But school uniforms troubled me. The fact is, I like uniforms that make my kids stand out from the crowd, that mark them as special and worthy of attention. The school uniforms were meant to have exactly the opposite effect. The board was aiming for homogeneousness; I long for singularity when it comes to my offspring. If they dress like everyone else, the world might make the mistake of thinking they are like everyone else, instead of the highly unusual, extraordinarily brilliant, uniquely talented individuals I know them to be.
Still, the school board had spoken: Come September 2009, it would be uniforms for all, from pre-K through grade 12. Shortly after the announcement was made last summer, Jake approached me in the kitchen and asked, “Can you sew me a kilt?”
“Yeah. A khaki kilt. To wear the first day of school.”
I laughed out loud at the notion. Trust Jake to come up with the perfect in-your-face rebuke to the new policy mandating lemming-like conformity. That he’s a six-foot-three, 350-pound offensive lineman just made the prospect more delectable. So I sewed him a kilt, a project that required a surprising number of fittings and revisions (male bodies really are different), so that the work-in-progress always seemed to be lying on the kitchen table, where Marcy’s and Jake’s friends would see it when they came by. “What’s that?” they’d ask, and Jake would say, “A kilt. I’m wearing it the first day of school.” The friends’ eyes would go wide, and they’d look at him the way buddies of Scottish national hero William Wallace (the guy Mel Gibson played in Braveheart) must have when he suggested standing up to the English — as if he was rare and loony but unspeakably brave. Which was exactly what I thought of Jake.
Right up until a week before school started, when he confided that he wouldn’t be wearing his kilt to school after all, because his football coach, he was pretty sure, wouldn’t find it amusing, and would almost certainly bench him for the opening game.
IT’S AN UNCOMFORTABLE, if not unfamiliar, sensation, to be disappointed in your child. It seems so unfair — after all, he’s just a kid, not William Wallace or Albert Einstein or Nelson Mandela or any of the other great men you wish he would turn out to be. I’m sure Einstein’s mom had moments when she wondered if he ever would amount to anything, and that Mandela left dirty dishes in the living room. Still, this letdown was squarely Jake’s fault: He’d raised my hopes up with his kilt scheme, only to dash them by caving in to conformity in the end.
What made the disappointment more bitter is that the new dress code has had, by all indications, exactly the effect the school board hoped for. The teachers at Jake’s school say the kids are better behaved across the board now that they’re better dressed. And it appears to be true from my vantage point. In previous years, I’d have to run out to the alley behind our house every month or so to bust up a fistfight between kids walking home from school. Since they donned their khakis in September, I haven’t once had to step in as peacekeeper.