Saturday, September 6, 2014

The First Day Of School

I was impressed with Noah's new school. I was impressed with the home visit. I was impressed with the free technology workshop Noah participated in over the summer. I was impressed with the freshman overnight trip. I was impressed by the way these things were handled. I was also impressed that they had home visits, free technology workshops over the summer and overnight trips at all.

There were a hundred things to be impressed with at Noah's new school.

I was impressed with the email I had received earlier about what to expect the morning of the first day of school. There were clear directions for the students. There was a pleasant picture of what we would encounter, namely a 7:30 arrival time being greeted by staff members wearing special tee shirts. These staff members would then escort the students into the building.

I arrived at 7:30 with Noah. 7:45 came and went, with no staff members in tee shirts materializing. Noah was pacing about. He was asking what time it was at regular intervals.

I was not impressed.

On the plus side, the yard in front of the school door was filled with what looked like nice students. No one was creating a ruckus. No one was selling drugs.

I think of myself as a reasonably intelligent person. But I’ve noticed that I can be more literal that most people. This can be a good thing because I am always on time and take deadlines seriously. However, when something does not work out as planned, I find this deeply disconcerting.

And so it was with the first day of school. As 7:50 came, I began to miss Noah's previous school. Just as I was comparing the high school unfavorably with the middle school, a man began to approach me with friendly and winning smile. He extended his hand and introduced himself.

This was a good turn of events. Once I start socializing and meeting people I always feel better.

Are you a teacher? He asked. I explained that I am not a teacher. I am the parent of a freshman boy. I pointed to my pacing child.

I get this a lot. In all kinds of situations, people assume that I am a teacher. I must give off some sort of official and competent vibe that people associate with being a teacher.

I've never met a teacher I didn't like. So I take this as a compliment. However, there might be a darker side to being mistaken for a teacher so often. I've wondered if people think that I'm a teacher because I am caucasian. It's possible that people are having positive associations because of my White Privilege.

If I notice something that seems to fall under the umbrella of White Privilege, then it probably does.

The man said that he is the dad of a freshman daughter. He introduced us. When I saw you, I felt like you were an angel from heaven he said.

Although people mistake me for a teacher all the time, the angel from heaven thing is less common. Then again, I do seem to appear at just the right time for people. I can be very helpful.

She's very nervous, the dad said, indicating his daughter. She has no friends yet. She doesn't know anyone here.

He's nervous too, I said. So you can relate to me, yes? He asked. I nodded and smiled. I can totally relate I said.

I do think everyone would be more relaxed if these staff members in special tee shirts would come out, I said. It was almost 8 o'clock. We'd been out here almost half an hour.

The nervous dad told me that he is a Christian. Then he asked me to pray with him. I hesitated. I considered telling him that I wasn't comfortable with it.

Ultimately, I decided to stop over thinking it. Go ahead and just pray with the dude, I said to myself. I was afraid he would feel insulted if I said no. Also, in assessing the situation, which was more concerning by the minute, I felt that perhaps some divine intervention was in order. Doing something—anything—felt better than doing nothing, or worse, standing around complaining.

After a quick prayer, the nervous dad shared that he prayed for everyone at the high school, not just our kids. This was magnanimous of him. On the other hand, I confined myself to our individual kids. I also put in a good word for the staff to come out and escort the kids inside.  One of us took a broad and inclusive approach while the other was very specific.

Soon after, staff members in designated tee shirts appeared. There were less staff members than I anticipated. One of them had a deer in the headlight look, which interfaced badly with my own deer in the headlight look. It would have been better if one of us had not had that look. A deer in the headlights looking at another deer in the headlights is not a good thing.

Thankfully, a man in a suit appeared and seemed to have the entire situation well in hand. He said very reassuring things to the nervous dad and myself.

I joined all of the other parents who were gathered around a large picture window. We all cupped our hands in order to deal with the reflections so that we could watch our children go through the metal detectors. At one point, I lost sight of Noah. Fortunately the nervous dad saw him go all the way through, hesitate, then ask a guard for directions.

I then left and sent Jeremy a grouchy text about the situation.

I thought about emailing the principal about the experience we had in the yard and how the first day of school could be improved upon in the future. I even thought of putting my money where my mouth is and offering to volunteer next September. I would help greet families myself while wearing a special tee shirt.

 In the end, I decided against it. I did not want to appear to be a Looney Tunes. Additionally, no one wants to look like they're one donut short of a dozen. Finally, I did not want to give an exaggerated impression of myself as walking to the beat of my own drum.  My child was clearly going to be walking to the beat of his own drum for the entire four years of high school. I did not want to wear out our welcome there on the first day.

In a few hours time, I had a completely different perspective on the high school. Noah had a good first day. I received reassuring, informative and exciting emails from the school. The drop off the next morning had a different flavor. I was once again reassured and impressed. By the next day, the school had not only met the expectations I had grown accustomed to, but exceeded them.

I later realized that the problem the first morning was really with me and not the school. Sure, things didn’t unfold exactly as I expected. But once I chilled out, I realized that my child doesn’t need a perfect school. I’d taken care that he wouldn’t encounter any big problems at this school. Little problems, like waiting around on the first day build resilience.

He doesn’t need a perfect mother either. Which is a good thing, because he doesn’t have one.

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