back-to-school voodoo

Many moms I know are teachers of some sort or another, which means Back to School for their kids is Back to School for them, too. My first class of the term invariably falls at 9:00am of my boys’ first day. My own new-classroom nerves are exacerbated by my guilt about not personally holding Son #2’s hand as he searches for his Grade One teacher amid the playground chaos. Not watching Son #1 scrupulously ignore me as soon as he spots his friends.

But here’s an intriguing phenomenon: all these Back-to-School moms, including me, will bake. We will bake something special to tuck into our kids’ lunches. Brownies. Chocolate-chip cookies. Date squares. Never mind that our introductory lectures aren’t prepared and we can’t find the keys to our classrooms. Never mind that it’s ninety degrees in the shade. We will bake anyways.
I discovered this strange practice by accident: my neighbor (a teacher-librarian with a kid starting JK) commented that it smelled good on my porch (brownies) and that hers smelled the same (cookies). Weird, isn’t it, she said, for baking smells to be wafting outdoors into the humid, late-summer air?

So I started asking around. One colleague got up early to make banana muffins. Another called her mother-in-law on the weekend in tears, and the heroic woman arrived with home-made, plastic-wrapped popcorn balls and a ride to school for the kids.

Where did we get the weird notion that baked goods are mandatory for the first lunchbox of the year? I mean, I know that many of my most extreme domestic behaviors are guilt-induced, and that for many of us, such behaviors were modeled by our own mothers, who performed them out of habit or necessity or—who knows?—a deep love of the kitchen. Maybe we feel watched, or judged, by our kids’ lunchroom supervisors, and we want to make a good impression right off? Because if it’s a good impression with the kids themselves that we’re after, I know for a fact that dinosaur-shaped fruit gems in foil packets would have been a more impressive “kids-I-love-you” telegram than the brownies I sweated over.

Here’s my hypothesis: baking for Back to School is talismanic. It’s a ritualistic gesture by which we assert our motherly skill and goodwill against the looming evils of one-size-fits-all schooling, peer pressure and corporate advertising. If we do it just this once, we tell ourselves, the world will be warned: watch how you treat them, because these children are Loved.

There’s guilt in my brownies, yes, and maybe a touch of fear. But I propose that there’s fierceness and power in them, too.

So eat, my handsome lads, and be blessed. Because after this it’ll be Snackeroos until Christmas.

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