We recently moved to Florida from Brooklyn. I grew up down here, so coming back shouldn’t feel like such a major adjustment. But it does, and I’m guessing that’s because all of my parenting experience up until now has been in New York, and I spend a good 80 percent of my time parenting these days.
I’ve been trying really hard not to focus on the things I don’t like about our new life, such as, for example, the eternal carpool pick-up line at my son Zack’s school. (Two-hundred SUVs and minivans idling for 45 minutes, every day? Really? They can’t come up with a more efficient system?). Instead I’ve been concentrating on the things I do like. High up on that list is the ubiquity of school uniforms.
Uniforms, generally khaki or navy shorts and a polo shirt, are required pretty much everywhere around here as far as I can tell—at public schools, private schools (including Zack’s Jewish day school), and even at my older son Benjamin’s tiny special ed program.
There’s a lot to love about these preppy little outfits, in my opinion. Not only are they totally cute, but they make getting out the door in the morning about a hundred times easier and wearing them means children have fewer opportunities to show off and compete.
Okay, so maybe that last one doesn’t apply in the case of Benjamin’s school. I can’t exactly see his autistic classmates flaunting their Camp Beverly Hills shirts or Z Cavariccis, or whatever the kids are wearing these days. And even if that little girl I’ve seen around campus were the type to get all name droppy with her labels, she’d have nobody to compete with, seeing as how she’s the only girl there. But Benjamin’s uniform offers another advantage—one I’m not entirely proud to admit: It explains things.
When I first picked up his shirts and noticed that stitched right there under the logo were the words, “A school for children with autism,” I was sort of taken aback. I’m not at all ashamed of Benjamin’s diagnosis, but seeing it that way, on the clothing he wears five days a week, made me think that maybe it isn’t something he wants to broadcast. That maybe it isn’t the first thing he wants people to know about him. That maybe it isn’t the thing he thinks most defines him. There is of course, a very good chance he doesn’t care. Or that this is a concept he’s nowhere near being able to grasp. The truth is I don’t know because he can’t tell me.
What I do know is that the first day we went to Target straight from school and he was making loud, yelpy noises and jumping up and down in the cart so hard he nearly tipped it. It was kind of a relief to know that if the cashier and the woman behind us in line were staring at him as hard as I thought they were, they would be able to read his shirt. And if they could read his shirt they would probably get it. I had to stop myself from shrugging and shooting them a, “What can you do?” look.
The same phenomenon occurred another afternoon at the playground, when he sat on the swing sobbing for a good 20 minutes. And then again at the supermarket, when he started rifling through another shopper’s cart. It’s not that I am hoping people read Benjamin’s shirt and realize that his erratic behavior isn’t directly linked to my parenting skills, or that they feel bad for us. But there’s something about that shirt that helps to slightly shrink the stress balloon that expands in my chest every time we’re out in public. Benjamin might not be able to tell me what he thinks about his uniform, but I know that when I’m calmer he is, too.
Now if I could just find something to reduce that carpool line stress balloon…