This year marks my 25th anniversary of graduating Grade 8. To put things in perspective, my youngest son is graduating Grade 8 this year. I am officially . . . getting old.
Growing up, I attended two elementary schools — Bishop Townshend only went to Grade 6, then I transferred to Knollwood Park for Grades 7 and 8. Grade 6 was quite the transition year. Things changed. People changed. But many memories stayed with me.
Every Sunday morning, my parents would wake me up so I wouldn’t miss attending Sunday School at our church. I never had issues with going, as there was a small group of us — five actually — who had spent every Sunday together for years. I really looked forward to seeing them each week, even though I did know two of them from elementary school. Things were just . . . different . . . at church. There were no cliques or kids who made fun of me for being overweight or looked down on me for not having the nicest clothes. These people were accepting and I felt comfortable with them.
In Grade 6, the safety patrollers at our school were invited to attend a Safety Patrol Dance at Beal secondary school. Many of us went, including one of the boys from my Sunday School class. This was my first dance, though I doubt anyone knew it. I remember the music was loud, everyone was laughing and people were dancing with each other. Everyone . . . but me. I’ve never been very outgoing, one characteristic I wish I would have developed as a child. It was nearing the end of the night and I truly had a fantastic time just hanging out with my friends, but I had not yet danced. A slow song came on and the boy from church came over to me. He had said that his girlfriend had gone to the washroom and he would dance with me, if I wanted to. It was very obvious that he was just being nice to me, so I told him that he should wait for her, that she’d probably want to dance with him when she got back. Even though I was shy and lacked confidence in Grade 6, I still look back at that considerate gesture with fondness — of the boy who offered to dance with me, when he didn’t have to. I’ve never thanked him for doing that, but I’ve never forgotten it, either.
One other significant thing happened in Grade 6 and to this day, I remember the thoughtfulness of another classmate. Sure, he was the most popular guy in school. He always looked cool and acted cool — who wouldn’t have had a crush on him? My parents had gone out for the night, which they regularly did, and a few friends came over. It’s getting difficult to remember exactly what we spent our time doing, but I do remember playing a kissing game. (This is not a story I have shared with my boys yet!) I had never had a boyfriend and was definitely not experienced like the others. The cool boy and I ended up in the bathroom, just talking, when he asked me if I wanted to learn how to kiss. I’m sure my face turned red with embarrassment, but when I looked at him, he was serious. Due to my lack of confidence, nothing happened that day, but I do look back at that moment often, wondering why he had been so nice to offer such as thing. To me? In any case, I am thankful that he never made fun of me for my inexperience or my inability to act upon it. Now that I’ve reconnected with him through Facebook, I’ve been debating about thanking him ‘in person.’
After graduating Grade 6, half of my classmates transferred along with me to Knollwood Park. To my surprise, one of my Sunday School friends attended this school! I made many new friends during those two years at Knollwood and honestly, those were the two best years of my life. So many great and lasting memories, that I’ve often shared with my own children. Friday night skating at Carling Arena, playing football after school in the fall, watching my friends ride a dirt bike before the police came and asked me if I had been on the bike (of course not!), getting hit in the face with a baseball and having two black eyes for weeks . . . okay, not all are ‘great’ memories, but all memories of the time I spent there. There were also many birthday parties. One party in particular, my church friend was invited as well. Everyone seemed to be ‘coupled’ with someone else, even if they weren’t together. I enjoyed myself throughout the night and at one point, my church friend asked me to dance. His girlfriend was at the party, so I was concerned she’d be upset, but as he had said, “It’s okay. We’re just friends.” It was amazing to think about it, but we had been friends almost as long as he had known his girlfriend. This was the first time I believed that boys and girls could exist as friends. Not just as friends hanging out in a group, but as really, good friends. Later in high school, he accompanied me to a work Christmas party and knowing that we’d always be friends, no matter where we were in life, was comforting to know. I don’t think I’ve ever thanked him for being such a good friend to me, but I hope he knew it.
As my son lives through his last year of elementary school, I’ve realized that many things are different. Children don’t connect in person as much as we used to — though they still connect, it’s done online, or through playing video games. There are less and less opportunities for groups of children to hang out together, other than playing school sports. Or maybe they are just not interested in doing that, as much as we did. I used to walk 20 minutes to meet my friends at Knollwood to hang out on the weekends, but my boys hang out with their friends at home, playing video games or using social media. Even though times have changed, I do hope that my boys experience some moments that they will never forget. Maybe it will be the graduation dance…or the last school assembly. Whatever the moments they choose to remember, I just hope they never forget them.