Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Umbrellas, lunch boxes and and other back to school indignities...

     Way back on my first day of sixth grade, I took both an umbrella and a lunch box to school.  What was I thinking?  How was I to know that what was acceptable had changed drastically over the two months of summer vacation?

      I had walked to the bus stop and I was a little bit late, so my bus stop peers had already boarded the bus.  Had I arrived at the bus stop early enough to chat, they might have told me of my faux pas, but they were a quiet bunch, so I think it's equally as likely that they would have kept their mouths shut and blended into the scenery.   Although it was warm outside, it was and my walk was several hundred feet down the road, so that morning my mother had handed me an umbrella, which I took unquestioningly as I headed out the door.  How did I know the horror that awaited me?  I was the oldest kid in my family, and had no prior experience with "cool" versus "uncool."

     The bus approached before I got to the stop.  It rolled to a standstill, and the door creaked open loudly.  I could see the kids in the front of the bus leaning forward, craning their necks to see who I was, and what I looked like.  I asked, "Is this the bus to the middle school?" the driver said, "yes..." and then I heard it...


     ...and I still had to get on the bus. 

     I don't remember anything else about my day, just that first minute before getting on the bus.  That night I got home and I begged my mother to let me take my lunch to school in a brown bag, but she was not having any of that.  She was practical, and she has just bought the lunch box.  Besides, my lunch would get squished in a brown bag.  She made me a very large tote bag to carry the lunch box in, but it was like carrying a large grenade.  I had to make sure my tote bag was carried verrrryyy carefully, and remained zipped at all times except when I was removing my unsquished lunch.  It also didn't matter that I never, ever took an umbrella to school again, unless I could stash it somewhere before the bus rounded the corner.  I was still Mary Poppins, and I was Mary Poppins almost every day that year.  And the next year, too.  It was acceptable to be sopping wet upon your arrival to school, but it was NOT acceptable to carry an umbrella.  To this day, many decades later, I rarely remember to take an umbrella with me.

     The other day I stood in the backyard at a birthday party for one of my daughter's friends, and another girl's mother asked me, "So what are the COOL stores I have to shop in for school clothes this year?" I smiled wryly to myself and thought of the story I just told you...  Imagine someone asking me about being cool in sixth grade, even though I haven't been a sixth grader for decades?  

     My own kids seem to have a better handle than I ever did on how to refrain from becoming uncool.  Maybe it's because they're fairly close in age - even though they'd never admit it, they look after each other, cover each other's backs like soldiers in battle.   And I've always encouraged them to look out for other kids as well.   I was not very good at that.  Or maybe not as good at it as I would like to say.  When you feel like you're in the crosshairs, and the target moves to someone else, you generally don't feel like bringing yourself back into focus.  You're just relieved that they've finally laid off of you.   Still, we should all try to teach our kids to look after one another.  I tell my kids, "If you see a kid picking on another kid, tell that mean kid to cut it out."  You might have some influence, I tell them.  

Strong people stick up for themselves.

The strongest of people stick up for others. 

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