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Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh Headshot

Locker Chandelier

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It's back to school week. I'm packing lunches, scheduling conferences and running for the bus. And, of course, I'm worried. Will the second grade teachers really get my daughter? Will they understand her quirks? Katie tells jokes with no punchline. She breaks too many crayons. I've lain awake at night just hoping she'll find someone to play with at recess.

My daughter's concerns are different. Her biggest worry, the one keeping her up at night, is... her locker.

Second graders at Katie's school are assigned tiny lockers in which to stash jackets and lunch boxes. Last year, they were given exposed hooks and open shelves, but apparently "cubbies" are babyish, and 7-year-olds are deemed old enough for enclosed self-storage.

And this is a problem.

Last week, when we were shopping for binders, markers and dull, plastic scissors, Katie couldn't help but notice the decorations being peddled. Not just the mirrors and magnets from my school days, but serious locker deco: fuzzy pen holders, tasseled pink curtains, even working light fixtures. In my experience, a locker is a basic thing, rusty, frequently jammed and smelling of old sandwiches. But thanks to some exceptional pre-tween marketing, Katie now views the locker as an "extension of her style." She's 7.

"Puh-lease, mom. Please, please can I have that?" She begged for a turquoise shag locker carpet with coordinating blue and black wallpaper. She fell to pieces when I denied her the bedazzled mirror and neon phone holder. I pointed out she didn't even have a cell phone and she asked how I felt about a disco ball hanging from the locker ceiling.

We compromised on a set of green magnets to hold a family photo and left the store barely speaking.

Here's the thing: I would buy Katie seven locker chandeliers if it meant she would always have a friend to sit with at lunch. I would buy 700 if it meant she would never be bullied or never come off the bus in tears. She is my precious, luminous, first-born daughter.

I wish I believed merchandise could protect her.

Except I send her to school to ignite her curiosity, to wonder, do battle and overcome defeat. I expect her integrity to be tested, and I know sometimes her little heart will break. But through all of this, I want the fire that drives her to be from within, not from the cheap glow of a dangling toy.

She does not need a chandelier in order to shine.