My daughter started high school a few days ago. She was so nervous. She was sure her anxiety was going to overwhelm her, her ADHD was going to cause her to be a raving lunatic, and that she was going to be crying in a corner by the end of the day. She envisioned a new year to get picked on, ignored, laughed at, to struggle with her classes and to eat lunch alone. She began begging me to home school her at the end of last school year. She understood it wasn’t going to happen for her, mainly because if she had her choice she would never leave the house.
The ironic thing about my daughter is that while yes, she WAS picked on by “the group” at her old school, and there is so much noise and chaos and fear inside her head, she is a likeable person. She can’t wrap her head around the fact that “the group” that teased and taunted her is, in fact, a very small sampling of the population and that other people actually LIKE her. She has been in the habit a long time of closing herself off and appearing argumentative or uninterested just so people wouldn’t talk to her. Defense mechanisms and all that.
We are blessed that A- is able to start her first year of high school in a brand new school, just opened this school year. They only have ninth and tenth grades this year, adding eleventh and twelfth in the next two years. The student population is wonderfully small this year, and the rooms are occupied by bright, happy teachers who have not yet burned out. A- knows the course work is going to be challenging, and while that scared her a while back, once she knew there was no way to change my mind about homeschooling, she began to shift her focus to wanting the new year to be a better one in every way. A few weeks into summer vacation she came to me saying she had decided to do everything in her power to make her first year of high school a good one. She said she knew she would have to study hard, but she no longer wanted to be the person that got passed over by teachers and never picked for anything; the girl that had no real friends. She understood that most of the problem with the girls in her class was that she just wasn’t like them. She couldn’t identify with their lives, what they worried about, what they complained about, or what they liked to do. Her life experience and interests were vastly different from theirs. It’s just the way it was.
She had the chance to meet some of her fellow students before school started, and she was especially excited about the chance to be in choir. (The chance to be in physics, not so much!) The school has a two year performing arts requirement, but with only choir or band to choose from this first year, the choir is very large. She met a few kids from choir, and they seemed to hit it off. I was encouraged.
The night before her first day, she was pretty anxious. She just knew she was going to get lost, fall down, get trampled, or no one was going to talk to her. But, head high, she walked in those doors exuding a confidence that only she and I knew was completely fake. And yet – she came home grinning. For real. Okay, she DID almost fall and take another student down with her because he had the misfortune of trying to be polite enough to catch her, but she was able to see that from the funny incident that it was, and not get lost in the “I must have looked like such a loser falling down the stairs” so I was glad. And the guy is also in a lot of her classes, so now they are friendly. Hey, that’s one way to meet new people, right?!
This week, she has danced before class to AC/DC with a new friend – and her history teacher joined in – in a day, the choir director had pretty much surmised which students were in choir to fulfill the requirement and which ones would have wanted to be there regardless, and A- was made one of his choir leaders. She will also be a member of the chamber choir that he plans to start putting together next week. She was brought into the dean’s office where the dean just wanted to talk with her to let her know that, with her particular struggles, that her door was always open to her if she needed help with anything, or if she just needed a quiet place to “regroup” if she felt anxious or stressed. And she wanted to let her know that she would be there to cheer for her victories as well. The best part was the woman was so warm and genuine, that it didn’t embarrass A- at all, and she actually shared some very personal information with her (even though she was assured she didn’t have to), but it made her feel connected to the school, like she was more than just a student number, but a member of something unique – a person that mattered. Being new, the school was going to wait to form any clubs until after the students arrived, to let the first students be a part of forming clubs and traditions. When asked what clubs students would like to see, A- was very vocal about the desire for an art club, since they do not yet offer any art classes. I think she became quite the squeaky wheel every time she saw the principal. Apparently, she was not the only one, because on Friday the principal told her he had found a sponsor for the art club, so now she and another girl could go see if they can get some students signed up.
My only worry is that so much happened within the first few days that a little overwhelm might set in next week. But we will help her through if that happens. Maybe she has found her stride. Maybe she is finally learning that just because she is “different” doesn’t mean she is less than anyone else. Just because there was no one like her at her old school doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people like her in her new one. And yes, as I look at the tentative first steps of friendship she is making, each person shares some struggle. Each one has something that probably made them a little “different” at their old schools too.
And while she was worried about classes and knows that they will get more difficult as the year goes on, she’s even embracing physics. 😉
By the end of the first week, her lunch table was all filled up. And she told me while she was looking around thinking to herself that it was the oddest thing EVER to be in the middle of a group of people who CHOSE to sit with her and that she was a little overwhelmed by it and not sure how to socially interact with them all, she would be lying if she said she didn’t like it. A lot.
So that’s the first week down, and I just hope her optimistic attitude holds out. It’s good to see her smiling face, good to see her wanting to be involved.
Now I just wish I was off to the same start – but my side of the story will have to wait for part two.