Like many of us, I have a complicated relationship with social media. Each week in my personal life, I lose more hours down the Facebook rabbit hole than I care to admit. I am generally a browser, always catching up on others’ posts and rarely posting storylines and pictures of my own. As much as I curse this digital sinkhole, it does have its moments. Because I post so little, Facebook seldom offers me a ‘memory’. But this week, Facebook presented me with a rare post from seven years ago; it was the second time in less than a week that this picture bubbled up in my life, capturing my imagination. It felt like a nudge for me to share.
The Facebook ‘memory’ is a picture of my eldest daughter in her dorm room at university, her first day of sorts. It was only a week ago that I dug up this picture myself, placing it alongside another first day – my own.
If I were completely honest, I do not truly remember the details of that first morning. The photograph my mother took, which captures me in the moments before I left for school, stirs recollections; but it is hard to know what is true memory and what is projected into this moment by my experiences between then and now. There are elements of the pose that I do remember: the sunny morning on the front steps of our house, the feel of new school clothes, my little brother – with messy hair and a diaper – peeking out of the front screen door, and mom behind the camera. Like every amateur photographer, she had the sun at her back and it shone directly into my eyes, prompting my pained squint. As I look at this picture, I imagine that my face may reveal something more.
I concede the following interpretation of that little boy’s expression may be more creative fiction than true recollection, but it isn’t an unlikely stretch.
You see, his anxious face was likely more than just the sun in his eyes. While he had many friends in the neighbourhood, few if any of them would be joining him for the first day of grade one – his very first day of school. Most of the local children were walking the few blocks to the public school; this boy, in a new striped shirt, was about to board a school bus which would take him to the closest Catholic school. Would he know anyone? Would he find friends at recess and lunch? Would someone like him, and be his friend? Would he belong in this place?
A lifetime later, the same boy is walking the university campus with his daughter on her first day of school, ‘move-in’ day. We walk around the residence buildings, visit the library and the cafeterias, and shop for supplies at the pop-up kiosks. I was excited for her, and more than a little envious. I repeated several times that I would love to swap places with her. I was imagining my life if all I had to do was keep up with some reading, attend lectures, and write some papers, literally sleeping and eating on campus, rolling out of bed with just enough time to get to my lecture – no transit, no traffic, no parking! The swipe of a single card to pay for my food, my laundry, and my bus trips. My parents as voices a thousand kilometres away. My own post-secondary experience was the polar opposite: living at home, working part-time, and hanging with my friends who moved into ‘real life’ with full-time jobs and paycheques.
My daughter seemed less enthused by the prospect of campus life. In the pictures I captured of the day, including the one I posted, she has a subdued expression and seems preoccupied. As many times as I noted how wonderful her life was about to become, she repeatedly noted something else. “I haven’t had to make friends since I was in kindergarten.” In the moment, she didn’t realize how wrong she was: she had never really had to make friends – ever. At two years of age, she and her mom joined ‘moms & tots’ where she became part of a group of children who would spend their entire school lives together – for better or worse. Effectively, she had never had to put herself out there to forge relationships from scratch. It’s probably for the best that she didn’t think about it too deeply during our campus tour.
Like the six-year-old in stripes on the front steps, my young adult daughter was anxious about finding someone to play with at recess. She was unsure about finding her people at a time when she so strongly felt the need to belong.
Before Facebook’s reminder, I was invited to join a BCPVPA Chapter for a portion of their leadership retreat to start their school year. It was their theme for this gathering that set my imagination down this path of recall. The theme for these initial days of preparation and working together was ‘A Time to Connect’. It was evident from the buzz of animated conversation that this group was very glad to gather safely in person for the first time in many months. The theme was resonant on many different levels for these school and district leaders, and it was wonderful to be among them.
I shared my ‘first day’ pictures with this group to reinforce the importance of connection, particularly at a time when people may feel adrift. Like the subjects of my photos, seated among the audience at this retreat were many leaders facing new roles, new assignments, or new communities. Today, as the Labour Day weekend arrives, I imagine the wider audience of our membership, reading these words as they look ahead to Tuesday morning and this year’s first day of school. Behind all their composed expressions is that same preoccupation: “Will I find my people?”
We are your people, and the BCPVPA is here. Through representation, advocacy, and leadership development, the Association is ready to meet your needs. Never hesitate to share with us what those needs are.
Driving away from my daughter that Labour Day weekend seven years ago was difficult: her face showed no sign of relief as I gave her a hug and said, “You know how to reach me.” But I had to drive away, trusting that she would be okay – and that she would call when she needed me.
She was… and she did.