The Hooligan now goes to school wearing a uniform. It’s the same uniform I wore when I was her age and going to school for the first time (or real first time. I was a kindergarten drop-out before that). When I tossed that uniform into the hamper for the last time right before my high school graduation, I never thought I’d have a close encounter with it again. Now The Hooligan gets to wear it every day.
Walking The Hooligan through my alma mater’s halls to look for her classroom on the first day of school, I felt some kind of emotion welling up in me. I think I was reliving my first two years there – the dominant memory of that period is of me clinging to the banister at home, shrieking and horizontal because my dad was pulling me away by the legs to take me to school. I look at it as a cartoon now but back then, it was pure terror. Thankfully, The Hooligan had none of that. She was actually excited. Imagine that – excited about school. She had two main concerns: “What if I don’t remember my classmates’ names? When can I go to the playground?”
I’d forgotten about the bell. When I was in grade school, the teachers used a bell (like what ice cream vendors have) to keep students in line. Are they noisy and disruptive? Ring the bell and they’ll shut up. Is it time to line up? Ring the bell and they’ll get in line like ants. Are they too slow walking to class? Ring the bell and they’ll hustle.
All that came back to me when The Hooligan’s teacher took out her bell. You’d think they’d have modernized their take on conformity after three decades. But being like everyone else was a comfort for The Hooligan and her classmates, at least, right now. The classroom was a sea of pink backpacks with either a Disney princess or fairy smiling on the front. (I guess I don’t have to worry too much about The Hooligan being one sheep in a herd. She insisted on getting a bag with a rabbit, not a princess. But it was still a pink rabbit.) Anyway, I put aside all my concerns about enforced conformity when I saw how much fun The Hooligan was having.
It made my throat constrict a bit when I watched The Hooligan walk into her classroom by herself. (She didn’t want me to go in with her. Attagirl.) I must have felt how my own mother did when I finally, willingly, without tears or snot, went to class by myself when it was my turn. It was hard to let go, but then I would have The Hooligan back after three hours so it was time to shove the drama.
It was not yet time for class to begin, and right then, the big difference between boys and girls came out. The Hooligan and her classmates – all girls – sat quietly waiting for class to start. Some mother had the foresight to put a pad of paper in her daughter’s backpack and this daughter gave a sheet each to any classmate who wanted one, including The Hooligan. They all then, still quietly, took out their pencils and crayons and made drawings. The only sound in the classroom was the indifferent hum of the air conditioner. I went to my brother’s school – an all-boys’ school – many times and I don’t remember any of them even making it to their seats before class began. I have an image of one of my brother’s classmates hanging onto the wall by the window frame so he could make his paper airplane fly higher. It would be interesting to see The T-Rex’s classroom on his first day of school.
When the other parents started crowding around the ten-inch-square window to watch their daughters watch their teacher speak, I decided to walk around the campus. There were buildings on spaces that used to have treehouses and stone benches. Yet another building was being constructed on the rubble of the old one where I used to take piano lessons. All the halls and buildings and rooms were now named after a nun or a saint with at least three syllables in their name. I felt some nostalgia for what my school used to be – wide open and less complicated. School then was so simple that our source of fun was flipping up the skirt of an unsuspecting classmate so her underwear would show and pulling out the chair from under another classmate who was about to sit. But I guess the school as it is today is how The Hooligan would remember it three decades from now, so that makes it okay.
It’s been two weeks and The Hooligan is still having fun in school. And I’m eternally grateful. All my musings about growing up and letting go are put in the back seat with the daily chaos of school. For instance, figuring out homework. The other day, I asked the Hooligan if she had homework.
“Yes,” she said.
“What about?” I asked.
“I don’t remember.”
Maybe homeschooling would be better.