Thursday, January 30, 2014

Early School Year, What Were They Thinking?

I am old enough that when I was growing up, Kindergarten didn't seem to be mandatory; at least I didn't go so I assume it wasn't required.  In fact, I didn't actually attend public school until third grade.  My parents had made the decision to home school me, so my first two years of school were in the family kitchen.  I remember the dark brown shiny table, and the red plastic chairs with the black paisley-like pattern.  I didn't know any different, public schools weren't part of my world.  Of course I saw school buses and the other kids riding them, and I would see the schools in town as we drove by and kids playing on the playground.  I wanted that.  I wanted to ride the yellow bus to school, I wanted to play with other kids.  I didn't understand why they got to go to school together, but I had to stay home.

First grade me

Then I got a small taste.  I had to attend public school for a few days for a state-wide yearly exam.  I can't remember what it was called, but I'm going to go with OWLS because I'm in a Harry Potter frame of mind.  (It may have been called the California Achievement Test or "CAT" but given we were in Oregon I have no idea why that would be the case but things like that rarely make sense to me.)  I remember being excited and terrified.  I also remember feeling very small walking into the grade school with my mom, down an impossibly long and tall hall, to the class room I would be taking the exam in.  Then I was left in a room of strangers to take a test.  (No wonder I have test anxiety.)  I didn't know anyone.  I don't remember talking to anyone.  I got to go to recess with the class but I remember being too scared to really play, and I had no one to play with.  The second day was more of the same.  I was glad to be done with the ordeal.

I had to do it again when I was in second grade.  It wasn't any easier the second time.

Third grade came around and everything changed; I was being sent to public school.  Part of me was excited, but most of me was stressed, anxious, and afraid.  I'm not sure why my parents changed their minds after two years.  I might have been a bit of a handful.  Maybe my mom was having a hard time juggling teaching me and taking care of my two younger sisters (the youngest was not even a year old) while still running the herb store (yet another story for another time).  Maybe a little bit of all of that.  What ever it was, it meant I was going to public school.

I think the first day I was more excited than anything else.  I'm pretty sure mom drove me and walked me in the first day.  I had a shiny new backpack full of new school supplies and new shoes, I was ready.  I remember it being bright, loud, and everything seemed huge.  I think I was a little overwhelmed from the start.  Most of the kids already knew each other, there were a few new kids like me but not many.  Pretty much everyone knew everyone already.  I had to remember all these new names.  Then there were the things everyone just knew from being in the public school system, like the pledge of allegiance, which I also had to learn (for extra fun, every morning one of us would be leading the class in this pledge and we would all get a turn, can you guess who was stressed out about getting a turn?).  Recess brought yet another set of things I didn't know like tether ball and four-square (I still don't know how to play either of those games).  Don't even get me started about any of the various bars one could sit on, hang from or do tricks on.  There was also learning bus etiquette, and where I got on and off the bus to go to school and to go home.  The bus lines to go home were crazy to me.  We'd line up in the gym, each bus/route had a line and then they would take each line outside as the bus pulled up and we'd get on the bus.

The first week I think we were all busy getting used to the new route, and the new school (at least I had that in common with the kids-third grade was a different school and we would be there through fifth grade).  The second week it was different.  I wasn't so overwhelmed by the newness and trying to remember everything.  Now I was getting to see how different I was, or how the other kids saw me.  I was not succeeding in breaking into any of the groups that had formed back in first grade (kindergarten for some).  And for the first time I was being made fun of and I didn't understand.  I will admit, as an outsider looking in, I probably would have picked on me too.  I was a chunky kid with uncool clothes and crazy long hair.  I was shy and probably overly desperate to fit in.  I was an easy target.  But of course being the age I was, new to everything, and wanting to fit in I didn't understand.

Third grade me (my mom was so mad that the photographer 
couldn't be bothered to move the hair from my face)

School was something I came to dread.  I was anxious about what new torment lay around the corner for me.  I'd worry about getting there, and then in class I'd dread even stupid things like going to the bathroom.  To use the bathroom we had to leave the room and go down the hall.  Kids sitting in the hall always had something to say to me, usually "nice pants fattie" or "hey fattie," you get the point.  I would get hot, nervous and sweaty just thinking about it.  Recess wasn't much better.  I would sit against the wall near the classroom with a book waiting for recess to be over.  Even today as an adult I have that same horrible feeling of dread, anxiety, and insecurity walking around encountering strangers.

I have painted this picture of misery which to me at the time and in looking back, was a horrible lonely time for me.  But it wasn't all bad.  There were kids that I would interact with and they weren't completely mean to me.  I was the butt of a lot of jokes, and that seemed to be my place in my various circles of friends (there is another story coming).  I didn't get invited to many parties, but there were the occasional times where the whole class was invited, or all the girls were invited.  

I'm sure this contributed to my social phobias and anxiety.  I do much better in smaller social settings (if I must be social), and I have a pretty small circle of friends (most of them don't even know each other).  I'd like to say my life would have been easier if my parents had just sent me to public school from the start.  At least I would have had a fighting chance if I'd started with everyone at the very beginning.  But the flip side is the struggles and lessons I've learned have made me the person I am now, the good and the bad, and despite the things I want to change about myself (weight /sigh) I'm happy with who I've turned out to be.

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