I have three distinct sets of friends on facebook. There are my Indiana friends who all posted their first day of school pictures at the end of July. Then there are my Utah/western United States friends who posted their back to school pictures in the middle of August. Finally, there is everybody else- the traditionally scheduled people- who finally put up their first day of school pictures this week, after Labor Day.
When I was little, school started the day after Labor Day and ended just before Memorial Day. To suggest otherwise was downright ridiculous and possibly unpatriotic.
There were no school uniforms when I was young. The closest thing we had to a dress code was the unspoken rule that girls should wear dresses on the first day of school and on picture day. Beyond that, we mostly wore blue jeans with Donnie & Marie, Brady Bunch, or Mork & Mindy t-shirts. Feathered hair was the coifing aspiration of all (this was the late seventies after all) but at the very least, straight hair was expected. No one had curls- except for me.
We lived in the country in southern Iowa and so I rode the bus to school with kids of all other grades. After an hour long bus ride in the morning, we stopped at the high school so the older kids could get off and then continued to the elementary school.
I liked riding the bus with all the older students. A pack? Caucus? Group? of high schoolers taught me how to tie my shoes when I was in kindergarten. They also helped me read my Dick and Jane books when I was in first grade.
At recess, my friends and I usually played ponies out on the grass. I didn’t run with the uber-popular group, so the swings were usually off limits. If my friends and I were fighting, I played Star Trek with the athletically challenged boys. (The other boys always played some sort of sport: basketball, baseball, soccer, or tetherball- my personal favorite.) Sometimes I even hung out with the loners on the monkey bars. These were the kids destined to hang out under the bleachers and smoke in high school.
The only time I ever remember lobbying fiercely to play sports was in fourth grade. School officials announced that girls weren’t allowed to play soccer with the boys as it was too rough for our “delicate physiques.” Dozens and dozens of girls who had been content to play ponies and never aspired to anything more athletic than tetherball suddenly began demanding permission to chase a black and white ball up and down a dusty field.
I was one of them and joined in sweaty clandestine soccer matches at recess until the teacher chaperone broke things up once she noticed what was going on. After the game was busted, all the girls who had been caught had to line up to go inside early. With dirty faces and clothes we marched as slow as we could back into the school all while singing, “I am woman hear me roar, in numbers too small to ignore!”
School administrators eventually caved on their prohibition (our singing was horrible) and all girls were graciously allowed to play soccer as long as they only played with other girls. Everyone’s soccer mania soon faded after that because we didn’t really want to play soccer, we just didn’t want to be told we couldn’t.
I was spanked once, in the school lunchroom, in front of all of my friends. The principal (an older, evil looking man with a scrawny mustache, whom I hope is spending at least some amount of time in purgatory right now) was patrolling up and down the aisles. When he passed our table, he leaned right over and smacked me, hard, on my backside. No explanation was ever given.
Everyone one whose last name began with A-F (we sat alphabetically) saw what happened and I could see the shocked sympathy on all their faces. The news soon travelled down the line and within minutes everybody knew. I refused to cry, but my nose dripped a little and my cheeks felt very hot. By the end of lunch period, I had received dozens and dozens of red and white cartons with tater-tots in them, smuggled down from friends and fellow “rebels” who had had similar run ins with authority.
To this day, thirty-two years later, tater-tots provide instant comfort on lousy, gloomy days when nothing is going right. They taste of potatoes, salt, and love.
To all those kids out there who are finally starting up their new academic year at last, this blog post is dedicated to you and to the students who began a few weeks ago. May you learn more than multiplication facts and grammar this year. May you also learn to stand up for causes you truly believe in and to be kind to those who could use a little bit of compassion.
These sorts of things never go out of style, unlike feathered bangs and straight hair.