This week, I start the new teaching year. In honor of that, I give you a back-to-school story. It's always exciting to start a new endeavor.
Sighing, Karen sheds her pajamas and steps into the hot water. There, safe in the steaming room, she imagines the day before her. Her heart quickens with each scenario, but it is not all negative – some of it is excitement. Her reverie is broken by banging on the door.
“Karen!” Her mother’s voice is muffled.
“Karen, is that your alarm going off?”
Oops. “Yeah! Sorry, Mom! I hit snooze instead of turning it off!” Karen knows her mother is sighing and shaking her head, but all that greets her from the other side of the door is silence.
She brushes her teeth in the shower to gain a few more minutes under the massaging waterfall. Finally, she regretfully turns off the water and grabs two towels – one for her hair and one for her body. Thus bedecked, she wanders back across the hall to dress for the day.
The previous night, her room had played host to a parade of outfits as Karen fretted over what to wear this morning. Her mother had agreed to sit and discuss, but after the thirteenth combination, she had thrown up her hands and said, “I give up. I’ve already told you what I think you should wear tomorrow. The pencil skirt with the yellow blouse would be adorable.”
“I don’t want to look adorable. This is high school. I need to make an impression.”
“Well, what’s wrong with making an impression and being adorable?” When that question was ignored, her mother had left the room. An hour later, Karen had decided on the perfect outfit and this morning, it was laid out, ready for her. She’d picked green because it made her eyes stand out against her dark locks, giving her a striking, exotic appearance.
Karen sits down at her vanity and begins the makeup process. She wants a natural look today. Nothing too crazy. First impressions are so important, especially in a school environment. When she finishes, she removes the towel from her head and brushes her hair until it shines. She is almost about to dress when her mother calls up the stairs, “Karen? Are you almost ready? We need to get going soon or we’re going to be late and you haven’t even had breakfast!”
“I’ll be right there!” she calls back.
“Your eggs are almost done,” says her mother. “They’ll get cold if you don’t come down!”
“I said I’ll be right there!”
She hears footsteps retreating from the stairs.
Karen rolls her eyes at herself in the mirror and stands to put on her clothing. As she slips into her boots, she gives a little kick of excitement and laughs at her own silly behavior. As she leaves to go downstairs, she snatches up her bag and opens it one last time to make sure she has everything she needs for the day. Notebook, pencils, pens, books, class assignment schedule…yes, it all seems to be there. She takes a last glance at herself in her full-length mirror and smiles. I’m ready for this, she thinks.
Downstairs, her mother and father are sitting at the table, already eating. They look up as she enters. Her mother has tears in her eyes.
“My little girl is all grown up,” she says.
“Mom, stop.” Karen rolls her eyes again.
“You look good,” says her father. “Ready for your first day?”
“Yes,” says Karen, sitting down to tackle her eggs. They’re slightly cold, but she doesn’t mind.
“And you’re sure you’re okay that I’m going to be there,” says her mother.
“You work there,” Karen says. “It’s fine. It’s not like we’re going to see each other. You’ll have your classes. I’ll have mine. Just don’t embarrass me.”
Her mother smiles. “I’ll do my best, honey. Just remember to stay strong. High school kids can be mean and you have to be ready to let the things they say roll off your back.”
“But if anything serious happens,” says her father, wagging his finger at her, “you don’t wait. Report it and let the school take care of it. Don’t try to be a hero.”
“Yes. The school has a no-tolerance policy for bullying, so speak up,” says her mother.
“Guys, I’m gonna be fine,” Karen tells them. “It’s not like I’ve never been to school before.”
“Of course you will,” says her father. “We just want you to know that we care about you.”
“I know you do,” says Karen, washing down the last of her eggs with orange juice. She takes the empty glass and plate over to the sink and rinses them off. “I’m ready to go when you are, Mom.”
“Just let me finish this coffee,” says her mother.
“Okay, but we don’t want to be late,” says Karen in a sing-song voice.
Her mother smiles and shakes her head. “Okay, okay.”
“Bye, Daddy,” says Karen, kissing him on the cheek.
“Bye, Sweetheart,” he says. “Have a great first day of high school.”
Her mother and father share a quick kiss. “Bye,” says her mother. “See you tonight.”
“You can tell me all about your days at dinner,” says Karen’s father.
“Okay, have a good day at work,” says Karen’s mother.
Karen’s father groans in an exaggerated fashion. Karen and her mother laugh and leave the house to get in the car.
The ride to the school is quiet and tense. Both of them are thinking of the day ahead, their minds too full to leave room for idle conversation. As they pull up to the school, Karen’s heart gives a leap. This is her new home. “Here we are,” says her mother. They exit the car and walk into the building. It seems huge. There are a number of teachers and students milling around, but this is the early group. Within half an hour, the building will be much more crowded. Karen digs into her bag and pulls out her schedule once more.
“Where are you headed?” she asks her mother.
“I’m in 402.” Her mother points to their right.
“Oh. I’m going to 235.”
“That’s just down that hallway.” Her mother points in the opposite direction. “Do you want me to walk you there?”
“No, I can find it myself.”
“Okay, honey.” Her mother gives her a big hug. “Don’t be nervous. Have a wonderful day.”
“Thanks, Mom. You too.”
They separate and Karen starts off through the mob to find her homeroom class. The door is open when she gets there, but the lights are off. She flicks on the light and sees the familiar trapeziodal desks. She goes to the desk with her name on it and sits down. It feels strange, but nice. The room is decorated with positive sayings and pictures of famous books. Karen’s heart skips a beat, but she forces herself to breathe calmly and leans down to open her bag.
Karen sits up so quickly that she gets a little head rush. There’s a young woman standing in the doorway of the classroom.
“Yes?” Karen asks.
“I’m Sadie Wilson. Is this 235? Miss Heinbaugh’s homeroom?”
“Yes, it is. I’m Miss Heinbaugh,” says Karen. “I’ll be your homeroom and English teacher this year. Come on in and have a seat.”
Sadie picks a desk near the middle of the classroom. “I’m sorry I’m so early. I guess I just wanted to make sure I was on time. I’m a little nervous,” she confides.
Karen smiles. “I know what you mean.”