A couple of weeks ago, John Paul and I finally got around to dropping in the enrolment forms for Alison for primary school, which she is due to start next year. We’ve spoken to lots of parents about their opinions of what school might be best, and based on this we have nearly decided which school would be suitable. I’m not telling, but needless to say, standards and class sizes are factors in this important decision. As long as Alison is happy, I don’t really mind. Her happiness is everything to me.
Enrolling Alison in primary school has brought back memories that I thought I’d long forgotten. I started school in September 1989 at the age of five. I obviously don’t remember this myself, but I know that my mother had to beg the principal to let me into the school. There was a ‘special class’ on site in prefabs, which would’ve been suitable for accessibility reasons but stood separate from the main school building. My mother wanted me to be integrated as much as possible and finally, after much coercion, the principal agreed that I could join Junior Infants, specifically Mrs. Dowling’s class.
Mrs Dowling was so kindhearted and soft that I couldn’t believe my luck. On my first day of school I sat beside a girl called Emma, who remained a close friend all through primary and secondary school. I was a novelty, but school was the first time that I felt any different from my peers. I had to be wheeled about in a buggy for my first year in primary school. Children would be told, both by teachers and parents that ‘Sarah is very delicate and walks differently from other people.’ Delicate, my hole. I was clumsy, but sturdy. Yes, I was easily knocked over, but I could pick myself up just as easily. After a while, it was more like ‘Get up off the floor Sarah, you look like a tool.’
Indeed, I don’t remember primary school as being one of the most dignified times of my life. I remember in Junior Infants there was a box of old trousers and underpants under the teacher’s desk, in case somebody had an accident. If ever there was an incentive not to soil yourself that was it. God only knew who had been wearing those pants beforehand.
As if being wobbly and misshapen wasn’t quite enough to separate me from the pack, I was awarded an electric typewriter, possibly a state-of-the-art machine at the time, that sounded like it was coughing every time a letter was pressed, and a machine gun every time the eraser was activated. Because my speech was seemingly unintelligible, the typewriter doubled up as a communication device. I think I ended up costing a fortune in ink! There were no laptops at the time, but there were Acorn Computers which needed lots of complicated codes to access. These were only available in the Resource room at first, but soon there was a computer per classroom.
It was in primary school that I started to develop a lazy work ethic, and I think being sternly corrected for my antics have left me with a phobia of being lazy or not reaching my potential. In third class, I told the substitute teacher that my parents had decided that I shouldn’t have to do homework because they were afraid that it would tire me out. I got away with playing computer games for a whole month because I acted as if I was so stupid in class that the sub evidently thought that there was no point in teaching me. Needless to say, that when my parents were confronted about my antics, they were so mortified that they couldn’t summon up a punishment severe enough. Actually, this is untrue; until the day she died, my mother would casually bring up this particular incident in order to frighten me into achieving my potential.
I also went through a delightful phase (that only ended towards the end of first year of secondary school) of wanting to write down everything by hand. I wanted to be like everyone else, and if my disability wasn’t enough to stop me getting homework, then at least I should be able to write with a lovely fountain pen just like my classmates. Problem was, of course, that teachers are not trained to read Ancient Greek. By the end of first year, I succumbed to using a laptop and computer for classwork, but only because it was a modern Windows 95 and not the ‘abomination’ with the illuminous green screen that had been donated by Dad’s work colleagues. I would have nightmares about pressing the wrong button and breaking it. Even now, my parents don’t believe me.
I wasn’t really allowed partake in mainstream PE, but I was given a gym mat in the corner where I could do my physio while the others played games. Hmmm, fun. Not. However, I did enjoy a few sessions of Irish dancing in my older years, and I was allowed on the trampoline a couple of times. Needless to say, however, I was not chosen for the basketball teams. As I got older, I was allowed to bring my tricycle into sports day at school and I would spend all day cycling around the town park, cheering on my friends.
Indeed, primary school wasn’t all ‘doom and gloom’ and I remember crying for days when I left sixth class. It was in primary school that I decided, with some conviction, that I wanted to be a writer. Primary school taught me that with equality comes responsibility, and that if I wanted to be respected and treated with dignity and credibility, I would have to prove that I was worthy of this. I also learned that being outside the ‘popular’ circle was not a bad thing, and I never felt pressured to be anyone but the needy social misfit that I was (am!)
And now, as my precious daughter grows older and nears her own primary school adventure, I hope that she makes her own memories that she can look back on with fondness. I hope that she won’t get teased in the yard for having ‘wobbly’ parents. Most of all, I hope she has fun. Though if she could find fun in activities that didn’t involve manipulating her teachers like her mother did, I’d be grateful.