No Hats, No Play – The New York Times

By Carly Chilton

In January, you see them all over social media. Kids around age 5, smiling proudly under a wide, floppy hat. Their first day of school in Australia.

They’re dressed in their brand new school polo or dress, and mum is usually crouched down next to them, proudly displaying their new Big Kid off to Big School with their lunchbox neatly packed into the Big Bag hanging off their backs. It’s a Big Milestone.

But it was the Big Hats that got to me.

Right before my oldest started school, we moved overseas to the Middle East. A family adventure! New beginnings! We were escaping the clutches of the expensive Sydney housing market and the idea that going on an overseas trip beyond Bali would take seven years to save for.

My oldest began school six months earlier than her peers at home in Australia. It was indeed an exciting day for her and we did the obligatory “First Day” photo in her uniform. It might have been entitled “First Day Of ELEMENTARY School,” but still we had it, and she looked cute and happy and everyone applauded the Big Milestone.

But once January rolled around and the boredom of creating school lunches day in and day out had already set in for me, I realized what my daughter’s photo was missing. It was the Big Hat.

The Big Hats were a stark reminder to me of how far I was from home. How different my daughter’s childhood would be from my own. Not worse — in fact, likely much more privileged — but it was almost painful.

There would be Vegemite sandwiches, oh yes. But there would be no “No Hat, No Play” in her school life.

There would be no waiting outside in the canteen line, trying not to let the big kids push in to buy their icy poles first, replaced here with indoor cafeterias, like we only knew in the movies.

There would be no sitting-on-the-school-hall-floor-with-your-legs-crossed assemblies, replaced here by plush seats in a fancy auditorium with air conditioning. (We could’ve only dreamed of that!)

There would be no compulsory whole school swimming carnival at the local pool, and there would most certainly be no “Carols by Candlelight: School Edition” in December.

And there would be no Big Hat.

Sometimes, it’s the little things, like Big Hats, when you’re away from home, that hit the hardest.

The Chilton family, without their big hats. CreditCourtesy of Carly Chilton

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