One of the most important influences on our lives are the years we spend in school. As children, we discover a whole new world out there that our little minds couldn’t even begin to imagine when we’re four or five years old. Our elementary years are especially important because it is here that we learn to interact with the rest of the world outside of the comfort zone of our homes and families.
I can remember my first day of school like it was yesterday. Growing up in Queens, New York in the early 1950’s, my school district did not have mandatory kindergarten and it was only for half a day. My mother walked my older sister back and forth to school every day and didn’t see the need to make that extra trip in the middle of the day just so I could “sit around and play.” So it was that my first experience of school was through my sister and the books that she would bring home. In our school it was the Alice and Jerry readers that captured my heart. We were all early readers in my family and each of the three children were able to read simple sentences before we even entered school. I followed the antics of Alice, Jerry and their dog like a grown-up hooked on a soap opera.
My first day of school was a whirlwind of adventure, excitement and awakenings. I lived in a four family home with my cousins living upstairs, plus more cousins and my mother’s aunt and uncle next door. In my mind, the world consisted of white Italian Catholics. Imagine my amazement when I was introduced to children who were Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Black, and Hispanic. I learned that there were holidays that weren’t practiced by my family such as Hanukkah and Yom Kippur. I tasted exotic foods with strange-sounding names like blintzes and couscous. I heard music that didn’t sound anything like the sounds coming out of my mother’s radio in the kitchen.
Then I learned about the big wide world out there. I found out about Presidents, math, state capitols and stars. I also learned about schoolyard bullies, hierarchies and the human food chain. School was certainly nothing to be taken lightly! Most of all, though, I learned about words. I fell in love with words. Words became my music, my artistic medium. As I moved from grade to grade, I had wonderful teachers who saw my potential and introduced me, way ahead of time, to Fitzgerald, Millay and Dickinson. I moved from first through eighth grades with anticipation that there were so many books, and so little time to read them all.
School is where we learn about socialization and the politics of living. We may find our first BFF’s there. We start to become our own person, with our own opinions and ideas about fair play, and the realization that our actions have huge consequences. It is where we begin to shape who we will become.
Some of us have happy memories of our early school days, and some of us don’t. This week’s writing assignment, on the home page, will give us an opportunity to go back and relive some of those moments that stand out in our minds and that will contribute, one way or another, to the authentic lives that we are creating for ourselves now. I hope it is a pleasant journey back into time for you.
Peace and blessings.