked me as different, which is the last thing anyone needs in the already precarious milieu of upper year elementary school.
Runners without black soles and gym clothes were also on the list, along with a few outfits. Raised by a woman with OCD who instilled in me the importance of saving nice things for special occasions, my new clothes were never worn on the first day of school. Instead, I staggered my fashion debuts, in their pastel and layered glory, until after my peers had outworn the splash of their new duds. Like casually pulling out my Halloween candy in November, the selective release of my Fall clothes made me feel powerful and sly.
What small battles we wage, so many of them inherited from the stuff of our parents. Eventually, the mortifying but also small ‘e’ exciting issues of deodorant and training bras entered the August conversations, along with the need to make important decisions about facial wash. Does one use Aapri, Ten-0-Six, or Sea Breeze? The question of make-up also loomed, specifically which four-colour Maybelline eyeshadow palette to get.
Of all the items, the plaid pencil case is the most lasting symbol of the return to school. Sure, January is when each new calendar year begins, but the real arc of my scholastic and social life begins in September. Over four decades later and it remains the same, but now I’m a teacher. Instead of Supply Lists to salivate over and new outfits to covet, I work on course outlines and the shift to the online universe.
We forge ahead with Gradescope and Perusall and receive daily emails about tech supports to help ensure a seamless transition. Seamless? We will instruct from our dining room tables and bedrooms and never smell the food our students bring to class, feel their anger or their interest, or touch them. I register these changes and help administer them, yet they feel like so many zeros and ones and I feel just as abstract.
Five and a half months into the pandemic and I wonder if it’s “too late” to register this sadness and gnawing frustration. It’s our new normal, right? But a semi-standardized response to a global biological event isn’t normal, neither is docking warships to serve as hospitals, making parents scramble to curate their own classrooms, or attending a funeral via Zoom.
I know that we must figure out how to keep ourselves afloat and most of us are doing a pretty good job. But it’s important to talk about the trauma that has wormed into our lives in ways that are hard to locate, let alone address.
These fears exist at the largest levels of society and cocoon themselves inside the thoughts and steps we take in our houses that we rarely leave. Acknowledging this is vital to living through Corona’s wake with a shred of sanity and love, in all its forms.
Although this strain may succumb to a vaccine, others will always come because of the way we choose to live. This is why we need to prioritize caring for one another and ourselves. As the leaves turn and start dates creep closer, I think about creating new ways of meeting one another along the pandemic’s path to make it more our own. I want to do this through something other than a keyboard or media post, how about you?