Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Repeating History

After school snacks in the city.
This morning I dropped my kids off at their new school. It's a big, mid-academic year change for them, especially for the 6th grader who is no longer in elementary but thrust into middle school, lockers and bus riding from the relative comfort of last semester when her comfortable and familiar school was just a short walk away and the 6th graders were at the top of the heap.

I can't help but compare it to my family's move from the city to the suburbs just before 8th grade.

My parents married and moved from way northern Wisconsin down to the big city of Milwaukee for my dad's job. We kids grew up in the heart of the south side, moving to a few places before buying a house on a street that went from through street to cul-de-sac and back a few times, just south of Mitchell Park and the Domes, due west of the Allen Bradley clock tower. My elementary school was about 100 steps away from my front door, junior high was about a mile and a half walk away because I chose to spend my bus money at the penny candy store on the way to or from school.

I am, I am, I am Spiderman! I can do anything!
The Milwaukee I grew up in was very segregated. The only school buses I ever saw were the ones that brought kids from one side of town to the other to attend school. It was the only thing I knew. Our neighborhood was blue collar, working class and as far as I knew, not concerned with things like fashion or ranking people based on superficial things. We just were. We coexisted. I knew which alleys to avoid, which tavern I could stop in to use the phone, which store had the best Swedish fish.

I spent my time playing outside, tag or riding bikes or drawing or recording songs off the transistor radio with a boxy, black cassette player. We climbed trees, braided each others hair, and loved watching life pass us by while we drank green Kool-Aid. When the street was closed off into a cul-de-sac, we turned it into our own personal roller rink, skating laps round and round, listening to Kool and the Gang and choreographing our routines to "Celebration." We would walk a mile to the Forest Home Library and drag home stacks of books after spending hours in the air-conditioned confines.

When we went house hunting, it was exciting. The places my parents visited were quiet and verdant. Hilly and not a traffic light in sight. These homes were like a different country to me, an hour's drive away from what was comfortable to me. One place we walked through was a split-level on the river. My parents walked through the house and I camped in the basement bedroom, staring out at the trees and wide swath of green grass and the promise of adventure and happiness. The drive home was spent making my plans for the adventures I would have in this magic world.

In the end, we didn't move to that house; I was crushed. We did move to a tiny town a bit further down the road—an actual village—called Newburg, not far from that split-level on the river. We lived in "the heights," meaning the newish neighborhood of side-by-side townhouses across the river from "downtown," meaning the mile or so long strip where existed the bank, the volunteer fire department, the store and about 10 taverns. There was even a library. The nearest city was about a 10 mile drive down a rural highway, the place with the nearest grocery stores and fast food and where we would attend school at the end of summer.

In this village, I stuck out like sore thumb. I remember that I had an awesome, rebuilt 3-speed Schwinn Stingray with blue metallic paint and curled handlebars. I rode it exactly once because of the ridicule it inspired. I just wanted to blend in and this was not the bike to make that happen. I grew to hate that bike I had loved so much.

After attending an inner city school and maintaining a solid C average, I was unprepared for the more strenuous academic requirements of this suburban school, not to mention how unprepared I was for the microcosm that was the school bus and the social landscape.

Rocking those early 80s pastels in front of the tree
where we staged all our pictures. I think these are
the current Pantone colors of the year?
I wore my favorite outfit for the first day of school—I was so excited for this adventure—a hand-me-down shirt from my sisters that was a comfort to me but branded me as completely out of step in this world. I wasn't concerned with what I wore, but everyone else seemed to be. It made me very aware very quickly and resulted in my putting more thought into my clothes each day than into research projects. I was awkward and anxious, and the anxiety just made me more awkward until I grew a really, really thick skin and perfected my go away or I'll cut you face.

All through school, even after living there for years, I was the new kid (or at least I felt like it), that girl from the city and a convenient scapegoat. Get caught smoking? They're not mine! I got them from that girl from the city! (Spoiler alert: Nope. I didn't smoke.) Get caught drunk at school? That girl from the city made me drink with her! (Spoiler alert: Nope.) Refuse to leave the party when your ride has to go and then get in trouble for busting curfew? It's that girl from the city's fault! (Spoiler alert: I was home, sleeping.) 

Needless to say, this move put a chip on my shoulder that I'm still struggling to shake.

But that's my story, not theirs. My husband shakes his head at me, having been a military brat and changing schools almost every year. This staying in one place thing is as foreign to him as this moving schools is foreign to me.

So now, in the way that history will, it seems to be repeating itself. My kids are moving from their suburb to a rural town where everything is different, and I sure hope they're equipped to handle it better than I was. Their circumstances are much different, which hopefully will be a good thing for them. I have tried to give them skills without scarring them too much. I encourage them to focus on the positive, to not consider a bad day to be a sign of things to come. They have each other; that's something (at least until they find other friends at school and then avoid one another like the plague that only your brother or sister can be).

Last night, I took them to taekwondo to get some part of their routine back in place. It's a new location, closer to our new place, but the instructors are the same, so I figured it would be an easy transition, something different but also some comforting familiar. As we gathered up our things to leave after class, my daughter shrugged and shook her head.

"I guess 2016 is going to be a year full of changes," she said.

Welcome to the world, baby girl. You got this.


  1. Wow... love the walk down memory lane. and I haven't seen our kitchen on 20th street since 1981! ha! Unequipped is a word I think about from our past when being Lauren's and Spencer's ages. I actually didn't know there was a choice of what I could be when I grew up! Glad to see we have both grown much since then.

    1. Thanks! Don't you love that wallpaper? I wish I had a hundred pictures of that house so I could remember it all again.
      Do you remember that bike? I think Tony Balistreri rebuilt it & gave it to Randy. It was awesome. Life sure is different for kids in 2016, isn't it?

    2. That bike still exists!!!