“The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.” Tom Bodett
Every day, twice a day I do the school run. Well, the school walk, really. It’s twenty minutes each way and once the mayhem of shoe location, lunch preparation and eventual depositing of Monkey safely in his classroom has been achieved, I can walk back with less haste and collect my thoughts a bit.
School mornings are a bit like groundhog day, in that we generally see the same faces at more or less the same junctures of the route as we half walk/half jog and scoot uphill on our way, usually seven or eight minutes behind schedule. There’s a particularly cross-looking couple who are always hastily chain smoking before they get on the tube. My son will usually make a comment about the stinkiness of their cigarettes, within earshot. There’s also a guy who looks almost exactly like an old colleague of mine but with his eyes slightly further apart. If he’s reached the bottom of the hill by the time we start our ascent I can be sure that we’ll arrive after the school bell.
An array of dog walkers holding little bags of dog poop pass us, not forgetting the ubiquitous elderly ladies with shopping trolleys. My daughter likes to wave and smile charmingly at them before breaking into a lion’s roar once she’s gained eye contact, causing surprise and alarm amongst some of the more mature passers by.
But those who really provoke flashbacks in my memory are the teenagers – the girls in particular. I see the same ones each day and it’s difficult not the cast them all into different roles based on the hierarchy which prevailed at my and I’d imagine pretty much every other secondary school in living memory.
I see the immaculately groomed girls with perfect make up, glossy swishy hair and a well practised scowl. There’s an exceptionally tall and broad young woman who, despite her flat shoes, towers above the boys who hang around outside the coffee shop next to school. She hunches herself over in an attempt to look smaller, looking as if she’d rather be absolutely anywhere else but here. I see the awkward looking girls who don’t quite have the right coat or school bag, walking a few paces behind trying not to be noticed and find myself transported back to my own early teenage years in the mid 1990’s.
Factions of them stand at the bus stop, gathered around someone’s smartphone sharing in-jokes whilst others linger in solitude, pretending not to care.
As a teenager I remember thinking if my school days were to be the best of my life, I was done for. I really, really didn’t like school. I found the swishy-haired girls intimidating and wondered if there was a handbook or memo I’d missed, explaining how best to communicate with the upper echelons of the school’s clique system. I always felt on the outside looking in and that’s because, really, I was.
So it’s with that in mind that I wish I could somehow communicate with the girls I see each morning and afternoon. I wish I could ask the pretty and popular ones to use their powers for good. To smile more if they can and to extend an olive branch to the geekier girls who they barely acknowledge unless it’s to ridicule them for wearing the wrong shoes, bag or shade of lipgloss. I’d love to sit down with the lonely and left out ones and tell them that it’s okay, or at least that it will be. That these tough times will be one day be behind them. And yes, far tougher days may well be ahead, too. But school ends.
You don’t have to stay in touch with the girls who torment and tease you. You can one day leave it all behind. I want them to know that often the worst offenders in the school-ground cruelty stakes actually peak in high school. Life may never get better for them, but it will for you, it really will. The ones who tease you for your good grades will still be standing at the same bus stop in a few years time when you drive past them in your shiny new car.
I realise, of course I do, that I’m making vast generalisations and judgements based on appearances here and I do so with my tongue half in my cheek. I have no way of knowing the circumstances of any of the strangers I see each day on my travels. I’m well aware that behind each hurried or distracted face lies a story and an individual. With feelings, experiences and struggles that I know nothing about.
I can’t help every angsty or surly teenager survive high school. But I can use my own memories and experiences to help raise two children with the strength to hold their heads above the parapet when they reach their teens. At the moment they are two and four years old. I have several years before the onset of their teenage years. Somehow I hope to find a way to make them brave enough to include those who are left out and to not base their self worth on their social standing at school.
But the question is, how? More than anything I want my husband and I to be the people they can turn to regardless and unconditionally. I hope that the knowledge that we love and support them 100% will be enough to help them weather any and every storm. But will this be enough?
Some of my class of ’95.
I’d really love to hear if and how memories of your school days have shaped your parenting in any way. Whether your children are little like mine or currently going through the teenage stage right now, I’d be so grateful if you’d please leave a comment below. You’ll be asked for your email address, which will be kept private and you don’t have to use your real name. Thank you, lovely readers!