School stuff makes me nervous. It always has. When I was a kid, I was that tall introverted girl who never knew what to say, who didn’t get the joke, who was always the last to find out about anything–who made her awkward way, all elbows and self-consciousness, down the gauntlet of the hall every morning, praying that no one would notice her.
I’m a little less elbow-y these days, and I’m seldom the tallest kid in the room. Occasionally I even prance down a hallway. But the self-consciousness is still there. It’s always there, lurking at the back of my mind, threatening to take over my inner monologue (which is really not so much a monologue as a block party).
At orientation for my son’s kindergarten last year, it hit me–school made me nervous when I was a kid, and it still does. Not the academic side of it, but the social one. Sitting in a room full of other parents, I wanted to melt into the floor. I hoped no one would look at me. I was certain that I didn’t fit in.
My husband and I send our boys to the independent school at which he teaches. It’s an amazing school, and the only school in which I can imagine my introspective almost-seven-year-old really feeling comfortable. This school is magical. The head of school brings her dogs to work each day. Boys who wear nail polish don’t elicit any weird looks. I’m pretty sure I saw a kid wearing what had to be his very much littler sister’s powder-blue chenille sweater over his t-shirt. It looked like a crop top that would’ve done the ’80s proud. This is a school where teachers aren’t afraid to hug the kids, and where the kids aren’t afraid to be smart.
But, of course, because it’s an independent school, it attracts a certain demographic–namely, the people who can afford it. I worried about this for a long time before we sent our first son there. I worried that he’d wonder why his family didn’t vacation in Europe or drive huge fancy SUVs. What I forgot is that kids really don’t care about this stuff. I’m not even sure they notice. It’s the parents who think about these things.
And so, sitting in a tiny plastic chair and scanning the room on a late-August night last school year, I looked around and thought, “Wow. Almost every single person here looks like they work out eight days a week, and they’re all meticulously groomed and perfectly stylish, and at least half of them are doctors, most of them know each other, and every last one of them looks like he or she is completely comfortable in his or her own skin.” And I panicked. Rooms full of beautiful people do that to me. Surely I would have nothing in common with these parents.
What I forgot is that none of that matters. Because we are parents. We are in the trenches, in them up to our necks, and we are struggling to tread water, just to keep our noses above the surface.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot today, because tonight is Burns night, and because today my almost-seven-year-old had his first big birthday party, and wanted to invite every single kid in his class. He was excited. I was nervous. Because now, all the beautiful doctor-people were going to drive their shiny SUVs up to my not-a-mansion and see the place where we’ve patched the carpet and the hole in the wall where the AC vent cover broke and the bathroom with its slightly curling wallpaper and the backyard, which is the domain of chickens, who have absolutely zero respect or sense of aesthetics.
I didn’t need to worry. We all watched our beautiful amazing totally insane children pounding down the hallway, shooting each other with Nerf guns and shrieking, and we laughed, and commiserated about the completely ridiculous thing that is raising little people. We lamented the total loss of our personal space, and gloried in our kids’ love of books. We fed the kids ice cream cake, and then they all settled down on the sofa–all eleven of them–and watched a movie, shoulder to shoulder, not caring that some of them are doctors’ kids and some of them are businesspeople’s kids and some of them are teachers’ kids and some of them live with their single mom, who works her tail off to take care of them and sends them to school on scholarship.
I think Robert Burns would have approved.
So here’s to honest poverty, and just honesty in general.
I leave you with the Layne Family Anthem. Happy Burns Night. If you eat haggis tonight, please, please tell me about it.