Monday, May 16, 2011

The Way We Were

"Memries, may be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget"
~ Barbra Streisand, Way We Were

My elementary school. Depending on
your experience, fantastical castle
or house of horrors.
I recently joined a Facebook group made up of alumni from the grade school I attended from nursery through 8th grade. I remember this school in very foggy detail - only a few scraps here and there: gluing tiles onto a roof of a bird house I made, an older child laughing at me for not understanding that "half" was the same as "half of a whole", learning to count to 10 in Japanese, the school cook's divine Apple Brown Betty dessert, wearing my mother's purple, silk slip as a dress to school and being told I couldn't play in the yard because I was dressed too "fancy" - strange the things that stick with you.

Stranger, still, are the things you have no memory of. On this Facebook page there is a large group of people who are about 6 or 7 years older than I am and apparently there had been a male teacher at the school who had psychologically and sexually abused many of the students. To make matters worse, once it was discovered, the school did a lousy job of handling the situation and simply fired him without telling parents, teachers or students what had happened. Once the students who had been subjected to this man graduated, there was no one left to discuss the matter. In effect, the memory was erased from the school.  

Me and mom, 1975. I remember this
day. I had a fight with my dad because I
was embarrassed that he wanted us to take
a picture in front of this weird truck.
So it makes sense why I have no memory of this man or what happened; I was only 6 at the time of his firing. But what about all the other memories that I've been reading about that I have no recollection of? Why don't I remember Manny or Rudy, the teachers everyone seems to have loved? Why don't I remember our principal losing her leg in a car accident? Why don't I remember our greasy haired math teacher being mean to a boy in our class who probably had some learning disability now that I think back on it? My memories of the school itself are good ones, although few and far between. I think I was so self-conscious and so worried about how others saw me that I was not paying attention to much outside of myself. I was never bullied, but I remember feeling lonely and sad and left out often. I remember wishing to be more popular with the "cool kids". I look at photos of myself from those days and see an awkward, shy kid and I wonder to myself about how my own children will experience elementary school. What will their memories be? 

I know I can't protect them from everything, all I can do is equip them with tools to protect themselves once they go out into the world. I know children, in general, tend to be self-absorbed; I hope that I have learned from my own behaviors enough to not pass the addition of being self-conscious on to them. I want them to be proud of who they are, to be confident, to be sure of themselves. I've heard research often quoted that when Kindergarteners are asked who is the smartest kid in class, 100% will say themselves. But just a few years later this percentage drops dramatically. What happened in those few years to strip a child of his confidence? Mostly what happens is school.

We're in the throes of our search for an elementary school for our kids. We've been remarkably blessed to have them at a wonderful preschool where their creativity and individuality is nurtured and where each child has a voice and knows how to use it. They're off to a great beginning, I am doing my best to keep them on the right track! I hope I am teaching my children to be kind, confident, assertive and to think for themselves. I hope they will run the gauntlet of their school years and come out on the other side as I somehow did, relatively unscathed. My schools years weren't perfect, but no one's are. I think I am going to stick with my Barbra Streisand version of memories and simply remember the laughter.

Thanks for reading.
-Gina
The Twin Coach 

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