Every day I see children and young people on their way to their elementary school, middle school, and high school. It’s the daily view from my office window here in small-town America, and I love it. School has been in session for a few weeks here and perhaps the newness has worn off. Students are in the swing of things and nearing the halfway mark of another academic year.

I think of those little ones heading to school, imagining their fears, excitement, and stressors. I wonder about their lightbulb moments as they learn new things – it’s always exciting to see their faces light up when something frustrating begins to make sense. School is a mix of anticipation and frustration.

I wonder if the older ones are succeeding or struggling as their studies become more complex. Do they fret over homework or buzz through it effortlessly? Are they class clowns or 4.0 students? Have they connected well with teachers? Do they feel valued and secure and appreciated for who they are? What memories will they have decades later when they look backward at their school days?

I think back to my own ‘first days’ of school, and find my memories are scattered. In actuality, my school days were scattered. Geographically scattered. Culturally scattered. I attended eight schools in five states before I graduated from high school.

I attended kindergarten in Iowa (two locations; two schools) then our family moved to Kansas.

I attended first grade for two weeks before I was ‘promoted’ to second grade. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun! In reality, the new school didn’t offer kindergarten and I was academically ahead of other first graders so they moved me (and my brother, who skipped third grade) ahead. We were forever the youngest ones in our classes.

I remember distinctly one moment during second grade. You know the routine – one student reads aloud as everyone follows along then the teacher calls on another student to read. Well, I was distracted because when my turn came I mispronounced a word I should have known. Had I been listening I would have known the i in island is a long i followed by a silent s, not a short one as in the word “is.”  Epic fail. I’ve never forgotten that embarrassing moment. OMGoodness!

Other memories were more enjoyable like celebrating Kansas’ centennial in ruffled cotton dress common in the era when Kansas became a state, along with a matching sunbonnet. And the time I split my head open on a metal piece of playground equipment that has long since been removed from every school playground. And yes, even that bloody mess was better than my moment of fame on that island.

By third grade, our family lived in the neighboring state of Missouri. Another first day of school, in another school, in another state. Not many memories from there. We weren’t there long, but I do remember the scenic surroundings near our house, the gorgeous cattle my dad got to work with and groom and show, and the day we slid off the road into a ditch on the snowy backroads. No damage was done but we had to be towed out so we could go home. That was also the year I first wore glasses. I remember posing, proudly, by our fence wearing a plaid dress and looking rather nerdy. Perhaps I was.

When the U-Haul arrived in Oklahoma – our next stop – I was introduced to a room full of boys and girls in a rural school. All were 1st, 2nd, or 3rd graders; all in the same classroom. Another first day at another school in another state. This one I remember vividly.

A group of five boys sat together at one end of the room. I didn’t know it at the time, but they had been together since the first day of first grade and there was no way they wanted a girl invading their space or their class. They were third graders. I was a third grader. Oh no!

“Sorry, boys. I’m here!”

I wish I had been spunky and self-confident enough to say that at the time, but I wasn’t. Those boys did grow to accept me and I remained the only girl in their class until I moved away after our 7th-grade year together. Those were the best years of my childhood. Memories still abound.

Our next move took us north – way north. I arrived with my strong Southern accent which shocked my 8th-grade classmates in Madison, Wisconsin. Of course, they were the ones with accents – not me. We lived just outside of the city at a huge dairy operation, complete with a herd of cattle (my dad’s responsibility), a milking parlor (tourist attraction for city folk), a milk processing plant (ditto the tourist attraction) and even a retail store (with ice cream bars, oh my). It was an exciting place to call home for a couple of years.

The transition from a school of 60-some kids and 3 teachers in 7 grades to an urban junior high school with hundreds of 7th-9th grade students and many teachers was a culture shock at best. I was lost in the crowd and overwhelmed, but I adjusted.

Eighteen months later we moved to Winterset, Iowa which was almost like going home since that both sets of grandparents lived there. That’s where I completed the last half of 9th grade while we lived at my grandpa’s house. My dad was between jobs so it was our temporary home. By the time school was out, he was working for a large farming operation in Eastern Iowa. We lived in the country near North Liberty but I attended a new high school in Iowa City for the last three years of high school.

In the fall, I was college-bound and moved to Kansas which is where I’ve lived ever since.

Even now, as a retiree living in small-town America, I see students head to school every day, and the random memories of my own school days flood my mind. The good memories. The not-so-good memories. All, blended together in a collage.

I’m sure my vagabond childhood taught me many things. For one, I became more accepting of people – all people. I also learned to engage others – just about anyone – in conversation. I never meet a stranger – just someone I haven’t met before. It is second nature to me due to my sink-or-swim experiences. I’m incredibly thankful.

As a school secretary, years ago, I had empathy for new kids and did my best to make transitions happy for our new students. I could relate and it’s not always easy to be a new kid.

Our parents approached our moves with anticipation (and taught my brother and me to do the same). Seeing changes as adventures was a gift they probably didn’t even realize they gave us, but it’s one I appreciate to this day. It made me who I am.

Interestingly, my own children grew up in the same home, attending the same schools, with the same students during all of their years in school. I saw that as a disadvantage and hoped I wasn’t robbing the kids of something important, yet both are self-confident adults who aren’t afraid to try new things and do hard things. I’m extremely proud of them.

Perhaps resiliency and self-confidence are in our genes. I tend to think so now. That’s a topic worth exploring in a future blog. So….I’m curious…

What did you learn while in school other than reading, writing, and arithmetic?

What positive traits do you possess that you believe are a result of experiences from childhood?

Other than academically, how did school impact the person you are today?

Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. And, thanks!

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