As her son starts secondary school, this writer remembers her First Year memories with the Notre Dame nuns in Churchtown, Dublin
And, in the blink of an eye, here we are. I suddenly have a child in secondary school (which, I’m guessing, means I should have officially mastered the art of parenting by now) and it’s proving quite the nostalgia trip.
The 13-year-old son, and eldest, has headed into his first full week of First Year at his new secondary school. A few half-days last week eased him in, but we’re now full-steam ahead with a colour-coded timetable and enough new books to open our own Amazon depot.
"Do you remember the horrendous reality of knicker shorts for PE? Non-negotiable knicker shorts."
I’d almost forgotten how significant First Year was. How exciting. How formative. How fun. And how scary.
Do you remember that buzz of finding out whose class you were in? Which of your pals had chosen the same subjects as you? Getting lost looking for your classroom? Standing still for morning assembly? And the horrendous reality of knicker shorts for PE? Non-negotiable knicker shorts.
Notre Dame nuns
Unlike many, I was educated in the same school for a full 14 years. Starting in Junior Infants (Low Babies, they called it), I moved the whole way through primary and on to secondary school with the same Notre Dame nuns in Churchtown. We wore royal blue skirts and sweaters, a shade that is phenomenally unflattering to Irish complexions.
The redheads fared worst with the colour palette, though few can pull off that torturous shade . . . with the exception of Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diane.
Everything seemed so much bigger and better in secondary school. Everything seemed so exotic.
The art room with its kiln and huge windows.
The soup and pizza sold by Home Ec students on Fridays.
The sixth class prefects with their shiny badges.
The swanky new canteen with a tuck shop that lent the place an air of sophistication hithertofore only glimpsed in American High School movies.
Snoopy and Garfield
Lulled into a false sense of security, the truth is that most of us were still just big kids playing at grown-ups. Secondary school created a backdrop to thrive, and while we were expected to bring a new level of maturity to our studies, many of us began First Year clueless, still clutching Snoopy pencil cases and Garfield folders.
Ridiculously immature, I recall asking a beautiful new girl who had just joined the school if she wanted to be my “secret best friend”. Cringe. The embarrassment of it all. (We’re still pals, she’s still beautiful, though she does occasionally tease me about my 12-year-old naivety.)
"Many of us moved on awkwardly from primary school friendships, forging links with more like-minded newcomers."
The self-doubt was real, but so too was the acute sense of possibility. New-found freedoms magnified the lack of self-confidence, as First Year teachers tried to foster a new level of independence.
Many of us moved on awkwardly from primary school friendships, forging links with more like-minded newcomers. Others began cycling or walking to school on their own.
Kylie and Jason
For me, it was lunch break that stands out. A full hour long, and, with new classmates living across the road from the school, the temptation to skip across to their house at lunchtime proved too much, despite being forbidden without written permission from your parents.
Lunch Chez Sarah wasn’t necessarily any more interesting than the canteen, but the fake sense of autonomy was impossible to pass up. That and the TV.
The year was 1985 and Neighbours was everyone’s favourite show, airing twice a day. Kylie and Jason were as close to reality TV stars as we were going to get and lunchtime viewing felt like the ultimate thrill, nicely breaking up the academic day.
Later, our fickle souls would switch allegiance to Home & Away.
I had forgotten all these minutiae until this week. Until my son began his first days in First Year and unlocked the happiest of memories.
I had forgotten all this carefree nostalgia until I saw my buzzing, enlivened 13-year-old return home from school tired and beaming.
Still reassuringly communicative for a newly-minted teenager (though edging ever closer to a world where apathetic grunting is the lingua franca), he’s asked us to call him at 6.50am each morning so that he can catch an earlier DART to school with his ‘Train Gang.’
I love that he already loves First Year. I love that he wants to go into school early.
And I love that I can hitch a ride on the momentum of this new journey, reminiscing a little before watching from the sidelines as he rises to the challenges, and makes his own new memories.
Featured image: Google Images
Read more: How to prevent the dreaded head lice
Read more: Kids going back to school? The IMAGE team share their tips
Read more: Why we get anxious this time of the year