Monday, August 25, 2008

First Day of School

Major University's Heir to the Throne Campus

Today is a big day for many people in my family. Today, August 25, 2008, is the first day of school. For all four of the Our Family children, this is a fairly important occasion, a transition point where one thing ends and another begins.

As I'm writing this, Pie is almost certainly on her way or already arrived at Mountain Town Elementary, where this morning she will begin her first day of kindergarten. I've tried to impress on her the importance of this event, what a milestone it is, but I think that at five years old the significance of it is lost on her. There are some things that you can only appreciate in retrospect, some markers that you are wholly oblivious to when you're actually making them despite the fact that they will come to have enormous impact on your life.

I think of my sister, my Pie, and I think of all that lies ahead of her. I think I have been more excited about this than she has, but, then again, she's five.

"Pie," I said to her yesterday evening. "Tomorrow is a very important day. You're going to be in kindergarten."

"Yeah," she sighed, playing with the hair of a High School Musical doll that she held in one hand. "I know."

She seemed a bit disappointed at having to go to school, but I assured her that it would be wonderful.

"Oh, Pie," I said. "You're going to love it! You're going to have so much fun, and you'll make so many friends."

"Yeah," she said, brightening at the idea. "And a lot of my friends from Pre-K are going to Mountain Town Elementary."

"That's right," I encouraged. "And you'll make new friends, too. Plus, think of all you'll learn how to do! You're going to learn to read, and write, and do math, and all kinds of things."

"Yeah," she said for the third time. "But do I have to do algebra!?!"

The adorable look of utter terror on her face as she raised this possibility was priceless, and I couldn't help laughing when I told her, "Well, Pie, you're too little to do algebra now, but one day you will have to."

"Well," she said. "In algebra, you have to do homework."

The last word came out as a sneer, as if homework were the most contemptible thing that could be imagined.

"Science is fun, though," she added.

"Pie," I said. "You'll have homework in science, too. Everything has homework!"

At this she turned to her doll house and continued playing.

"Pie," I asked. "Do you know how old you'll be when you get out of school?"

"Six?" she tried.

"No," I said, once again attempting not to laugh. "You'll be eighteen."

She looked at me with big, expressionless eyes. These words obviously meant nothing, or, inasmuch as they did, were too distant and abstract to really matter. She knows vaguely that Powell is eighteen and that Big Nose Girl (an acquaintance of Powell's who works at Pie's daycare and who my sister describes as her "friend") is eighteen as well.

The notion of Pie being eighteen was not something she gave much thought to, but I did. I realized, in thinking about it, that, from today on, my sister will be in the public school system until she is a legal adult. She is embarking now on the beginning of a journey that will help to define who she is, that will shape her views and personality and her whole philosophy of the world.

The next few years, until about third grade or so, will for her be the time of forming initial friendships, friendships without condition that will continue simply through sleepovers and games of tag for a long time.

Fifth grade will come, and then she will graduate and move on to middle school, buoyed by the many comrades she's made over the years. In sixth grade, things will begin to become more complicated. She and her friends will start to go through puberty, will likely start making very preliminary attempts at dating one another, and will find that social politics enters into their lives where before it wasn't present.

Sixth, seventh, and eighth grades will pass by, and then she'll find herself in high school. By this point, her history with all those around her will have become so deeply enmeshed that she will feel as if she is a living extension of the community, as if the school house is but an arm of her home life. She will know and be known by all around her, will effortlessly be able to approach and associate with most of her peers because of the common flow that their life stories have shared.

Then, when she does meet new people, the support network she's developed will give her the confidence to strike up conversations, initiate introductions, and, before long, begin nascent friendships. All of this builds off of itself.

If I seem to describe what to many of you is a mundane and ordinary thing with a sense of awe, it is because it seems to me extraordinary. It is something I never had.

I began second grade at Dirty Town Elementary in 1995, having gone to a different primary school for the previous three years. I graduated from there in 1999, whereupon my parents, fearful of the drug-infested area middle school, lied about our address so I could attend Ghetto Middle. Ghetto Middle actually turned out to be worse, so in 2000 I transferred to Dirty Town Middle. The next school year, in 2001, we moved to Beautiful Town, at which point I began attending Beautiful Town Middle. I graduated from that school in 2002, entered Beautiful Town High the same year, and then moved to Deep South State in 2004.

I went to Central City High School for less than a full school year before we moved to Southern State and I transferred to Privileged High School in 2005. I graduated in 2006.

What many of my readers, what in fact most Americans have known and widely consider to be a normal lifestyle, is simply unfathomable to me. It is unfathomable. I can't imagine being so connected to everyone around me, to knowing so much about them and being so intimate. It must be like being with family all the time.

I think that would be very nice.

For that reason, I am glad we live in Mountain Town. Whatever its drawbacks (and there are many), my parents, younger brother, and sister have found there a true home. It a backwards community, isolated, rural, at times intolerable. Yet is one that will nurture Pie from kindergarten to childhood to adolescence and eventually to adulthood.

She will graduate from high school in 2021, a reality I can't quite grasp (to give you some perspective, I'll be thirty-three then). I hope she does so from where we now live.

Of course, my desire for stability in her life is tempered by my fear that she'll somehow become "one of them." "They" are the farm-bred natives who have never known anything outside the very narrow confines of their town, who are simple and modest and oftentimes very ignorant.

That may not happen, though; many of Pie's current friends already are outsiders, people who moved to Mountain Town from somewhere else, and the outsiders will only continue to come. The very nature of the county could be changed by these migrants, though that process will be a very gradual one.

Mountain Town is like something out of a movie, a place where shadowy networks of undue influence not only exist but are thriving, where the "good old boys" still rule everything, even as their people become more diverse, modern, and frustrated with the stagnant policies this community's leaders refuse to change.

There are two families in Mountain Town who comprise essentially the city's aristocracy: they are the First Family, and the Second Family. The First Family is probably the more powerful of the two, but they basically have Mountain Town divided between them. Both clans settled in the area at the town's founding, some two hundred years ago in the late 1700's. Both own impressive estates, have loads of money, and, among the younger crowd, are the elite popular children.

"I know a First Family kid," Powell told me. "His parents got him a $25,000.00 car for graduation."

The young man in question has been to my house. Something about his manner disagreed with me. It was nothing overt, mind you, just something.

What probably caused aroused my dislike was the quiet arrogance with which these people undertake all that they do; they know that they rule their own world, that they can and will do anything they like, and that the authorities, tucked firmly in their pocket, will always look the other way.

This extends even into the high school, where my siblings have reported to me that the First and Second Families' children are given preferential treatment by teachers.

At the same time, their palace is their prison; their kingdom encompasses Mountain Town and nothing else. Were they ever to move (something inconceivable to them) even one town over, the history they've spent two centuries building would be meaningless and their reign would end. They would be nobody. They would have money, mind you, but they would still be nobody.

So they're trapped. They can stay, in this small town, and keep their crowns, or go anywhere else and lose them. They all, invariably, choose to stay.

All the same, I'm glad that Pie is growing up here. She is happy, and that is really the most important thing.

Thomas starts eighth grade today, making him the one exception to the transition rule; while Pie begins kindergarten, Powell begins college, and I begin commuting, Thomas simply enters another grade in middle school.

It is, I think, though, a stepping stone of sorts. Eighth grade really is different from sixth and seventh. It is the last year before high school, the year when adolescence really hits its stride. Thomas turned thirteen in May, and by the end of this school year will be fourteen.

His thoughts will turn to the future as high school approaches.

Just last night, he said to me, "I hate growing up. It means I have to do things on my own, like go to college and stuff."

"Thomas," I said. "You're thirteen. That is so far away for you. You're not even going to be a Senior in high school for five years."

"Four and a half," he corrected me.

"Same thing," I said. "Look, enjoy being thirteen."

"I know," he said. "'Cause when I get older I'll have to deal with a lot."

"But enjoy being fourteen, too."

"Yeah," he agreed adamantly, not quite understanding what I was saying. "I know."

"And fifteen. And sixteen. And seventeen. And eighteen. And on and on and on. Thomas, there's good and bad things about every age. Right now, you're thirteen, and the good thing about that is--"

"I don't have to worry about anything," he said.

"Right," I allowed. "And you won't have to when you're fourteen, or fifteen either."

I was about to tell him that the benefit to growing older and assuming more responsibility was increased independence, autonomy, and the freedom to do whatever you wish. We were interrupted before I could get to that part, though, and so he walked off without hearing the second half of what I'd meant to say.

I really hope that the message he took from that wasn't, "Enjoy life now, because it all sucks after you get your driver's license."

We'll have to talk later. Hopefully, of course, he'll figure it out on his own.

Powell begins his first day at Western County Community College today, and, as with Pie, I think I'm more thrilled about a sibling's experience than the sibling themselves actually is. I will probably call Powell sometime this morning to see how his day is going, but he doesn't have class until two o' clock and probably isn't up yet.

I really am so excited for him, though. College can be an academically-enriching thing, and I think that this provides him with an opportunity to enjoy his studies and realize his own work potential.

I've told him for years that his lackluster grades are the result not of low intelligence but of laziness, and that if he applied himself he could do spectacularly well. I still believe this and so does he, and I want him to see and savor the fruits of genuine scholarly labor.

Given that he's a first-year student at a community college, it really shouldn't be that hard.

Only he can make that leap, though. We can push, prod, and encourage him all we like, but until he decides that his education is important and that he will apply himself, nothing can happen.

I hope he'll do his best. I think that that best is very good.

Then, of course, there's me. Right now, I'm sitting ina computer lab at Major University's Heir to the Throne Campus, preparing for my first class of the semester, which begins in half an hour.

The course is Sociology 101, and, while I'm looking forward to it, I'm also acutely aware that I'm a Junior who still hasn't satisfied all of his general education requirements. Given, I am taking 300 level government courses, but that is because I pushed ahead in that field and paid no mind to the things I had to accomplish that were unrelated to my major.

The fact that I will almost certainly be switching from Political Science to Journalism this semester will no doubt only complicate this. All in all, though, I'm optimistic and excited. I'm proud of myself for getting up at 5:45a.m. this morning, getting ready, and embarking on a commute that will take me across five different highways, one of them a major interstate.

I got off of that interstate at the Heir to the Throne site several hours ago, having discovered last night that one of the classes I registered for in April is in fact on a satellite campus of Major University. It's fine, though; it's on the way.

My father was kind enough yesterday afternoon, when we'd finished practicing the drive the Major University, to fill up my gas tank for me. I am currently searching (desperately) for another job, as my time at the theater is now up but the costs of living continue. I'm hoping to work one day a week (with my courseload I really can't do anymore) and save as much possible.

I know, flat out, that I will not be able to make enough money to cancel out petrol prices. I just won't. My goal is only to bring home enough cash to offset some of that financial burden and lessen the blow to my savings account. I have calculated that I'll probably spend between $1,000.00-$1,200.00 on gas this semester, which is still cheaper than the $3,000.00 I would be paying long-term to live on campus.

I am very lucky in that I have recently come into a small amount of money ($10,000.00) from my grandmother, who had it in an account for me.

I will update you more on everything at some point this week (and I'll also post some more pictures).

Everybody should be very prepared, though, for my entries to become less frequent as the school year begins. Eighteen credit hours will do that to you.

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