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Childrearing

Back To School: I Went To Eight Schools In 12 Years. Talk About First-Day Jitters…

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 strong Back To School strong  I Went To Eight Schools In 12 Years  Talk About First Day Jitters  91670905 200x300 jpgA new school year always puts me in mind of the sweet, toxic smell of freshly sharpened pencil lead; the stiff feel of new jeans freshly creased by my mother’s iron (a popularity magnet – thanks, Mom); and the joy of a brand-new pencil case complete with retractor set. (Have I ever used a retractor in my adult life? Nope. Maybe that’s why I can’t remember what it’s actually for.)

My son, almost six, enters first grade this fall, and it’s a milestone indeed. Kindergarten was half-days, which, let’s face it, means 2.5 hours including snack and recess, which is slightly less demanding than your average preschool session.

This year he has a big-boy knapsack and a big-boy lunchbox to hold lunches that he will take to the school cafeteria (gulp) and eat with his friends. Do I feel he’s ready for the dangerous social territory of a lunchroom? Absolutely not: This is a kid who still yells, “Look at me!” at the top of his lungs when he does anything he thinks is worth remarking on. He is a little ball of socially unaware jelly desperately in need of a shell, which he will only gain through painful experience.

Seeing him at this age and stage gives me a whole different perspective on my own childhood. My parents (who were loving and solidly middle-class, so don’t cry for me, Argentina) moved my brother and me around from pillar to post; I went to eight schools in 12 years, and moved between four cities, though we always returned to my hometown in southwestern Ontario.

I remember some less-than-ideal first days. In kindergarten in Chicago, where I was (terrifyingly) bussed to school, I left in the morning with white patent-leather shoes. By the time I returned I had polished them black. In fourth grade in Ottawa, my first day of class I arrived a few minutes late to find all the seats taken and so I was seated at the large art table at the back. The teacher murdered my name during roll call, leading to a year-long nickname I’d rather forget. Then, after lunch, I threw up explosively all over the art table. I haven’t been able to enjoy carrots since.

I have, though, always attributed my ability to adapt to my peripatetic childhood. Being thrust into new environments gave me an appreciation for change and the knowledge that there’s a certain freedom in being able to reinvent yourself at the next new place.

My brother, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. Moving heightened his natural anxiety; he craved stability, not risk, and that characteristic has defined his choices as an adult, not always for the better.

Looking at my own kids, I wonder anew at the decisions my parents made for us. My mother sacrificed her own early career and stability for my dad’s job opportunities, which were always a matter of choice, not financial necessity. I realize now, with two kids, how hard it must have been for her to pick up and move to a rental house in an unknown place, with sole responsibility for establishing a sense of community and security for her and her kids.

I realize now how disruptive it was for everyone concerned. I think about how destabilizing it would be for my son, who’s a bit shy and anxious at the best of times, to be moved across the country for the sake of a career opportunity. And I know that, with the benefit of hindsight, I’ll make different decisions than my parents did — not necessarily better, but different.

(Photo: iStockphoto)

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