School has begun as evidenced by the first-day-of-class photos of students and their proud parents in my Facebook feed. If you posted one and I saw it, chances are I liked it. I like just about everything, but especially kids dressed in their dapper back-to-school clothes.
Growing up, I moved around a lot. So a few of my firsts days of school were also first days at a new school. I had to look good – or as good as I could afford. Living in Oregon, home of Nike’s headquarters, shoes were a really big deal. One summer I saved up enough money delivering newspapers to buy a pair of former tennis star Andre Agassi’s signature sneakers. The department store didn’t have my size available, so I bought a bigger pair and simply stuffed toilet paper in their toes. The next day was the first day of school. I had to look cool.
I showed up with slicked hair, new kicks, florescent spandex shorts with a baggy T-shirt tucked in them, and eager to meet all my new friends. This was the ‘80s – a time when many of us would like to forget our fashion choices. But as an elementary school student in that decade, I looked good. I promise.
I arrived at class and eagerly approached my teacher to introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Kellyn, I’m new to the school this year.” She sized me up with a confused look on her face, which had nothing to with the clothes I was wearing.
She pulled out the class roster and looked for my name. She began counting all the boys rummaging around the room. She counted again before telling me I must be in the wrong class. As I explained that I was told to go to Mrs. Burge’s class – her class – she blurted out: “Oh, I thought you were a girl!”
This would be no big deal to an adult, or even a teenager, but to an adolescent in a new school with new shoes and florescent spandex, this was a big deal. As I fought back tears, my grand entrance ruined and my classmates snickering in my direction, Mrs. Burge made it worse:
“We gave you a pink cubby-hole. You’ll have to use that one today.” As the boys unpacked their new pencils and Trapper Keepers in their blue cubby-holes, I sheepishly wandered over to mine on the girls’ side, convinced my life was over. Seeing my name emblazoned across that small, pink wooden box, I cursed my parents under my breath. I had always hated my name for this very reason. I had asked them if I could change it – suggesting Eric (an easily recognizable boy’s name) – to no avail.
Class began, and Mrs. Burge began struggling to close the blinds so she could use her projector. This was a perfect opportunity to redeem myself. I rushed to assist her, hoping to make a better first impression with my classmates. She smiled in my direction as we struggled to close the antiquated metal slats. I proudly nodded back, forgetting that I stored my milk money in my mouth because my spandex didn’t have any pockets, because that’s what kids do. I promptly swallowed the two dimes, which I was certain would kill me.
Sobbing – that uncontrollable kind where you can’t form words – I sprinted to the school nurse. I stared at my bright white, oversized Andre Agassi’s pound the pavement as I ran, which only made me cry harder.
Have a great year students. But here’s some advice I can offer with some authority: Remember, you’re never as cool as you think you are. I’m reminded of that every time I visit my parents’ home and see those first-day-of-school photos still hanging on their walls. And once I realized that I would never be cool, the better my life has been.
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