Remembering… Starting School

Starting School

luigi diamanti

I have very few memories of early childhood. Old family photographs don’t jolt memories loose, so it’s fairly safe to say starting school had an impact on me as it is my earliest memory.

My mother held my hand as we walked to the Preschool. We walked into the building and there was a lady standing before us with long brown hair. She smiled as she spoke to me. I didn’t understand a word she was saying, but when she took my hand and led me away I didn’t even notice my mother leave. I only had eyes for that smile.

I was three and a half years old and I couldn’t speak English. I was sent to preschool early since I wasn’t learning the language at home. At times I wonder what it means that a smile could capture the heart of a little girl that easily. Did my family not smile? Did their friends not smile? The old photos say they did. Thinking about it, my father hadn’t stopped drinking yet, so maybe there weren’t that many smiles at home when I was little.

The colour red… on a wall? maybe a finger painting? A sandpit. Skipping. Children laughing. A smile.

I don’t remember much about the next few months at preschool. Most of what I remember are almost momentary impressions of things and colours.

She sat down with me in the school yard and explained that it was time to move to the Big School. That I would enjoy being there. I asked if my friends were going too. She told me they wouldn’t move until next year. I didn’t want to go. I was happy where I was. I was four years old when the lady with the long brown hair and the smile that captured my heart took my hand and walked me across to my first day in kindergarten. Then she said goodbye.

To be honest I’m not sure if she took me across to kindergarten. I almost think someone from the school came across to the preschool to collect me and they both walked me to the school. I don’t always trust memories, as sometimes we remember things as we’d like them to be, or how we think they should have been.

I remember being introduced to the teacher, sitting down at what would be my desk for the next few months. I still remember which classroom it was. I don’t remember if my teacher was male or female. I remember learning to write my name, something my classmates had learned months before and they weren’t shy to point out to me.

I was joining a class midway through the year and was a year younger than my new classmates. This made little difference at the time, as children can adapt, but it would later. At the time in Canberra the education system had (might still have) a rule about children being a certain age when they enter highschool. I would be a year too young. They moved me knowing that I would have to repeat a school year.

I was called out from class and went for what I can only describe as a reading & comprehension test. Not all the students had to do this test. The school wanted to test my reading age before making the decision whether to let me enter the next grade with my friends the following year, or to keep me back. I was reading at the level of a sixth grader. My comprehension put me at about fourth grade. The following year I said goodbye to my friends as they went up a year while this time I stayed behind.

It had been decided that it would be easier for me if I repeated a grade, rather than move to senior primary and be forced to repeat sixth grade since I would be too young to move across to highschool because of the age rule. I honestly have trouble remembering if it was first or second grade that I repeated and I don’t feel like searching for my report cards. The age rule was changed the year before I went to highschool.

Although this next memory is from highschool, it relates back to primary school. When my thoughts turn to my early schooling, this memory usually returns with it.

He told me that he had to see that I was alright. If I don’t have this memory confused with another one, we were sitting in his parent’s home. We were listening to some heavy metal, just ‘A’ and I. We’d never spent much time together, we had different circles of friends, so it was very much out of the blue that he would spend time with me. Why did he? He told me that he remembered his first day of school. That he had been sitting on the steps, feeling alone and like an outsider. A girl with blonde hair and blue eyes had sat down beside him, said Hello and began to talk to him. She had reached out to him when he felt he didn’t belong, when he felt he would never belong. That girl was me. Years later he would reach out to me in turn when I was troubled.

I don’t remember sitting down with A on the steps. I even asked him if he was sure it had been me. I remember quite often I had friends who were considered outsiders, or were shunned by other students. I always felt like an outsider when I was young, so it rings true that I would recognise someone else who felt like that and reach out to them.

I’m cutting this post here and moving the rest of what I was working through into storage as I honestly can’t finish it. Maybe later. I read over what I’ve written and I don’t like the way my mood shadows everything.

I usually remember that smile fondly. I haven’t described the feeling of awe as I learned to write my name, or sense of achievement that I caught up to my classmates… twice. So, I’ll end this post here and let my mood drown itself in blackness in another post.

Added: I feel myself at the edge of the fog. Understanding why it exists is just there at the edge of sight. I almost feel I could reach out and touch the truth.

Image: luigi diamanti /


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