I remember the moment I finally conquered my back-to-school jitters. My backpack hanging heavily over one shoulder, I stood in the air-conditioned, echoing hall, collecting my nerves. I surveyed rows of people I’d never met before — a room full of strangers. There was no familiar face, no wave of recognition from a friend. Just strangers.
I told myself it didn’t have to be so hard. The people in there didn’t know anyone either, and it was more likely a room full of friends than a room full of enemies. I decided to walk in with confidence and make a friend.
Sucking in a deep breath, I fixed my eyes on a seat right next to a girl who had long, dark curly hair. I adjusted my backpack and made a beeline for the seat, then sat right beside the girl.
“Hi, I’m Emily,” I said. It was a victory for my first day of college.
Her name was Tracy, and we did become friends. She laughed later, telling me she’d always remember how I plopped down beside her and started talking like we already knew each other.
Beginning the school year was always hard for me. My mom will vouch for that. In preschool, I cried and developed maladies. I worried and couldn’t eat my breakfast. And of course, as seems to be the case with most kids, once I was left in my classroom, I was fine. More or less, off and on, for the most part, fine.
But there were many years between that preschool separation anxiety and the moment when I finally decided, once and for all, to abandon my fear. It took years to convince myself that people would accept me for who I am. There was a string of “fails” and “mean girls” and “not quite fitting in” that I had to navigate on the way to self-confidence.
I remember the boy who sat next to me in second grade at our rhomboid-shaped desk. He drew a pencil line down the middle and told me not to invade his side of the desk. I had to test the threat, and sneaked my fingers across the line. He balled his hand into a fist and smashed my fingers.
Then there was the entire classroom of girls who had French overalls. Every single girl in the class sported brightly colored overalls that had elastic gathered ankles. Well, that is, every girl in the class except me.
A few years later, kids from multiple grade schools converged in one junior high. What horror. Pimply faced kids not quite savvy to the remedies for B.O. sporting inept makeup applications, crazy perms 2and permanent teeth in bad need of braces swarmed locker-lined halls. We bumbled from class to class with our hormones flowing in fits and starts. Kindly teachers did their best with us, trying to get us over the awkward hump of tween-hood. I remember standing near the pay phones. I plunged my hand into my pocket to feel the quarter I had stored for an emergency. The familiar crushing sadness and back-to-school anxiety overwhelmed me, and I tried my best not to cry. I wondered if I should call my mom.
Sometimes in the halls of my kids’ school, I spy a child heading to class with a tear in their eye. Or one of my own kids wants to hug me — then hug me again. All those feelings come back to me, and I wonder how long it will be before they realize that they have everything they need to make it.
Overland Park mom and 913 freelancer Emily Parnell blogs at mom2momkc.com.