Back to School Reflections – What is Your Story?

August brings ads for back to school shopping, lunch box ideas, the latest styles in school clothes, fall calendar planning, football two-a-days, back to school PTA nights, meet the teacher nights, anxieties, excitement, letting go and new beginnings.

When we reflect back on our school stories from childhood and adolescence, now with the advantage of adult wisdom, what is it we remember?  What are the stories we TOLD ourselves then?  What are the stories we TELL ourselves now?  Are they true?  Are they accurate?

My Back to School Stories
I grew up in Seymour, TX and started first grade at age 6.  (I know, way back then we didn’t even have kindergarten and preschool!)  Julie and Kim and Mitzi were my best friends and playmates.  Of course, my sisters Annette and Melinda were my built-in, 24/7 playmates as well.  I remember the classics of Dick and Jane, learning to do math, my red and blue plastic “rest” mat, and playing Red Rover on the playground.  What do you remember about your beginnings of school?

After moving to Lubbock, TX, I began 3rd grade at Haynes Elementary.  One of those “school scars” happened to me on the first day of the new school in the new town (can you feel the apprehensions of this little brown-eyed 8-year-old)?  My teacher asked us to write something and turn it in.  Much to my dismay, after lunch the teacher called me up to the front of the room and held my paper up and said that I was trying to show off by writing in cursive.  Apparently in Lubbock, the students didn’t learn to write cursive until the 3rd grade – and my classmates had printed their papers.  Then it got worse!  As punishment, the teacher made me sit by the boys’ bathroom in the barracks classroom for 30 minutes.  I had never been in trouble at school before – I still clearly remember the tears dropping down on my new blue plaid dress.  After that, I tried really hard to keep a low profile and stay out of trouble at school.  

One positive development was making new friends at school and in the new town of Lubbock. New friends Katherine and Brenda, along with my sisters, became my “real, already established, don’t have to prove anything to anyone” friends.  We could play school together and jump on the trampoline and just have fun.

My 4th, 5th and 6th grade years took me to the brand new school of Mae Murfee Elementary.  We had a blast being the first students at the new school, and enjoyed the privilege of getting to pick the school mascot and school colors.  Back then it just seemed fun; now I see that this was a genius idea to give the students a sense of ownership and pride in the school.  

Evans Eagles with the scarlet and gold pride that rang through the halls was my home for Junior High – or middle school as it is now called!  I loved Evans and with football games, pep rallies, student council, choir, and amazing memories with friends, I found junior high a blast.

Not that there weren’t hurdles and growing pains along the way, like losing the Student Council Vice President election to Paul, or wanting to dress like, be like, and act like everyone else. (Or, from the perspective of adult wisdom, eating two chocolate cupcakes and a Dr. Pepper EVERY DAY for lunch!) And then, one spring morning I opened up my locker to find it stuffed with cotton stalks sporting fluffy white cotton bolls. A note that had been shoved among the stalks read, “Dianne, why don’t you try stuffing your bra with some of these?” For a few weeks afterward, I would be walking along during passing period and someone would should out, “Hey, cotton balls!”  I was so humiliated, and cried for days. Those were a hard few weeks! I’m thankful for friends who listened and questioned the intention behind what felt like a really cruel prank to a developing young teen.

By now, my Lubbock group of friends had expanded and there were seven of us—the Seven Dwarves, as we were often called.  Sharon, Marianne, De, Susan,  Laurie,  Michelle  and I were the gang.  We were excited to be “grown up” and off to high school.  I was the first to get my driver’s license, so each day at lunch we would pile as many as we could fit in my burnt orange Ford Galaxie 500 and rush down 50th Street to McDonald’s or Taco Villa for lots of fun lunch memories and giggles between the girls.  And of course, high school brought more social and emotional challenges, with dating, dances, and increasing leadership roles to navigate.  I was lucky to go to school with a great group of people, and we were convinced that our Monterey Plainsmen Class of ’78 the best class the school had ever produced.  We were “Loud and Proud” and loved supporting our amazing sports teams!  High school was a little mischief and A LOT of fabulous memories.  (How’s that for leaving the “mischief” stories to your imaginations?)

Texas Tech University seemed to be the logical choice for college as I had grown up as an avid Red Raider fan.  I loved learning and the independence of being able to choose classes on my preferred subject matter.  And of course, there was tons of fun to be had in college, with friends from Wall Hall dorm, Kappa “memory making” times with Susan and Cheryl and the pledge class of ’78, more dating, football games, Raider Recruiters, late night studying, and struggling through algebra…. And then, of course, meeting and falling in love with my amazing husband, Roger, which was a great closing chapter to a rewarding college experience.

My next Back to School Memories came as a Mom!

I spent so much time hoping and praying that Justin and Jill would get just the “right” teachers and make just the “right” friends. Every year we had a traditional first-day-of-school picture, and there were a few tears shed along the way after dropping them off. Not tears of sadness, but of gratitude and excitement for what the year would hold…and a recognition that each stage was passing more quickly than I would like. These were tears of tenderness and fragility as a Mom.  

All the schools in Amarillo, TX turned out to be fantastic and supportive learning environments for our kids.  We still cherish the friends and social support of neighborhood, church, soccer, Scouts, and volleyball, football and basketball teams.  We “learned” the value of community in the school of parenting.

Then when Jill was in 4th grade and Justin in 6th grade, it was Back to School for me! I decided to re-enter the school world to get my Master’s in Counseling at West Texas A&M.  Guess what?  Even at age 36 I had back to school jitters – and frankly, it was first the “Can I get into a Master’s program?” jitters, and “Can I pass the GRE?” jitters.  I recall Justin, age 12, sitting with me on the den floor and re-teaching me Algebra to prepare for the GRE.  And it must have worked, because I got in.

Then I discovered that the challenge and the depth of learning that came from the studies in counseling were life-giving to me!  I LOVED it!  It was certainly challenging to juggle active kids’ schedules, family life and the rigor of tests, papers and more papers.  But graduate school was a mountain of learning and labor that led to the work I love – of coming along with others in the journey of hurt, heartache, and steps of healing thorough counseling.  Again, the encouragement and support of friends and family were critical – Roger’s love and support were phenomenal!

In 2000, we moved to West Des Moines, IA, and faced more back to school jitters.  Justin was beginning 9th grade and Jill was beginning 7th grade in new schools, but thankfully Indian Hills, Valley Southwoods and Valley High School proved to be incredible places of growth and learning for both of them.

As we reflect on Back to School moments, what is it that we can learn as we look at the stories we told ourselves regarding those experiences?  What a privilege to take some time during August and September and reflect on our Life Map of School – our Life Map of Learning.  Grab some old photos, connect with a classmate, thank a teacher, reflect, and ponder.  Maybe your school days were difficult, maybe you moved many times, maybe you experienced some of the learning curves that I did.  What could you learn about your heart if you reflected on your school days?

Pick up a notebook or your laptop and join me in taking a moment to gather perspective.  What did your heart as a little girl or little boy need at those moments?  Who was there for you? What was your favorite subject, and who was your favorite teacher? What did your tender, growing and learning heart need?  What do you discover as you get curious about your school stories?

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”
Brené Brown, Rising Strong