Years ago, whenever the start of school neared, my parents went into their annual decline. For the six of us kids, this was never a pretty sight.
It began with innocuous enough things, usually around the middle of August.
My father would begin walking through the house, picking up rubber bands and flipping off unnecessary lights. He muttered unceasingly under his breath about wastefulness.
My mother would do less and less to disguise that she was serving leftovers again. At the dinner table, she told us how nice we looked in our clothes--as if it had escaped her attention that they had already belonged to at least two other siblings.
By the time the newspapers were carrying full-size ads for back-to-school clothes, my father had a full-blown case.
Lights were flipped off while we were still in the room. Doorknobs, thick with rubber bands, were impossible to open. If we bought the more expensive brand of toilet paper, we got a lecture on the importance of frugality.
Being the kids we were, we tried to reason their odd behavior away.
"Maybe that sandpapery toilet paper reminds him of when he visited his cousins behind the Iron Curtain," my sister once speculated.
Today, with children of our own, my siblings and I understand very well what my parents were going through. They were suffering from a condition called AFSS, or Anticipated Financial Shock Syndrome.
AFSS first strikes parents when kids look in their closets and announce that there is absolutely no way they can wear what's in there--especially now that they are in third grade, sixth grade, eighth grade or whatever.
Although researchers know that it is not fatal, AFSS worsens if parents are forced to argue publicly with a child in the aisle of a department store. Sandy Broda, a supervisor at Ross Dress for Less in Ventura, said she is familiar with the signs.
"There's a lot of back-to-school shopping going on now, and I hear kids arguing with their parents all the time," she said. "The kid will say, 'But this is the style ,' and the mom will just say, 'I don't care. Put it back.' "
Unfortunately, arguing isn't the only thing that parents have to contend with. Unlike my childhood days, when girls wore simple dresses to school and boys wore jeans without designer labels, a lot of kid fashion today looks as if--and is priced as if--it was made for mini-adults.
And, just as with adult fashions, what's in style today may be totally out of date in a few months.
What's selling big for kids these days? Several department stores reported that bright neon colors, overalls with T-shirts, suede skirts and floral-printed coordinated outfits are all hot.
"A lot of the kids are going for those beach sort of pants too, mostly in really bright colors," Broda said. "I think it's safe to say that there probably won't be a lot of earth tones around."
In light of this, I should admit that I am fortunate. My kids are young enough that I can leave them with a sitter, go shopping and announce that the clothes I have brought home are what they'll wear to school in the fall. They are also young enough to be happy with this arrangement.
But newspaper ads are now announcing back-to-school clothes, and I have to admit that I am suddenly feeling weird all over. And I'm a little worried about it.
The other day, I was walking through the house, picking up paper clips and rubber bands, muttering to myself about how wasteful my kids are. Then I walked upstairs and flipped off the unnecessary lights in my kids' rooms.
In unison, my kids yelled out:
"Mom! We're still in here!"
* THE PREMISE
Ventura County is teeming with the fashionable and not so fashionable. There are trend-makers and trend- breakers. There are those with style--personal and off the rack--and those making fashion statements better left unsaid. Twice a month, we'll be taking a look at fashion in Ventura County--trends, styles and ideas--and asking you what you think. If you have a fashion problem, sighting or suggestion, or if you know a fashion success or a fashion victim, let us know. We want to hear from you.