“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!
What a fantastic post! It has made me worried, which is stupid! Tia is only 18 months old and a long way from school. But I was bullied for years in secondary school for wearing basic un branded clothes. I hated going to school, I want Tia to enjoy school and have lots if friends.
Like you, I remember not being that confident as a teen. It was partly because I changed schools at 13 – so had to infiltrate a class where everyone had already made friends. I masked my lack of confidence with attitude and sarcastic put-downs. Nice. Now I look back at the girls who were the most popular in my class, they were not the prettiest, the most fashionable or even the most sporty (although that helped in my school). They were the ones who were confident in themselves and open and straightforward in their dealings with others. That’s what I want to pass on to my son. By straight – be honest – be confident in who you are. And don’t resort to sarcasm. It’s not the best way to make friends!
I remember never having things that ‘everyone’else had. I do see myself making sure that my daughter has every fad that she asks me for… Rubbers/ stickers/rainbow looms etc and I know that it’s all compensatory…
This really touched a sore spot with me. I too hated school and was very much on the fringes. I experienced bullying which has unfortunately shaped the whole rest of my life so far.
My oldest son is heading off to high school after the summer, and I’m frightened for him. He reminds me so much of what I was like at that age, and is also starting to struggle with fitting in. I try to build him up to be happy in who he is, because I think my main struggle at school wasn’t that I was “uncool” but rather that I tried to fight against that and try to be like the “cool” kids. If I had embraced who I was, connected with others like me, then I think I’d have been happier and ultimately less of a target for the bullying I experienced.
You know it’s funny how this post resonated with me as one of those seemingly uncool kids at school who also had just enough confidence to do as he pleased (and followed his dreams). I was subjected to bullying for all of my time at secondary school and also to a certain extent, during 6th form too…. I wonder if everybody is “bullied” in one way or another and if it’s simply Darwinian? If that is the case then all our kids will be subjected to bullying too. However, all is not lost because, like us, they also contain the potential to overcome this environmental adversity to survive. Maybe not completely unscathed, maybe with occasional bruising or scars (seen and unseen) but knowledgeable about themselves and the ways of others…survival of the fittest.
I do believe we have a responsibility to protect children from bullying and I do harbour doubts that schools are equipped to deal with the potential of social media and technology’s potential to extend the reach of bullies but I also remember vividly choosing not to burden my parents with the worst aspects of my school experience for fear that I would have been re-schooled or exposed myself to further ridicule and harassment. I also had good friends – some of whom are friends today even after all these years and many thousands of miles of separation. This again reminds me that there is hope for our kids because they too will be resourceful and able to find strength in their close friends.
In my humble opinion, observing the way my son behaves I know that our parenting has so far been OK, not brilliant, nor terrible, but good enough to ensure that he knows right from wrong. Fundamentally this will remain a principle that he understands and whether he chooses right or wrong; he will know which he is choosing.
Nonetheless, I would love to know what some of my aggressors are doing with their lives now………I hope that they learned positive lessons from their behaviour eventually and have chosen to reinforce right from wrong in their own children……
I won’t truly worry as long as my children are friendly and have friends.
PS Love the photo Rach……