Going back to school: Indialantic, Florida.

Posted on
Oct 11, 2011

I like how the marquee reads like a weird birth announcement: "Congratulations! A school!"

Elementary school was not an easy time for me. I know, you’re shocked, right?

I mean, who wouldn’t want to  be friends with a 70-pound girl with an adult-sized nose? (Quote from my friend Peter: “You must have looked like a pterodactyl.”) Plus, I was awesome. My incomplete Babysitter’s Club book collection, my gender-bending hairstyles, my failed knitting projects (I could make a scarf. Provided your definition of scarf is “a slowly unraveling trapezoid”.)  I only wish I was that cool now.

Shockingly, middle school was not much better. What’s that, you say? Impossible? I agree. You’d think that taking an awesome person and adding knee socks and a trumpet to the mix would make for all kinds of magical, but you’d be wrong.

Pictured: Trumpet, knee socks. Also, Power Rangers t-shirt.

Fortunately, I had amazing friends. Girls with braces and asthma and weird parents.

Also, did I mention we were all in band or orchestra? Control your jealousy.

Girls who still send me cards for my birthday, who still ask about my mother and brother, girls who remember how desperately I pined after a skinny blond kid. He responded to my girlish affection with heartfelt indifference, probably because, what with my affinity for Star Trek TNG and scab-picking, I was just too amazing. It would have been like looking into the sun. Don’t worry – I got over him after six or seven years.

Despite being synonymous with the awkward days of my youth, I missed those schools when I left Florida behind for Seattle. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy how things turned out. My life is wonderful. I’m married to Rand, who, if you haven’t been paying attention, is better than Christmas and puppies. Together we’ve seen the world, and I’ve lived to blog the tale. And I still have amazing friends – both back in Florida, and in Seattle, and loads of other places as well. It’s a given that things would not have turned out this way had I never left the sunshine state. But nostalgia is a powerful and illogical thing, and it will literally have you feeling wistful and teary over middle school.

That’s what happened to me one sunny Friday when I found myself in Indialantic, just a few weeks back. When my friend Giselle asked me how I wanted to spend the day, I gave her a response that should have signified either head trauma or a tri-life crisis: I wanted to go back to school.

And, lord love her, she took me. By pure coincidence, it was registration day, so we were able to sneak in amidst the roaming parents without looking too suspicious. (It is times like those that I am incredibly grateful to be a woman. I don’t think a childless man could so easily walk around an elementary school snapping photos. Discuss).

Giselle reasoned that "ISH" must stand for something ("Indialantic School Hurricanes"? Entirely plausible). But STILL. WHAT ARE WE TEACHING THE CHILDREN?

We roamed the halls of our childhood schools. First Indialantic Elementary, then Hoover Junior High School (now Hoover Middle School, which doesn’t sound nearly as cool). It made me pensive, it made me wistful, and, interestingly enough, it made me grateful. Yes, those years were awkward and uncomfortable and rough, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t valuable. I learned a lot – some of which was in the lesson plan, much of it wasn’t. Here are just a few of the valuable things I took away from my almae matres.

  1. Getting a “B” will not kill you. It will not prevent you from getting into college. In fact, the world will not be impacted in any meaningful way as a result of that grade. Those B grades just mean that you are human. And that C you got in third grade social studies? I’m pretty sure that was an error.
  2. The people in charge don’t know everything. This is true not only of school, but of life. Someday, you will have to listen to someone who is flat-out wrong, and you will have to bite your tongue because they will either give you detention or fire you. Like the time our fifth grade teacher taught us to pronounce the word “facade” as though it rhymed with “arcade”. Or the time my seventh grade history teacher scolded me for suggesting that the pope forced Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.

    I know this isn't technically wrong, but I prefer "slowly."

  3. Nearly every guy who ever tormented you will try to friend you on Facebook. If you accept their requests, they will leave comments on your photos – mostly grammatically incorrect attempts at flattery. And all you will be able to think is, “Man, you really should have paid better attention in -English class.”

    And then you will unfriend them, and the part of you that is still 11-years-old will cheer.

    This sign and the one below were on adjacent bathrooms. I found this to be HILARIOUS.

    Look closely, and you'll see it's been given anatomical details.

  4. Don’t worry: every bookworm, every drama geek, every kid who spent their lunch hours quoting Monty Python and Red Dwarf will turn out just fine. They will run companies or write books or help troubled kids and they will make the world a better place. And if you are lucky enough to bump into them again, they will still be weird and it will be wonderful.

    With Giselle and Desiree and some random dude who walked into our photo. Let's call him "Fred."

  5. One day, someone will find you very lovable. He will not, as you had always planned, resemble Westley from The Princess Bride. But he will do a great Inigo Montoya impression, and you’ll have reached the age where you realize that’s way cooler, anyway.

    "Hello ... my name is Randnigo Montoya ..."

  6. As you get older, everything gets smaller. Hallways. Hills. Desks. Scars.

    Fact: our junior high school didn't have windows.

  7. Someone in your class will inevitably ask, why do we have to learn this stuff? And as time passes, the answer will become obvious. Because in addition to the facts and figures on the page, you are also learning how to learn. Because your tender young brain will build enough synapses and dendrites to survive your junior year of college. Because one day, all of those teachings will come in handy during a drunken night of bar trivia.

    Because grade school can't be non-stop recess. College, yes, but grade school, no.

  8. There is nothing wrong with you. Nevertheless, you will be teased relentlessly in elementary and middle school, because kids are jerks. On the plus side, you will become very good at comebacks (yes, this was an actual exchange I had in the sixth grade):

    “Hey Geraldine, why don’t you shave your legs?”

    “Why doesn’t your mother shave her upper lip?”
    And then you will move to Seattle, where no one cares about that sort of thing, anyway.
  9. Time passes quickly. You won’t believe it when you’re 10 or 11 and every school year lasts an eternity, but it’s true. One day you’ll blink, and 20 years will have gone by. If you are very lucky, there will be people in your life who will be with you through all it, who you can look at and say, “Damn, that was fast.” And they will nod, knowing exactly what you mean.

  10. The good teachers will never escape your memory. Their names will stay with you, the things they taught you will forever follow you around, and when you are able to recall weird facts amongst friends (who will stare at you in disbelief), you will smile and know who to thank.

    Thank you to the folks who made me trudge through books like these.

It just goes to show you: sometimes nostalgia isn’t that off-base. Sometimes those days, though difficult and painful, are really wonderful. Or, at the very least, they’ll help make the rest of your life wonderful, and that’s no small thing.

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