I remember my first day of grade school.
We lived very close to school – I could hear the bell ring from our back yard – so I walked to school that September morning so long ago, holding my mother’s hand tightly. Even back then I didn’t like change. I wished desperately I was staying home with my mom, helping her hang laundry and clean up the breakfast dishes. (After 20 years of having a little one under foot, my mother wished I would walk a little faster, I’m sure!)
My teacher was Sr. Charles Marie and, even at five years of age, I had heard horror stories about her. And she didn’t disappoint. There she stood, tall (for a five year old) and imposing in her black habit and veil covering her hair. When she took my hand from my mother’s, I couldn’t help but notice her hands were not nearly as warm or comforting. With tears in my eyes, I watched my mom’s back as she walked home without me.
We were lined up and told to be quiet, which I’m sure was unnecessary, at least for me, as I hadn’t said a word since I saw my mother leave. We marched by two’s into the school and so began for me 16 years of Catholic school education.
(By the way, Sr. Charles more than lived up to her reputation. Her number one rule: no erasing – even though we wrote in pencil and were in first grade! The punishment? The page was ripped out and all work had to be done over again – neatly and cleanly. One infamous event even necessitated a phone call to the principal from my mother - unheard of in our family as we were repeatedly told the teacher was always right! Our class was kept after school until 5:00 because no one admitted to throwing out a tuna fish sandwich at lunch. Not only was my mother incensed that first graders had to stay so late, but she couldn’t imagine why I was being held for detention when I didn’t even stay for lunch and therefore couldn’t have been the culprit!)
I made it through Sr. Charles and first grade, and seven more grades, before moving on to the local high school in ninth grade.
I remember my first day of high school.
Again, let me remind you that I was the youngest of six children and my mother was an old hand at saving money any way she could. Her theory when buying uniforms (and clothes in general) was the bigger it was, the longer it would last you. That’s why I started my high school career wearing an XL uniform (never mind that I was five feet tall and weighed 95 pounds soaking wet).
Not only was the uniform big but it was also hot. The high school did have a summer uniform but my mom was not going to waste good money on a uniform that I would only wear a handful of times. (She finally relented in my Sophomore year when the sweat stains in my long-sleeve blouses became too much to get out.)
I made it through 12 years of uniforms and hot classrooms and, to my delight, was given a full scholarship to a local college to study English/communications.
I remember my first day of college.
I was commuting and so would be home every day, but our orientation required everyone stay overnight for one night. One night! So, reminiscent of my first day of first grade, I walked to school with my mother and cried when she left! Some things never change. (Have I mentioned I don’t like change?)
What do all these first days have in common? They demonstrate that, despite my intense dislike of change, and the many challenges I faced during these first days, I not only completed 16 years of school, but I excelled as well. Change isn’t all bad then, is it?
Over the past few weeks, I have sent my son off to his first job, my daughter off to her first year of college and my youngest off to her first day of high school. That’s a lot of firsts, and a lot of change. I have cried with them, consoled them and commiserated with them.
But I remind them, and myself, that change is necessary and change can be good. So here’s to all the firsts and changes we are all experiencing these days. May we appreciate them – good and bad – and learn and grow from them.
If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living. (Gail Sheehy).