School Walk

Due to an unfortunate series of events, we’re not able to attend our school of choice for the upcoming school year. I don’t feel like the details are mine to share here, but I’m beginning to suspect my personal hang-ups are a big part of framing the narrative in front of us anyway, so I’ll share that part of this story.

My experience with K-12 schooling was mostly quite bad. I grew up in a tiny, poor, isolated dtown. I had undiagnosed ADHD. This was a time when most people thought this was a boy problem only, but more than that, we didn’t have access to the professionals or finances it takes to get this sorted anyway–I’ve written a bit about these ADHD frustrations before. It was years of adults being annoyed with me without me understanding why. There was a lot of dramatic sighing, a lot of giving up on all sides, and a lot of feeling very small and incapable.

I grew up collecting bugs and being curious about the anatomy of dead animals I found in the woods. I spent most of my time in the pond and bringing things back in jars to care for or put under a microscope. I was so naturally drawn to and excited about sciences. Until a middle school counselor told me it wasn’t practical as a career choice. I was young, very impressionable, and had very little confidence, and this had a huge impact on me. I became less curious–it was a silly waste of time. I stopped putting effort into science and math classes since there was no point.

The only class I’ve ever failed and had to retake was high school biology, something I was so anxious to fully be a part of just a few years prior. It was fun and games, not for people who wanted real jobs. I drifted through school, getting by, no longer excited about any aspect of it. I just wanted to get it over with so I could apply to all those mediocre schools the counselor had given me brochures for and continue this sad little march with my head down.

I didn’t enjoy school until college and didn’t love school until my graduate program. Here, things were less structured, and I could follow the path I was most interested in. I learned to question people, even people older than myself, even people who were supposed to know it all. I learned that I was capable, and I found a new path forward. It was still without science, but it was something that felt fulfilling and important nonetheless. The takeaway here in my primitive brain was that public school is bad and private school is good. And even though I ultimately know better now, a small part of this thinking has driven my decisions for Ben without allowing room for the significant differences at play.

I don’t want to move on from here without first saying that this all isn’t to say that I didn’t have good teachers early on. One in particular, my elementary gym teacher, stands out among one of the most caring humans I’ve ever met. I generally felt pretty invisible growing up. Things were hard at home; a lot was going on, and getting lost and overlooked was easy and normal. But he saw me. He saw that I was struggling, and made efforts to help. The feeling of someone making those efforts in a calm, caring, calculated way is something that’s stuck with me–a source of safety and stability in a scary and shaky environment. I’ll never forget him.

An additional positive is that, with the exception of just a couple of years, I walked to school from kindergarten through high school. First accompanied by my mom and younger sister, then just my sister, and then eventually alone. This routine turned into something that became very important without me fully understanding why. It was a way to level out any emotions stored up from that morning, meet up with friends, or run into new ones. Getting the day started with movement felt wonderful, and it all just became a vital transition time from home to school and back again.

For me, commutes have always created a profound quality of life issue. Additionally, other logistics throughout the day are made more difficult–everything has to be planned around this commute time. Ben has so far only gone to schools that require us to commute. First 10-15 minutes, then 25-30 minutes. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you count time to then get home and back again, it adds up. It’s time we need to spend working to pay for the outrageous costs of these private schools. It’s time spent grumpy over running late, stuck on closed roads, realizing we forgot lunch on the counter, missed lights. It’s a terrible way to start the day for everyone–nothing like those walks to school alone with my thoughts.

Well, now, we are confronted with the possibility of Ben walking to school. Walking to a public school. With each day that passes since this news, one of the big decisions I had been waiting on finally showing its ugly head, I become more confused about what’s right–what to settle on, what to fight for, what’s acceptable, what’s good, what’s unique and what’s a replay of my school experiences just waiting to happen.

I want him to experience a life of walking to school, but I don’t want him to experience adults sighing at him all day and convincing him that what he’s curious about, what drives him, is a waste of time. Setting him up to fail is, of course, the exact thing I don’t want to do, but at what point do the best of intentions orchestrate this happening anyway? Sometimes, it’s not clear until damage has been done.

I don’t fully understand how to balance implementing valuable learned lessons and also allowing Ben’s situation to be different. Ben is different, and his parents are different. There are similarities, but mostly, there are differences, and I’m not sure these hang-ups of mine are serving any of us well at this point.

Hopefully, what I’ve shared here and being open to what the 2024-2025 school year could bring is a step in the right direction.

See you tomorrow over breakfast.

February 21, 2024

A tiny project byJoni Trythall inspired by friends at Wiggle Work.