I was taking a shortcut in the grocery store from produce to dairy when it happened again. One minute I was rolling along with my cart and my list, grooving to some surprisingly good tunes on the loudspeaker, and then I saw them. I came to a dead stop. I got that familiar sinking/queasy feeling somewhere between anxiety and terror. I quickly averted my eyes and continued on my quest for yogurt, but I could no longer hear the music. It happens every year about this time when I start to see them again. Those three small, dreadful words: Back To School.
Now, I should explain that the first day of school has no real impact on my actual life. I don’t have children who go to school. I haven’t been in school myself for over 30 years. I guess it’s a kind of post-traumatic shock thing, because when the floaties and flip flops give way to notebooks and #2 pencils in the “Seasonal” section of the store, or when I start to see kids waiting for the school bus, I’m emotionally transported back to my childhood – even though I never even rode the school bus. You see, I hated school. I mean I really, truly hated it. From the first day of kindergarten to the last day I attended college. I’m not sure exactly why. Probably at the start it had a lot to do with being separated from my mother and my little sister at home. But I think it ultimately had more to do with the structure, the rules and the judgment. From the very first day, it was stand here, sit there, come inside, line up, don’t talk, read this, write that, Oh, and by the way, you’re doing it wrong.
It wasn’t that I was a poor student. I was on the honor roll. I wasn’t bullied or isolated. I was shy, but I always had a few good friends. And the nuns at my Catholic elementary school weren’t those stereotypical mean or abusive types. The Sister Mary Somebodys at St. Peter’s were kind and loving to me, and some of them were a lot of fun. Junior high and high school were a nightmare, but mine was no different from the typical pubescent nightmare many people experience. I attended college for a while, at first only because all my friends were going and I didn’t want to stay home and work at my father’s office. Then I realized I could move to another town, earn a decent living and have friends without the stress and indignity of school, so I left. Over the years, I tried going back a couple of times, just to see if it somehow felt different or important, but it didn’t. I briefly considered going back when I worked for a university and could have taken classes for free. But it was never about money.
I guess it’s about freedom. And, frankly, it’s about ego. I’m proud that I’ve been able to get good jobs and support myself without one of those magical, mystical college degrees. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy learning. I recently learned how to clean the carburetor on my lawnmower and how to install a water heater. Over the years I’ve learned how to mediate and resolve conflicts, how to give engaging presentations, how to sing with a microphone and enthrall an audience, how to produce, direct, and edit music videos, how to manage a website, how use a variety of computer software systems, how to take pictures with a telephone, and how to grow potatoes.
I just wish I could learn how to stop wanting to hide under the bed when the school bus rolls down my street for the first time!