Want to know why? Because I am an extremely proud former member of the SMS faculty. In 2000, I was hired due to increasing enrollment, along with many colleagues who are still there today. I became the 7th grade English teacher for “the new house,” as it was called for a year, before being named Fountain House, after the first female member of Scarsdale’s Board of Education. I later went on to teach 6th grade English in Cooper House. (In case you don’t live in Scarsdale and are unfamiliar with the house system, think of Harry Potter’s Gryffindor and Slytherin. Minus the owls.)
Anyway, I know the school inside out, upside down and backwards. Every time I visit, I feel like I’m back home.
Some of my friends however, newbies that they are, are nervous about the middle school. I can’t really blame them. The building is big, and unless you know how to get from point A to point B, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed on an initial visit. And change is never easy.
But nervous, me? No way.
A few weeks ago, incoming families were invited on a tour of the school. We met in the gym and were broken up into groups that were led by members of the Student Organization, or S.O.
Steve Rambone, head of the S.O. (and, I might add, a former Woodie) was in charge.
Speaking into a megaphone, Steve got us organized. “Okay, so this group, why don’t you follow these three girls here and head to the auditorium.”
I heard him, but I was also busy socializing with some moms. It was just like when a teacher gives directions in gym class and you ignore him because you are chatting with your friends. Remember that? Blah, blah, blah.
“Julie Gerstenblatt, will you be talking the entire time you are on your tour?” Steve asked into the megaphone.
“Yes, Mr. Rambone, I certainly plan on it,” I assured him, giving him a friendly wink and a wave. And my group was off.
“This is the Center,” one of our guides explained. “Here is where you will have gym, chorus, music classes, and foreign language.”
“But it used to be Popham,” I added.
“And here is the fitness center. You can see the weights and machines, like treadmills.”
“But it used to be my classroom, before they built the new houses.” I added again.
“Here is F and C.”
“What does that stand for?” One of the moms whisper-asked me.
“Uhm…Food and Community? Family and Cooking?” I shrugged. “I can’t remember.” It turns out, I am not the keeper of all relevant information. “But, guess what?”
“It used to be your classroom?” She guessed.
“Yes! And we didn’t have a flag for the Pledge of Allegiance, so we would face the refrigerator and just kind of wing it,” I explained.
We eventually secured a flag, you’ll be happy to know. And we placed it above the refrigerator.
And then we passed a classroom with another memory: the time a desk collapsed when I sat on it, four months pregnant with Andrew.
“Guess what?” I had told the class, picking myself up from the carpet. “I’m pregnant!”
Yawns greeted this news. “Yeah, we, like, figured that out a while ago, Mrs. G,” one girl explained, as class spokesperson.
“Is it that obvious?” I wondered aloud.
“Yeah!” The entire class smiled.
“Well, I will try not to sit on desks anymore, then.”
And now we were entering lower Butler. “You don’t need to pay attention to this,” I told Andrew, since he’s not in that house.
Then, to upper Butler we went. “You don’t need to pay attention to this either,” I assured him. “Hi!” I said, jumping off the tour to greet an old friend who was still in his classroom grading papers.
“Mom, come on!” Andrew said.
“You went on the tour?” the friend asked, incredulous.
“I did it for Andrew,” I explained. But unfortunately, the tour was actually making things worse instead of better for him. By starting where we did and working our way backwards through the school, my child, who was not nervous before the tour, was now completely apprehensive.
“I will take you back here one day in August and show you how to get directly from the bus ramp to your homeroom, without stopping at art or chorus along the way. That mental map is all you really need on the first day,” I assured him.
Then we entered Fountain House, where Andrew will spend the better part of his next three years. And that’s when a particular awareness sort of hit me, the sense of life being one big circle. Thirteen years ago, I started my Scarsdale teaching career in Fountain House, and now I would be starting my parenting career of a middle schooler here, too.
Andrew was going to middle school.
He would grow up, and change, and rebel, and have social issues and problems with friends. He might fail a test, or lie to me, or face an ethical dilemma that is bigger and scarier than any he has faced before. And he might not tell me everything, and our relationship will morph, and suddenly, he’ll have a whole life beyond me. Instagram! What the hell do I do about Instagram? Perhaps he will be bullied, or get his heart broken, or feel misunderstood. I will guide him, yes, but I can no longer control the universe for him like I did when he was three. And five. And seven. And nine.
Now he’s eleven.
Where has the time gone?
Andrew is off to middle school, and guess what?
I am secretly freaking out.