Wednesday, August 16, 2006

This year will be different

Growing up, I was one of those kids who actually looked forward to the first day of school. As much as I loved summer and those endless days, the first day of school was exciting. New classroom, new teachers, new desk, new books. It was a chance to start fresh, a clean slate. Even now, I still get a little giddy whenever I walk down the school supplies aisle in stores. Notebooks filled with clean white sheets, the rubbery scent of erasers, rows of yellow pencils. It all speaks to promise, to possiblity.

I started kindergarten when I was four, the youngest in my class. My mother had already taught me to read and write and she thought it would be a waste for me to wait another year. I don't remember much about the first day, other than there were parents and kids everywhere, and that my mother cried when she dropped me off. It was all a blur of colors and sounds and faces that I didn't recognize, but I wasn't scared. This, to me, was an adventure, like anything else.

That first day was perfect because there was so much I didn't know. I didn't know that elementary school would be a series of small cruelties, humiliations. I didn't know that I would never fit in, that I would always be the standout, the odd one. I didn't know that eventually, school would come to symbolize every dread, every fear, every doubt I had about myself. I learned many things in those years but most of all, I learned what it was to be ashamed, embarrassed, hurt.

The last day of school was always like a holiday, a nervous energy buzzing through the halls. We handed in our books, cleaned out our desks, our lockers. The walls were stripped down to bare white, all of the signs and billboards packed away for another year. The teachers always on edge, wanting to get through this last day, just as excited as the rest of us. Everyone waiting for that final bell, that final run to freedom. For me, there was always a feeling of relief and sadness. Relief that the year was over, that I had a break from the cruelty of my classmates. Sadness that it would only last a few brief months.

Every September, I told myself this year will be different, but I was always disappointed. Eventually, I changed schools, started over in a new city, a new state. I left behind the kids who had teased me but I still remember their words, their faces, even now. I don't know if I'll ever have kids of my own. If someday I should, I hope their school experiences will be better than mine. I hope that they don't inherit my shyness, my awkwardness. That they will be accepted in a way that I wasn't, that they'll never know the kind of hurt I experienced. That for them, it really will be different.

24 Comments:

Blogger briliantdonkey said...

Kids can be sooooo cruel no doubt about it. Brings back memories. Some of them even good lol.

BD

8/16/2006 1:27 AM  
Blogger Valannin said...

As a teacher, I can write volume on both the cruelty of children and the impreesion they left behind. Ok, not as a teacher, but as a human being who had far too often been the recipient of said cruelty. But you know what, fuck 'em all....I still relish the smell of new pencils and the echo of the hallway. Maybe that's one of the reasons I became a teacher in the first place - to ascribe a sense of satisfaction to that which had been misery. Making up for lost and / or missed opportunities. Perhaps it's the simple catharsis that I seek that has ushered me towards my chosen profession. Or maybe it's the summers off. I guess that's something I'll have to wrestle with...

8/16/2006 2:56 AM  
Blogger JvS said...

What a beautifully written passionate and moving piece. I love the start of the year as a teacher. As a student it was mainly dread and not fitting in, I hear you on that part. There is always hope that this time, despite the evidence of the last seventy times that were disasters, this time it will be better.

The mistreatment of those kids is shocking, but you are not the person they mocked, and they are no longer who they were either. Although being picked on sucks I would rather be the victim, than the sort of person who thinks it's ok to victimise. I hope all the bullies, casual or organised, look back on what they did with regret, understanding their shame. And then all the victims and aggressors move on to be better people.

Gosh,I'm in a weird mood today. you've stoked my fires a bit :-)

8/16/2006 6:07 AM  
Blogger Julie Carter said...

Even though I had an okay time at school, I dreaded it. I still feel this horrible crushing dread when I see back to school signs or sales. Blurk.

8/16/2006 8:58 AM  
Blogger Flood said...

My kids have a completely different reality at school than I did. I was looking for empty stairwells to eat my lunch and they are social butterflies.

I'm still trying to work out what the difference is.

In any event, I am very happy that it's not me going back, but they are looking forward to it.

8/16/2006 9:24 AM  
Anonymous bookfraud said...

school is not designed to cater to the shy, the awkward, nor the creative. the indignities heaped upon me (and you) were great, and i spent a great deal of my waking hours trying to figure out how to fit in. it would have been much easier had my creativity had been nurtured rather than disdained.

but that's children for you. even though your experience was harsh, they made you who you are, they made you an artist.

also, you get to write about those losers. living well is the best revenge.

8/16/2006 9:39 AM  
Blogger Bev said...

This SO sounds familiar!! I still love new notebooks, new pencils, new gel markers (ok, that part has to do with colors).

Like you I could read and write before I went to school, and I too was teased....okay, maybe I was a dork!!

Take heart, believe in your self, you are just made of more precious stuff.

I can tell you that when I had the chance with my daughter I occasionally voiced concern to teachers and principals that were letting the teasing go too far (jr. high girls are the WORST!!)

Listen to your heart, you'll know what to do. Meantime, just keep writing!

8/16/2006 9:42 AM  
Blogger Lex Ham Rand said...

Oh, I love back-to-school. I loved school. I still love school. I work at a school. I still go to school part time. I go to as many parent-teacher meetings and events at my kids' schools as I can.

I was never super popular, and I endured my share of abuse, but I found the "real world" of employment outside of school to be much worse than anything I experienced in school.

Corporate America turned out to be profoundly anti-intellectual, devoid of critical thinking, mocking of any literary or artistic tendencies or aspirations, and bereft of any sense of historical context or socio-political complexity.

And education certainly has its elements drawn from the list above - but most folks in education at least have a sense of irony about the vagaries of institutional employment.

Plus education is full of frustrated intellectuals who are GREAT to sit down and have a cup of coffee with on break.

8/16/2006 10:37 AM  
Blogger Gerald Huml said...

Middle school was a trauma for me, and I was pretty awkward my freshman and sophomore years in high school. My junior and senior years were much better due to some great friends.

8/16/2006 11:43 AM  
Blogger Quinn said...

I hated school - at least until college. Grade school and High school were miserable and boring. Except in math, I grasped most concepts quickly and then wanted to experiment, think for myself, explore - or I was so bored I didn't pay attention. Oddly enough the results were the same.

In the first grade, every friday was "art day" and one day we were supposed to paint a picture of something important to us. There were only two stations, so we had to go in shifts. The teacher explained that if we wanted to switch colors, we had to thoroughly wash out our brush. Well, I wasn't paying attention - I was bored, daydreaming, and focusing on the girl I had a crush on - and I thought she said we couldn't change colors. Never mind that I saw kids doing exactly what she said to do, it never clicked with me. So, when I got up to paint my picture, I picked my favorite color (blue at the time) and started painted what everyone else was painting: mom, dad, little sister, the house, our car, the sun, the tree in the front yard . . . all in blue. Soon my entire page was just a blue mess, so I painted the whole page solid blue.

On Monday, the teacher was showing the class everyone's paintings. "What's this?" she would ask. "That's my mom, dad, etc," the kids would say. She got to mine and said "Quinn, what is this?"
"It's what I see when I'm swimming," I said.
"You need to pay attention to my instructions," she said.

But even when I did pay attention, I'd get bored, experiment, fail and be told I needed to follow directions and nothing else. Nevermind that it was a brilliant piece of abstract thinking (albeit under duress).

8/16/2006 11:51 AM  
Anonymous fringes said...

I have never attended a single school reunion. If I happen to spot an old classmate, grades K-12, in the grocery store or in the line at the movies, I will turn and walk the other way. I think it was Ann Landers who advised her letter-writers to move past school traumas, and intellectually, we all know that was 20-30 freaking years ago, but that's harder to do than it sounds.

Good post today, Rebecca. Thoughtful and introspective.

8/16/2006 2:51 PM  
Blogger willowtree said...

I hated school, absolutely hated everything about it. I got teased too, I felt I didnt fit in, yet I was not unpopular among my classmates. I just didnt feel a part of anything.
Every single year until I was in 8th grade, I spent a week home with stomach pains. Ulcer material. I disliked school so much, I would cry at night just so I could fall asleep.
High School was an absolute nightmare for me, and I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

You know the funny thing? If I were to talk to someone in any of my classes today, at this age, they probably wouldnt believe one word, because of how hard I worked at school work, and because I graduated high in the ranks. They would never understand that I hated school so much that the prospect of repeating anything terrified me. I worked my butt off, but not because I liked school. Every time I showed my teeth it was not a smile. Sometimes it was a grimace in pain, but I kept it to myself. If I tried complaining, no one seemed to understand.
Now I look back and think, maybe they were more fightened of agreeing than actually not understanding me.
I only started to stomach school once I went to college. And even then, I didnt really like it, I just was able to finally swallow. I realized I liked learning, I just hated school.
So what do you think I would go and become.
A teacher.
But not for babies. My students started at age 17 and went all the way up to 40. It's fascinating though, and we don't think of it much, but adults can be equally as cruel as children. They just know how to whisper softer.
Im not sure how much life changes, I guess I would want to teach my children to be comfortable in themselves no matter what traits they expressed. How to do that exactly- I have no idea.

8/16/2006 2:58 PM  
Anonymous Neil said...

September really is the cruelest month. Even today, years out of school, I still think of Fall as a "new beginning" of something -- a something which never fully matches my expectations.

8/16/2006 4:43 PM  
Blogger J Malcolm said...

I wrote a poem once, about how an empty classroom sounds, after all the students left. I lost it somewhere but your piece reminded me of it. I wonder where it went, if I should try to write it again.

8/16/2006 4:45 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Well, I go to work for the day and you guys decide to have a party. Nice.

Rob, you always seem to show up here at 2 in the morning. Restaurant hours suck, don't they?

Valannin, it's probably the summers off. :)


Jemima, glad I could get you going.

Julie, I loooove back to school sales. But I'm a nerd like that.

Flood, don't worry, I was in the stairwell too.

Bookfraud, you're right. Screw those losers.

8/16/2006 7:58 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Bev, welcome. Junior high girls are indeed the worst.

Rand, you're blowing my curve on this one. But I'm glad that you have such enthusiasm for your work. A lot of teachers I know are very down on it.

Gerald, we all get better with age.

Quinn, it sounds like your teacher needed a kick to the head. Good for you for not wanting to follow directions.

Fringes, I'm with you. Any time I see someone from that life, I just run.

Willowtree, you're right about adults being just as cruel. They're just more subtle about it. Why do they have to be like that?

Neil, me too.

J Malcolm, yes, definitely try to find it. Then post it so we can all read it.

8/16/2006 8:04 PM  
Blogger ruby said...

my friends think i'm weird because i spend extra money on office supplies. you are not alone. :)

i had an okay time at school, relatively speaking, but my best friend had it really rough...kids can be incredibly cruel...especially to those who are asserting their individuality...it's such a shame...

8/16/2006 11:41 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Kids can be terrible sometimes. I don't understand it. I wish it didn't have to be that way.

8/16/2006 11:47 PM  
Blogger Justin Evans said...

Thank you for this. It really is a very well constructed meditation. I like it.

8/17/2006 7:23 AM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Justin, you're welcome. Like I said, I wrote it with you in mind, sort of.

8/17/2006 9:27 AM  
Blogger God's Child said...

re I learned many things in those years but most of all, I learned what it was to be ashamed, embarrassed, hurt.

yes, exactly that. If we learn nothing else in school, we learn that.

8/17/2006 4:15 PM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

God's child, welcome. I wish that I had never learned any of those things. Now it seems that's all I know.

8/17/2006 10:06 PM  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

I was the other way around - I hated primary school and loathed high school. But any bad experience with peers is devastating- almost irreparable damage can be done there. I trust not in your case - it can also make us stronger - an inner strength can come from such experiences.

8/18/2006 2:00 AM  
Blogger Writing Blind said...

Chiefbiscuit, sometimes yes and sometimes no. You get past it but there are moments when a face will flash in front of your eyes or you'll hear a certain phrase and it's like you're there all over again. What I wonder is do those kids remember the way they were? And do they regret it?

8/18/2006 8:30 AM  

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