It’s Back-to-School! Time to Torture the Kids!

When I was a child, every year around this time my mom would herd my two older sisters and I to the attic for her idea of back-to-school shopping. There she’d pull out several large, sagging cardboard boxes filled with old winter clothes. As she rummaged through the mounds of mothball-scented pants and sweaters, I’d stand there–hands on hips, eyes rolling with disdain–dreading what was coming next.


Being the youngest of three girls, I got the brunt of my sisters’ out-of-style corduroys and fashion faux pas. And I resented it.

“Try this on,” my mom would say as she tossed me one wrinkled shirt after another. I’d slowly pull the garment over my head, puffing out my chest and extending my arms until they ached in the hopes that it would look too small.

“See?” I’d say snidely. “It doesn’t fit!”

But my mom was a wise woman on a budget. “Yes it does. It looks great. Now try this on.” And THUMP! Another plaid dinosaur would land at my feet.

The memories of those torturous summer afternoons sweating in the attic are flooding back to me today as I’m organizing my kids’ closet for the upcoming school year. Although (thankfully) my boys don’t care if they get hand-me-downs, they do care about “their color.”

You see, as a mother of multiples, I learned very early on that “color-coding” my twins’ belongings (and then subsequently employing the color-coding system to their younger brother), would cut down on family chaos. Each boy had a signature color–blue, red, or green–to which his personal belongings corresponded. Sippy cups, “blankies,” “binkies,” toothbrushes, you name it. For underwear and socks, however, we applied “dots,” another ingenous system for families with multiples. Using a permanent marker, we’d mark one “dot” on the label for the oldest, two dots for the second, and so on. (Unfortunately, this system won’t work for those families that refuse to clue their multiples in on who was born first claiming it will incite sibling rivalry.)

Red and green backpacks.

Color-coding has worked well for our family. A little too well at times. For even now at ages 14 and 12, they are STILL attached to their individual colors. Whether I’m shopping for backpacks, pencil pouches, or surf wear, each boy still wants “his color.” And that, my friends, makes the hand-me-down system a major fail!

“I can’t wear this shirt! It’s not my color!”

My eyes are once again rolling.

A copy of the book Double Duty.

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