So, this is NOT the topic I thought I would be posting today. But, hey, it’s my birthday, so it’s all about me today and today “me” gets to change her mind, among other indulgences.
This week is “Back To School” week for many families across the country. Growing up, “Back To School” was always a big deal for me. The night before, new clothes and shoes would be carefully laid out and I’d probably have curlers in my hair; we had to make sure we were in bed “on time.” My brand new lunchbox had been carefully picked out (The Partridge Family or The Monkees? Decisions. Decisions) and labeled with my name using a dymo labeler. Yep, back to school! Back to my friends and a new classroom and being a year older. Yippee!!! Life was good!
Earlier this week, I saw a Facebook post of a friend of mine reminding parents and grandparents, during this back to school time, to teach their children the importance of reaching out to others, especially the one who seemed to be struggling making friends or who was being bullied. Her message reminded me of The Best Birthday Present I Ever Received.
It was “Back to School” DAY! Yes, my clothes were laid out; I hoped they were “cool” enough. I had the mandatory assortment of cool binders, pens and pencils. I wasn’t ABOUT to carry a lunch, so I had lunch money in my wallet. I was set. And I had a herd of butterflies launching themselves off of the walls of my stomach. For this was not just ANY first day, it was my first day in a brand new school; my family had moved a few weeks before and the day had arrived. Oh, and did I mention? It was also my 16th birthday.
And so, it began. I nervously stood and waited at the bus stop. I had on my cool clothes and my platform shoes. My wallet was tucked into my suede fringe shoulder bag and I clutched my binder in front of me. I waited. My mom had assured me it was the proper place to wait; the people at the school bus office told her it was. Interestingly enough, no one else was standing there. There were some kids across the road, but this was a four lane road, so surely, there was “my” stop and then there was the “other” stop. And so, the bus came…
and picked up the other kids…
WAIT FOR ME!!!! I didn’t embarrass myself by running and screaming after the bus, however, I did blast my way home, running as fast as a somewhat awkward sixteen year old girl can run in platform shoes. I burst into the house crying that the bus hadn’t stopped for me. “What a way to celebrate your 16th birthday” was the thought that circled through my head time and again. Not ONLY was I going to be “the new girl” but I was going to be “the new LATE girl” who had to walk into class after everyone else had been seated. I was mortified. My sixteenth birthday could not have gotten off to a worse start.
Anyway, fast forward. While I checked the visor mirror and wiped away the rivers of Yardley mascara running down my face, I believe my mom probably broke just about every speed limit between our home and school (which, thanks to some creative boundary lines drawn by the Ventura Unified School District, was seven miles from our house, five miles further then the high school closest to us) but, thanks to her, I made it to school with not a moment to spare before the first bell. And, fortunately, the nice lady in the office made it very clear where my first class was. Also, fortunately, I was in a “team taught” environment, so my first three classes were all within the same “cluster” of classrooms. Whew. At least I wouldn’t be the “New Late Girl Who Couldn’t Find Any of Her Classes” all morning long.
Somehow, I made it through the morning, my self-confidence still shaken but a tiny bit restored. But wow, all these new faces. And these kids must have all been born in the same freakin’ hospital at the same time and traveled from pre-school through tenth grade together! Everybody knew EVERBODY (or, seemed to).
And then came lunch. And we all know what THAT means. Everyone gathers with their friends for a solid hour of giggling, gossiping, and catching up on all of the summer scoop. There are “pods” all over campus. And everywere the scene was the same. Who had summer romances? Whose end of school year romances had hit the skids? Who was best friends with who now? And why “Suzy” isn’t talking to “Cathy” this year? The girls were checking out how much taller the boys were then the year before and already artfully scheming on who they might coerce into inviting them to the homecoming game. The boys were strutting around like banty roosters, wearing their varsity letterman’s jacket even though it was 87 degrees!
And then there was “the New Girl.” Fortunately, the campus was large and pretty sprawled out, so the new girl could get her hamburger, chips and coke from the snack bar and sit, attempting to appear confident in her solitude, on the wall, and observe, while she nibbled at the lunch she really didn’t care about. Oh, and had I mentioned it was her 16th birthday? Yeah, I thought I had.
The afternoon went pretty much as the morning had been. More seas of people.
And then, the end of the day arrived. I made it. I hadn’t grown a third eye in the middle of my forehead or fallen off of my platform shoes. I had made absolutely certain I knew which bus I was supposed to take home and where to wait for it. And then…
“Hi! I think you ride the same bus as I do. I saw you this morning across the street. That’s a new stop, I think the bus driver forgot. My name’s Lynn.”
This angel of a person then led the way to the bus and, as we got on, she said, “Here, sit back here with us, this is Karen and Julie…that’s Robin…and that’s Karen’s brother, Doug.” I actually opened my mouth to speak for probably the first time in about six hours. Seven miles and lots of chattering and giggling later, we got off the bus and Lynn said, “See you tomorrow! Hey why don’t you just come over to our side of the road? That way you don’t have to wait by yourself and, just in case the bus driver forgets again, you won’t miss the bus.”
I said, “thanks” and that I’d see her the following day. What I didn’t tell her was that it was my birthday. And I also didn’t tell her she had given me The Best Birthday Present I Ever Received; the gift of kindness and acceptance into a new circle of friends. Not a bad 16th birthday, after all.