Thursday, December 24, 2009

Walking My Daughter to School: Fort Lauderdale 1996

You know, you have a child and you don't realize how many things there will be to do for and with that child or how it brings many thing into a new perspective . . . By the fall of 1996, Fru and I were in South Florida and had two children: First Daughter and Second Daughter, five and three years old. By then we'd moved out of the hotel and rented a house on SE 10th Ave in Victoria Park. One of the reasons we chose the Victoria Park neighborhood was because of the school there: VSY (Virginia Schuman Young--a public Montessori school). That's one of those things you don't think about much as you hold your new baby: what school will I send her to? What neighborhood will I choose so that she can go to a certain school? But, as we settled in, we were very happy with our decision.
Though we didn't end up buying a house there, Victoria Park is a cool little neighborhood very close to downtown, it has cute houses and small, palm-lined streets. It was down one of these palm-lined streets that I would walk each weekday with my two daughters to take First Daughter to school. Right on our street there were three other families that had kids about the same age and they too would walk to VSY, so we got to know them well and they are--to this day--still friends. So, it was a group of us walking 10th Avenue back and forth down to the school and back. A daily ritual that helped us feel connected and at home in a place like South Florida (none of us in the group were native Floridians--except some of the kids). This daily walk was especially fun for Second Daughter and her friends who also did not go to school yet--they'd goof around and find small things of great interest as we walked. They had no pressure--it was only a walk--and had a year to see and accept the routine, the idea of going to school. This, however, was not true for First Daughter.
First Daughter--like me when I was a child--would have much preferred to stay home. She was brave and did well in school, but was never comfortable in doing it. I knew this. I also knew what it was like, because I'd always seen school as a chore, as duty rather than choice (until about my last year of high school, maybe). So everyday as I walked her, I knew she didn't really want to go, was reluctant to leave the sanctity of home and family and our close relationship, to leave her in this imposing building full of other kids (mostly older) and then, hours and hours later, come get her and walk back to where she'd rather be. First Daughter had been to a pre-school of sorts in Champaign, IL: Busy Bees. That class met for a short period--four hours?--maybe three days a week. So, when we got to Ft. Lauderdale and she had to start real school, maybe she wasn't quite prepared for the commitment. (Second Daughter started Pre-K at VSY the next year--same hours as regular school--and she loved it for the most part.)
But this is another thing you really don't think of when you have a child: the reliving of aspects of your own childhood. Whether it be toys or old cartoons, the memories of games or experiences (like having to go off to school, like walking to school), these are things that crop up if you're close to your child and worry about your child (and who doesn't do that?). Perhaps some of it is transference, my own memories and worries, but I think it was more just good old recognition. But you feel that same low-grade pain, worry, sadness; but you also get over it and do what's right, just like your child does.
Ah, but these were long years ago, the 1990's, though it doesn't seem like it to me. My kids are still kids, even though one's in college now and the other is close behind. To them, memories like walking to school in the streets of Fort Lauderdale (and we only did this for one school year, I drove them after that) are but building blocks of larger memory, are a very distant episode. The 90's are ancient times . . . To me, they are but yesterday.
And then my daughters will have their own daughters--or sons--and then they themselves will discover all these ancillary details and concerns that come with having a child. Back and forth we go. Back and forth.
Just like walking to school.

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