I try to remember grade three. I try to remember exactly how I felt and what I was thinking, but I can’t. I can remember sensory details if I really think about it, and not all at once. In an exercise that takes at least a week, certain things come back to me. The smooth texture of my desk’s surface, and the pencil shavings scattered along the desk’s inside ledge, hiding under the 30cm yellow ruler that hadn’t yet been snapped in half.
I can remember the heavy cotton of the grey jumper I wore on the first day, the bright orange of my Garfield lunch box, and the potential for greatness in a new pair of blue Velcro sneakers, Velcro also being new and full of potential for greatness.
What I would like to recall is how quickly my heart must have been beating as I boarded a school bus for the first time, to be taken away from all that was familiar and true for me. What I would like to recall is the impression I had of my new classmates, each and every one of us having boarded a bus to be taken away from all that was familiar, and dropped off at a new school in a new area where our very presence was an affront to those that had only to walk to class each day.
The reason I have been trying to remember all of these things is simple: my older daughter has just started grade three, and I want her to be ok.
She does not board a bus to a new school, nor is she an unwanted interloper among the locals, but she has started grade three in a split three-four, and this has necessitated a move, one year early, from the primary area to the intermediate area, where the grade fours reside.
For my daughter, this is a windfall. She believes she has won the jackpot – the purse being literal and figurative entrance to a world she had previously been barred access to. She gets to traverse the territory still off-limits to most of her peers, and though access remains open to the primary stomping grounds, she rarely goes back.
And she gets a locker, like all intermediate and senior students. She gets a locker that we have already tricked out with a mirror and a white board and some magnets, so she can hang pictures of kittens and One Direction.
Her excitement is thrilling and comforting and I try hard to concentrate on the fact that my daughter is happy and clever and independent, and try not to concentrate on the fact that my daughter is entering the school through the big kid doors and has a locker and is independent.
So I try to force recollections of myself in grade three to come back into focus; try to conjure the level of courage versus the level of trepidation, try to gauge how long it took for me to be ok at age eight in a new situation. This is a laughable exercise but to attempt it is my right as her mother.
As if I could unlock the secret to understanding my daughter’s needs. As if they ever matched my own.
What I do remember of my own experience is that I entered the doors of the school by myself. And though my desire is to turn the corner of the building and watch her glide safely in, I have to allow my daughter to do the same. When she tells me that it took her four tries to get the new lock on her new locker open, I supportively nod and tell her she’ll get the hang of it. When she tells me that she has left the primary playground, and her old pals behind, preferring the bigger space and bigger kids in the intermediate are, I ignore the churning in my stomach and ask her what kinds of games she plays in this brave new world that I’m not sure she’s ready for.
And she grins, wide smile full of baby teeth not yet lost, and says that what they like to play best is Barnyard Kittens, and the knots in my stomach unfurl, at least for now.