But in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. – B. Franklin
… and school. – J. Pyron
My son goes back to school tomorrow. My daughter starts Wednesday. It’s the first time in many years they’ve not gone to the same school.
When Charles was in 8th grade, we agonized over the decision of where to send him to high school. He shadowed at other schools, but ultimately, we decided it was best for him to stay at the small Episcopal school where my mother teaches, where we know the families and where we felt he’d receive the best education.
Shortly after 9th grade began, so did his complaints. It’s too small. Everyone is in my business. I don’t like it. When can I leave?
I didn’t understand. He was playing two varsity sports. He was making good grades. He had good friends. He was never without something to do on the weekends. What was wrong?
The complaints continued sophomore year, which ended up being the hardest year of his life thus far. Surprised? Me, too. I would have thought the year his father and I separated and divorced would have earned that ranking. But he and I both agree, it was last year.
I tried to get at the root of it, to dig into what was troubling him and pinpoint the reasons he wasn’t happy. One night, I said, “I’m worried about you. You’re just so unhappy.” He looked at me like I was crazy, “I’m not unhappy!” he insisted. “I just really hate school.”
One day, he got in the car after school. “Today was another horrible day,” he announced. “How so?” I asked. “They all are,” he lamented. “Can I please just leave?”
There is nothing worse than knowing your child is unhappy. Unless it’s knowing he’s unhappy and not having a clear understanding why. It was at that point I quit trying to understand, and I tried to just listen.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to understand. After all, I’ve been there.
In 9th grade, I followed the majority of my female classmates to the all-girl Catholic high school. I had lots of friends. I went to football games. I went to dances. I had plenty to do on the weekends.
But in the school building, I wasn’t happy. Something wasn’t clicking. My chest felt tight and my adrenaline rushed when I walked through the door every morning. The curriculum bored me. Everything felt homogenous. My grades started to slip. I grew defiant.
I looked around every day at my classmates and friends who were happy and wondered what was wrong with me. Why wasn’t this clicking? Why couldn’t I find my footing?
One afternoon, my mother found me crying on my bed. It had been a miserable day. I looked at her and said, “Don’t make me go back there. Don’t make me stay.”
They didn’t. I started sophomore year at the public high school near my house. I felt lighter, hopeful, and happy. It turned out be an excellent move.
The buzz of the crowded hallways energized me. I loved being in classrooms where not everyone looked like me or thought like me. I loved the variety of classes offered. I found my footing in the Drama department and my passion in the Journalism room. I graduated in the top 10% of my class, and the friends I made are still the ones who know me best – and love me anyway.
I found my place. It was a good fit.
I buried all those memories of my “lost year” of high school, but they resurfaced when I took Charles to register for his junior year at Little Rock Central High.
The hallways were packed with kids and parents. I was nervous, unsure of how to navigate the lines, fill out the forms and not miss anything. I looked over at my son, hoping he wasn’t feeling the same way.
His smile was broader than I’ve seen in a long time. He kept waving at people he knew, hugging and laughing with friends. He suggested (twice!) I sign up to help in the front office, so I did. He wanted spirit items, so I forked over $70 for a hat, two shirts and a tumbler with the LRCH logo.
As we left the building, exiting through the massive wooden doors and walking down those impressive, historic stone steps, he said excitedly, “That was so much fun!”
He is leaving a school where everyone knew his name. Where each classroom had no more than 15 kids in it. Where his graduating class had only 50 members. It’s an excellent school. I will miss it for him.
His new school has 2,400 students. He’s a number now, but he’ll soon meet teachers who’ll learn his name. He’ll sit in class with kids vastly different from him. He’ll learn so much from them, and hopefully be able to share a thing or two himself. He’s taking Debate and a computerized business applications class, on top of four AP classes. He’s playing baseball.
The best thing yet? he’s actually looking forward to going to school tomorrow.
We’re in for another year of new experiences and changes. Does it ever stop? I suppose not when you have teenagers.
Here’s to uncertainty. To new. To revolutions and revelations. To a good fit. And, hopefully, to happy.