First of all I want to say that I LOVE(D) school. I love(d) to learn new things, to stimulate my body and mind, to get turned on to something that fills in some blank for me or to learn something that totally changes who I am. My mom was a schoolteacher so I think the love of learning and later teaching was planted early. Sharing what I love. Can teaching ever be anything more than that?
However, the social part of school always freaked me out in varying degrees. To go from my Uruguayan family compound, the tribe, to a room full of kids and an adult I did not know at all and have to spend the whole day with them! That was too much. I don’t remember my first day of kindergarten but I do remember being bored out of my little 5 year old skull. Maybe because my mom was a teacher at my elementary school, and had taught me all there was to learn in kindergarten, a few weeks later I got bumped to 1st grade. This is when the “first day” trauma began.
My first day of 1st grade, I was sitting between all these kids who were a year older than me and whom I did not know. And they all knew each other. On the board were all these three letter words. The only one I remember was “oso” (bear). Tears streamed down my face and I think that was the first time that the thought “what have I signed up for?” skated through my mind. I was like a deer in the headlights for a few weeks. However, before I knew it all my fellow students who had seemed so strange, felt like family to me.
Right when 3rd grade ended in December of 1973, we moved from Uruguay to the United States. My first day at PS 206 in Flushing Meadow, NY was also a day of streaming tears. We had moved to the 15th floor of a building without a 13th floor. The view from our western side of our apartment was the Long Island Expressway and the twin towers of the World Trade Center getting taller and taller.
Here is why I cried this time. First of all, they put me back in 2nd grade! That year I had leapt over was totally gone! However, it was probably a good thing that I was with kids my age (although they were all strangers to me that day) and could be with the curves of both learning of a new language and taking in a new culture. Second, I did not understand a word! A tough girl (as tough as a 2nd grader can get) sat in front of me and cursed at me in English all day long. I don’t even remember what she said since I did not understand her but as soon as the teacher got wind of what she was up to, I was moved to the other side of the room. Third, my teacher called me a name I had never been called. In Uruguay many girls have “Maria” as part of their name. Maria Josefa, Ana Maria, Maria del Carmen… In Uruguay, I had been Laura. My middle name. It took me about a week to figure out that my teacher was talking to me when she called “Maria.”
In 1976, we moved from Queens to Syosset, a pretty posh town on Long Island. My mom and dad moved there for the schools. The highschool was an open campus design that was lauded as uber modern. I was not going to get there for a few years, however as I was going into 5th grade in 1976. My teacher was Mrs.Diamond and yes, I did have tears streaming down my face for the whole first day. Nothing like being the new kid and also crying all day long in a room of kids that had been together since kindergarten. I think the crying is all these first days was so much about feeling all alone, without my mommy.
All this came back to me when we walked my niece Camryn through her new school the other day. She has just come to live with us and we enrolled her at Florence Roche in the 4th grade. The guidance counselor was sweet as she gave us the tour and showed Camryn her classroom. The teacher introduced her to the kids and they all waved hello. Here is her new world, I thought and without even realizing it, there were tears streaming down my face again. Camryn’s mom is sick and can’t take care of her. That is why she is with us, and starting a new school. Most of her tears while with us have been about missing her other school. Eventually, our school, when we are little, becomes like home. Our friends become like family. Our teachers like strange aunties and uncles. How hard it is to leave or to enter anew!
Camryn has something going for her that I did not. She has her cousin, my son, Samuel, also a 4th grader in the class right next to her. Sam asked that on the tour, we stop in his classroom so he could introduce Camryn to his class too. The look on his face and the warmth he showed Camryn in front of his class was devestatingly beautiful! Did I know he had that in him? Because of him, she has an “in”.