I hate red ribbon week at school.
Red ribbon week is the week at school where the kids have to wear something themed every day to school, theoretically to support the focus of not using drugs. One day is favorite sports team day, one day is crazy socks day, one day is pajama day, or something like that. The kids love it, and we do our best as parents in helping them play along with their peers.
But I hate it.
While well-intentioned, it’s upper middle class cultural assumptions isolating others either culturally or financially.
That $18 team jersey for one kid cost $108 for all of mine, and that’s more than a grocery budget.
That night parents ran out to buy new neon outfits for Tuesday was the same week the rest of us scrambled to come up with long sleeve uniform shirts before our children freeze.
That time you found crazy socks on sale for $6, which means $36 for us, was the same time we had to come up with feeding tube supplies because the month has 31 days instead of 28.
That day you thought was hectic trying to organize fancy outfits was the morning we were doing rescue breathing and chest compressions.
The week you spent telling kids how bad drugs are was the week my kids got confused again about if their bio-parents are bad or not, the week my kids relive drug related traumas from the past that give them night terrors for a month, and the week their self-esteem plummets because of trying so hard to keep up with administrative measurements of cool while covering up personal experiences that are authentic and would be better dialogue from which others could learn.
I get that it’s all in fun, and maybe my mom fail is simply in being overwhelmed.
But I see the well to do kids in their school running up in fancy jerseys, and the rest of them stuck in school uniforms on free dress day.
It’s not just our family that struggles with it.
And it’s not just about finances – which are tight for us with six children with special needs – or culture, like our children being adopted into our home with no television or by us as writer parents who have no idea about sports teams.
And pajamas? Modesty is a big deal to our family, so sometimes it’s a little weird to send them to school in the clothes they wear to bed. But even more than that, only upper middle class families even have pajamas. Poor families don’t waste money on extra clothes just for sleeping, and some cultures don’t use them at all, either.
It’s also about philosophy and external things, that surely there is a way to celebrate individuality besides just which outfit to wear? I am uncomfortable with teaching my children that the best way to say no to drugs is by wearing brand new clothes, or the cool socks, or the right team jersey. It feels like that backfires somehow, creating the very social dynamics that set up addiction cycles.
What if red ribbon week reflected internal traits instead?
Dress up as your favorite book character day!
Bring your talent to school day!
Learn a new instrument day!
Spell a big word day!
Random act of kindness day!
I feel like red ribbon week commercializes social exclusion and class oppression in the same way high school cliques make some drugs cooler than other drugs, rather than developing the inner resilience and unique personalities of each of my children to help them grow in the kind of character strength it takes to actually resist peer pressure and say no to drugs.
Maybe instead of crazy sock day, my family needs Be Proud of Your Leg Braces Day.
Or maybe instead of team jersey day, my family needs I Have Autism But Can Be a Part of Your Team Day.
Maybe instead of neon clothes day, my family needs I Am Deaf So Flash the Lights When You Want the Attention of My Class Day.
I know not every family has so many kids, and many families have more resources, and not everyone has a baby on palliative care.
And I’m not saying it’s bad to be cool.
Because our family is very cool.
But I am saying that I think there are more layers than we realize, and I think the kids know it.