Elementary, My Dear Xykademiqz

I chatted with DH today about our childhoods. Mine often feels like another life, or like it happened to someone else. Perhaps that’s how everyone feels.

As I wrote here and there on the blog, I had primary school (equivalent of elementary plus middle, 8 years total), the placement into which was solely based on geography. Then high school (4 years), which, during my time, involved light specialization (for example, mine was natural sciences, but there was also a parallel social sciences and humanities track in the same school that my BFF attended; my husband went to another school where his specialization was math and programming). Then, in college, one enrolled in a major right away and was pretty much railroaded to graduation. There were several tracks to choose from as upperclassmen, but, again, no course cherry-picking; you pick a track and the course sequence is fixed.

Because of this specialization, since high school I was surrounded, more or less, with people who were similarly academically minded. Today I thought of some of the people I went to elementary school with.

There were two siblings born under a year apart in my class in elementary and high school. I look them up sometimes, and they have done well, have BS degrees in math and mechanical engineering and work in their fields.

I also remember the kids who used to sit with me in the back row in physics lab (yes, we started having physics in 6th grade; twice a week; chemistry in 7th grade, twice a week; not too much math initially, but I asked Dad to teach me some trigonometry in 6th or 7th grade so I could do physics problems with inclined planes).  Anyway, each row in the lab had two long lab desks that sat three each. I was tall and was always relegated to sit in the back, usually with boys.

In physics, I sat with these two who were supposedly “bad” kids, but I never had issues with them. They were always nice to me and respectful of my intense nerdiness. (The “nice” girls were always way nastier than any “bad” boy.)

Years later, I heard one of the boys had spent time in prison for a robbery, and was at that point out, taking care of his kid, while his wife was still locked up. It seemed surreal. The other boy I always thought was very sweet, but he was a hell raiser who, in hindsight, might have simply had ADHD. I wonder what happened with him. Unfortunately, I only remember his nickname.

And that’s the thing, I don’t really remember most of the kids I went to elementary school with. I might remember the first or the last name, but not both. You might think it’s not a big deal, but we were together, in the same class, for eight years. I feel like I should remember them better.

I was a middle-middle-class kid. A lot of my classmates were from blue-collar families. A few were what even then I’d recognized as somewhat classy, coming from old money, having had highly educated parents and grandparents and probably great-grandparents, too. In contrast, my maternal grandma had four years of schooling; my dad had a BS and got a MS when I was older; my mom had an associate’s degree.

I’m easily googlable, so, on occasion, a very rare occasion, I get a “Hey, what’s up?” A few years ago, one girl from elementary school contacted me and we shared how many kids we each had and who we were in contact with from school (me: no one; her: about half a dozen people via Facebook), and then it fizzled. It always does. I know there have been reunions, from which I’m separated by one ocean and several decades. We’re mostly curiosities to each other now. Still, I hope the kids are all right.

5 comments

  1. Must be something about social isolation during the pandemic — I was also hunting around the internet for elementary school classmates not long ago.

    I switched schools several times as a kid, but had two intense friendships in my K-2 school. One I’m still in touch with on FB, and she played violin at my wedding. The other has probably one of the most common Hispanic names in the US, and I can’t find him. It drives me crazy because he emailed me out of the blue a number of years ago, but I think it must have been to a work email address that is now defunct, and even with the crumbs of information that I can remember about his current location and work, I can’t track him down again.

    I agree, sharing a childhood with someone is an irreplaceable bond, and you get curious, even if you’re not close.

  2. I read a lot of memoirs (just a preferred genre) and I’m always amazed by how well people seem to remember the details of their childhoods. I vaguely remember some friends from high school and two (wait, three!) classes that I took senior year. My memoir would be extremely boring (but short!)

  3. I too feel like my childhood and other parts of my life were essentially other lives – I usually refer to them as my past life. But I feel a big part of that is because I have moved around a lot geographically throughout my life so I don’t have the reminders.
    One of my childhood friends (we fell off when I moved at 16) and I reconnected 7 years ago (both in our mid-20s) when I ended up moving out to the east coast where she also was. She has more recently moved back but that renewed bond has stayed strong and will continue to stay strong. It is lovely to have a tie to one of my former lives but she also is very much a part of my current life.
    This past year I removed a lot of people from Facebook. And also from my life in person. The pandemic made me realize that I should focus on the relationships I have now that serve me well (give and take). But I’m open to reconnecting with many in the future but I’m also okay with if we don’t. Sometimes the beauty in relationships though are their brevity.

  4. I had the same classmates pretty much straight through from K through 8 in a small school (I think our graduating class was 60). By the end of high school, I doubt that I remembered any of them. I certainly don’t remember them now.

    Our high school was huge (graduating class of over 600), but I had mostly the same classmates throughout—the “smart” kids were all tracked together. I’ve not kept up with any of them—the one I was closest to committed suicide in college.

    I did go to a couple of high school reunions (partly as an excuse to visit my parents), but I did not feel any desire to renew acquaintance with them. I doubt that I’ll go the 50th reunion—if they even have it in 2021.

  5. I’m completely out of touch with school folk. I was in one school during class1-3, another 4-10, then higher secondary school/junior college 11,12, and then undergraduate. I am not even particularly curious about then-very-close-friends from class1-10. I’m curious about, but not in touch with, some 11,12 friends. And undergrad friends onwards, I’m in touch.

    I too am easily google-able. Occasionally someone from school gets in touch by email and we exchange some back and forth mails. Then it drops, because they ask me to join the WhatsApp group, and I’m not on WhatsApp; no incentive. Or they have a Faceook network, but I’m not on FB either.

    Academically I was an outlier in school – high performing, consistently ahead of the second by almost 10 percentage points. I shared cultural interests with school friends, cultural and intellectual interests with college friends. Looks like the former alone was not enough to be enduring for me. In later years I sometimes found myself surprised that someone else from school did well acadmically post-school, then felt like a real heel for feeling that way. I guess I haven’t squared it with myself yet.

    I occasionally wonder how things would have turned out if I’d had some healthy academic competition in school. I am, by most standards, confident and academically “successful”. Would that have changed? Oh, by the way, the class4-10 school was not co-ed but girls-only. Maybe that played a role too.

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