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Smells Like Adolescence

Another school year has arrived, with the attendant drama of new teachers, friends scattered across teams, new schedules that need to be committed to memory, and parents who feel they just need to be committed. Every grade is a new challenge, and it seems that as soon as you have some sense of what to expect, a new one begins.

In an effort to simplify these first few weeks of anxiety, I’ve collected some sage advice from parents who have been there and done that, advice that you may not see in the “what to expect in _____ grade” paperwork. It may be hit-or-miss for your child’s grade level, but whatever the age, it’s always good to think outside the backpack.

For girls, it’s important to be aware that things are happening a little earlier than they used to. Body hair is growing sooner, periods are starting sooner, body odor is noticeable sooner. Why? Frankly, I don’t know the science behind it. Something about growth hormones in animals, I think. What I do know is the thought of a 10-year-old girl with a razor is somewhat unnerving.

It’s no more unnerving, however, than underarm hair is to a growing girl. When some moms were conspiratorially discussing the subject—because doing so in front of the girls would be catastrophic—one woman started whistling the “Who wears short shorts?” jingle from the ’70s.

“Nair!” they all shouted. “Of course! No razors, no fear, no underarm hair!” Problem solved.

Also, girls from at least fifth grade on up should keep a pair of sweatpants in their locker. Roll them up, put a rubber band around them, and throw them in the back. Just in case. One mother suggested that pencil pouches work well for private materials such as tampons, pads, lip gloss, cash, cell phones, etc. I’ve been told by those in the know that carrying a purse, especially if it isn’t carried every day, can be a “dead giveaway.”

Boys have it slightly easier in the personal hygiene arena but should still be aware of the need for deodorant at
whatever age it becomes necessary—whether it’s fourth grade or 10th. We’d all like to believe our children will come to us when they start experiencing such things, but if we can approach the subjects beforehand, they will be happier in the long run. Need I remind you of Carrie? Teen torment? Pig’s blood? Big fire? Remember? We want to avoid that.

For boys and girls, gym can be an exercise in anxiety. One way to minimize stress is to use deodorant balls for gym shoes (particularly if they are only worn for gym, because—and trust me on this—they will get ripe within a relatively short period of time). Also remember the deodorant for the gym bags.

As for supplies, every grade has its own necessities, but in general, a couple tips seem to hold true. First, between paper folders and plastic, you’re better off with plastic, especially if they’re supposed to last all year. Same holds true for notebooks; many styles now come with either cardboard covers or plastic, and the plastic outlasts the cardboard. Again, don’t ask me about the science. It’s not my job.

Second, it’s OK for your child to want the supplies specifically stated on the list. It’s also OK for parents to substitute items of different brands than those named. There may well be some drama around this point; if you get through
it with no tears on either side, you’re doing all right.

Last but not least—and the bane of my existence: lunches. If your kids like to bring their lunch, ask them to help. It’s good for their sense of responsibility, which is good for their self-esteem. You can make lunches the night before, or do an assembly-line thing, or whatever works so that everyone has enough time in the morning, including Mom and Dad.

As an aside, I would suggest that kindergarten is probably a little young to assign this task, particularly if their favorite food in the world is peanut butter and jelly, although I’m not saying that was a problem in my family.
Fall has always been about new beginnings for me. I’m hoping, the first few weeks of this school year, to live a little vicariously through my kids, to ingest that sense of newness and possibility, and maybe bring it back to my own life for a while … because it will be over in the blink of an eye.

And a new one will begin.               ■ 

Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at maggiesimone@verizon.net.

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