Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Big School

My heart skips a beat whenever I drop my my twelve-year-old son off at school in the morning, and he sneaks a look over his shoulder at me, as he walks away, and makes the faintest gesture of a wave good-bye.  It’s the barest acknowledgment, and yet a clear demonstration of the depth of his feelings, the expression of which is no longer cool.  They are slowly being buried deeper and deeper beneath the stoic, reveal-nothing demeanor of a Tween. 

We recently took Cameron to the orientation at the junior high school, which, here in Eagle Rock, is on the same campus as the high school.  The Eagle Rock Junior/Senior High (ERHS) campus appears huge and confusing after elementary school, even one as large as Eagle Rock Elementary which hosts about a thousand students.  This junior-senior high school is so different than the schools I attended in the Midwest that I’m challenged to wrap my mind around what it would be like to attend this big school at the tender age of twelve.

There are about as many students on this campus as there were in the high school I attended, although it was just a three year school and this one has six grades.  The ERHS campus, however, is much more spread out than either my junior high or senior high schools were.  My schools were contained in single large building, likely due to the more severe weather where I went to school, so finding one’s way around campus was not as daunting.  The classes at the campus here are spread out among the main building, numerous bungalows, far-flung boys’ and girls’ gymnasiums, and the swimming pool in the city park across the street.  ERHS students traverse distances between classes nearly as great as I did in college.  Whereas my schools were surrounded by rolling green hills and trees, this campus butts snugly up against the residential neighborhood that surrounds it. 

ERHS is an International Baccalaureate World school, and the academic program is rigorous.  There are no breaks in the day for such things as home economics, industrial arts, or typing classes.  Students at ERHS have four classes each day, alternating each day, a schedule which will surely prove to be an organizational challenge for an absent-minded professor like Cameron.  It seems like a lot to take on at twelve, and I wonder whether we are pushing kids to grow up too fast. 

I ask Cameron if he’s ready for this challenge, if he’s excited to go to the Big School, and he says, simply, “yeah.”  His effort to contain his enthusiasm, however, fails when the corners of his mouth turn up ever so slightly.  I know he’s excited.  He has always wanted to be treated as if he is older than his age, and I think this school and this program will give him what he wants.  He’s been at the same elementary school for seven years.  He towers over the little kindergartners, and he sails through the obligatory testing.  I know he’s ready.

I know I will cry when he graduates from the elementary school.  I know I will cry when I first drop him off at the Big School.  I know I will cry when I drop his younger sister Chloë off at the elementary school alone for the first time; they have been at the same school for six years now.  I also know my children will wish that I wouldn’t cry.  Not in public, anyway.  For them, the only thing worse than showing any emotion themselves is to be seen with a PARENT who is openly and publicly displaying their feelings. 

Once upon a time, I, too, learned to suppress my own expression of emotions, to protect myself from hurt and to avoid drawing attention to myself.  I am now at place, unfortunately for my children, perhaps, where I want to reconnect fully with all of the emotions that come with experiencing the highs and lows of Living Life.  It doesn’t always feel good, and when it hurts, I remind myself what Jim Rohn says: “The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keeps out the joy.”  If I want joy, then I have to accept the whole package, the happy along with the sad.

It occurs to me that we, my tweens and I, are on parallel and opposite tracks.  Like the Angel’s Flight funicular, we perfectly counter-balance each other as we move at equal speed in opposite directions, the weight of each one’s car powering the other’s.  We wave as we pass by in the middle.

I don’t know if Cameron will sneak a look over his shoulder at me when I drop him off at the high school next year.  Maybe he will think it’s time to give it up, now that he’s at the Big School.  Maybe he will continue it out of habit.  I hope he does.  I know that I will cry either way.  And I know that either way is perfect.

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