Going back to my old school
The faces may change, but the feeling’s still the same
By Susan Konig
Our 13-year-old is in the process of choosing a high school. After eight years in her parochial grade school, it’s time to move on. She wants to go to Catholic school — we don’t plan to get in her way.
No matter where she goes, she will have to travel, since there are no Catholic high schools within miles of our suburban town. Her teachers recommended she take some scholarship exams and, before we knew it, she was very interested in a couple of New York City schools. Among them, my alma mater, Convent of the Sacred Heart.
When she was born, I pictured her going to Sacred Heart, as I had. But when she was 5, ready for kindergarten, we left Manhattan for the suburbs and never really looked back. City kids go to school in the city. If you live in the ’burbs, you stay there.
Nevertheless, I found myself touring the school one evening with a very sweet 10th-grader who was just as chatty as our daughter. In this building I could still navigate blindfolded, I paused at each classroom and conjured scenes from my youth: The teachers we tested with our rowdiness, the “aha” moments of enlightenment, the discovery of a poem I would love for the rest of my life, the times we sang and played volleyball and painted landscapes and studied chemistry and talked about the boys we wished we knew.
Every time I tried to tell the student guide something about the good old days at the convent, my daughter’s eyes widened and she looked at her shoes with an intensity that suggested I cut way back on my disco-tinged memories of Catholic school in the ’70s.
After the tour, we had a bite to eat while the choral group entertained. I was very impressed by their voices. Remembering my days in the chapel choir, I wondered, Did I ever sing like that? I watched my daughter listening and knew immediately what she was thinking: Will I ever sing like that? She was looking ahead, while I was lost in the past. But we were both dreaming about the same things. I think about high school and I am excited for her, imagining all the experiences she’ll have.
She looks at the future and wonders what’s in store. I could tell her, but what fun would that be? Besides, what do I know about being a teenager today? I still talk about record players and typewriters. Talk about pre-Jurassic.
I chat with a young English teacher and tell him what I remember from ninth-grade reading. My daughter is tolerant but finally whispers, “Why not just tell him the story of your life, Mom?”
I have to make a graceful exit and let her look around the school on her own. That’s OK. I have other stuff to do. But the nostalgia remains. Later, when I gather with the women I grew up with who are here with their own daughters, we’ll visit the past with giggles and squeals. We’ll tell the old stories — if we’re smart, without our daughters there to overhear. We can’t let them know we were once human and (gasp!) girls. CD