Sunday, May 5, 2013

Days Gone By

Where did junior high go?  Now its middle school-not junior high.  People look at me like I am from some backwoods hillbilly commune if I say junior high instead of middle school.  In any case, my oldest son is moving from elementary school to middle school at the end of this month.  It's in the same building, but I can't help but feeling like more than room numbers are changing unlike in years past.  I remember the pre-school graduation ceremony being kind of sweet, although as a working mother, both times my boys went from pre-school to kindergarten, I wasn't terribly moved.  In fact, it didn't think much of it all because the amount of time I spent with my little darlings didn't change.  They were not with me for most of the day, so the fact that 3 of those hours were spent at pre-school did not have a huge impact on me-in that mommy milestone sort of way .  However, I remember the first day of Kindergarten for Jackson being a little emotional-mostly on Jackson's part.  He had a much harder time in the initial years straying from the nest.  I figure that was a first-born thing.  Tyler did too.  So much so, he did Kindergarten twice.  I did not know he was going to do that at the time.  Our family went through huge changes during that year.  That year, Tyler repeated Kindergarten and Jackson went to 3rd grade; and I became a stay at home mom.  I did not realize it then but watching my kids go to school and come home every day started to have a much different effect on me than when I was working-more than I ever knew.  I started to understand why time going by made mommies sad.  I could relate to tears falling on the first day of some milestone year like the first day of kindergarten or the last day of elementary school.  Ceremonies marking the passing of time took on a little more meaning in my day to day existence.

One thing I had not counted on-I was delusional about assuming my kids were going to turn into honor roll material overnight because I was now on the clock as post-school adult in charge.  Neither one of my boys was then, or is now, the least bit impressed with getting straight A's, or even crooked ones for that matter.  I still have to beg and plead to get homework done-and I have just had to accept that unrealistic, magna cum laude kids are not a result of moms staying home.  Apparently, transcripts from 1st and 5th grade do not follow you around this world anyway.  I also had a dose of-your intentions do not magically create your offsprings' aspirations.  I don't know if there will ever be a day that I don't have to nag them to brush their teeth.  I wonder if they will ever pick up things like TRASH or the towels they use after the shower.  I have had some eye-opening.  Even as a professional mom, my kids still need work.  I just figured my kids would be a perfect once I was home.  Like a Norman Rockwell painting.  Happy, well-adjusted children come from stable homes full of love and support.  Ugh!  How annoying.

Now, we are nearing the end of the third school year as a full-time mom.  Tyler is headed to 2nd (BIG sigh of relief); and Jackson to 6th or eh em...middle school.  Their school is rather small, only about 60 kids in each grade (about 20 in each class), but it seems like a good 50% of those kids stay at this school throughout the elementary and middle school years.  I was looking at pictures of the standard events-birthday parties, dodgeball day, Thanksgiving and Christmas events, etc.  I started to see changes in those kids over the years.  It made me stop and think about the days that have gone by already in my young kids lives.

During my elementary and middle school years, I went to a MILLION different schools.  I started my fine, public school education in the fabulous Middle-East Jewel, Tehran, Iran.  It was very traumatic-in a 3rd world kind of way.  I remember missing my mom and sister terribly, feeling like an alien (which was an all-around American in Iran sort of feeling), and being physically ill at times I hated it so much.  Then somehow, like an angel had heard my prayers, my mom and dad put me in a little private school there called Community School.  There I got to be with my sister, and many other kids who were not Iranians either.  I felt less like an outsider, and more like a little kid just trying to learn to read and write.  I thrived.  I remember being in the top reading group, the Apples,-and always knowing the answer.  I loved school from then on.  I am not sure why that school was private other than Americans weren't so unwelcome there.  I guess that was enough in the early 70's when the nations of Iran and the US were about to have a big break up....and tensions were building every day.  We Haddads figured that out, and got the heck out there in 1977-just a few years before the American-hostage crisis.  The upside of that crisis was that we were not among the Americans taken hostage in Iran because we escaped.  The downside of that, is most Americans thought we were Iranian (even though we were only half), and assumed we would be taking them hostage...I guess.

So, once again, school days were made up of wishing I could crawl out of my skin EVERYDAY.  When we first came back to the US, we lived in the deep south, Blytheville, Arkansas.  It was culture shock to land in the deep south from the urban desert we called home for the last 4 years.   It was March 1977.  I turned 7 in April, my sister turned 9 that June, and my little brother had just turned 3.  To my mother's family, we were just darling.  And I can see why.  We were really cute, and very love-starved.  Looking back, we thought Blytheville was paradise.  We got to experience McDonalds and peanut butter and Snickers and Milky Way bars.  The family we had left to journey to this magical place was far more affluent and educated.  They had castles for homes, servants, jewels, and tea serving pieces worth more than most of our family members in Arkansas spent in monthly mortgage payments. And yet, we thought this was the greatest place on earth.  As an adult, I think a lot of that was driven by my mom.  Her undying and unconditional love for her 3 precious babies was probably why we felt loved in her hometown.  I suspect some of her kin-folk were less than thrilled with the half-breed offspring she dragged across the world but we never really noticed.  And maybe those over-cultured Haddads weren't as disapproving of us as we believed for that matter.  Perhaps it was driven by my father's deep shame for marrying an American and bringing these mutts into those upscale, purebred homes.  Who really knows.  All I know for sure is my brother and sister and I sure loved Arkansas-despite the rampant racism.  We were mostly targeted at the schools-and mostly by black kids.  We were the only ones lower than them on the "I wouldn't want to be you" totem pole.  My sister was so very beautiful from the day she was born.  And while I was always jealous-I think she got bullied and tortured more because of it.  We did move from Blytheville that summer to the metropolis of Little Rock, where we lived for about a year.  I remember liking it there.  We could drive to Blytheville and see my nannie (mom's mom) in a short amount of time so we still felt like we had family.  Also, for some reason, my dad was not in town very much that year.  That was the highlight of that year.  His not being around to yell at my mom and us was such a Godsend.  I never remember being happier than when it was just my mom and my sister and brother and me.  Unfortunately, all those wonderful travel days culminated in our next move....

The south is one of the worst places you can live if you are not white.  The only place worse is Texas.  Texas is just the south with a giant chip on its shoulder.  I wish it would just secede already!  Houston was the all-time low in our school-aged years.  That whole Haddad thing was quite difficult to sweep under the rug.  People were extremely quick to notice how foreign we were.  It was also at that time, that my dad's sisters had come to live with us, one after another, as they took refuge from their homeland being ripped apart from the Iranian Revolution.  I was busy in my own hell of having braces and awkward curly hair (man I was a sight), fighting with my sister and bully of a cousin who was living with us then.  I did not realize then how hard it must have been for my aunts and uncles who had only recently boarded a plane to bid goodbye to the only home they had ever known.  Not long after that, my grandfather on my dad's side, Agah Joon was killed in a break in attempt at his home.  By my accounting (at the ripe age of 10), Agah Joon was the kindest man I had ever known in Iran.  In fact, he might have been the only kind man in Iran in my memory.  Either he was faking it well, or he didn't seem to mind that we had an American mother.  He was even quite nice to her as I recall.  My grandmother, on the other hand, was not so good at faking it all.  Maman Jan was very transparent in her disappointment in my father's choice; and its ensuing results in us.

We lived, or as I like to think of it, endured Texas, from 1979 to 1981.  I dreamed of being a blonde with blue eyes, or at least having a last name that could pass for Italian.  For some reason, having dark-skin and eyes was just fine if you were Italian-or as Texans would pronounce it "eye"talian.  They also said "eye"radian.  Neither is right for the record-but Texans have their own everything, including language.  Thankfully, I have managed to block out most of these years, but I do remember one thing-not one of us enjoyed it.  That's really all I can say about those days.

We moved to Colorado in 1981.  It was a strange land, one were people did not care if you wore brand-named jeans, nor did anyone seem that upset with us for being foreign.  My mom and dad didn't get invited to the neighborhood block parties or anything, but at least the KKK did not target us.  So, we felt largely more accepted than we had in the Republic of Texas.  In retrospect, I think most of our neighbors were so embedded in being Mormon and trying to get everyone else in the world to be Mormon, that the Iranian thing was a low priority.  And that was just fine with me.  We would move one more time in Colorado-just across town from Littleton to Lakewood.  All tolled, between 1975 and 1984 when made our last move, we changed schools about 11 times.  I was in 8th grade at that time.  And finally, I would finish out 8-12 in the same place.

So, as I watch my Jackson move from 5th to 6th; and Tyler go from 1st to 2nd, I know why it has been so important to me that they never gone to a different school.  I look at my sons with pride and prejudice and I think to myself:
He has never had to be the new kid-he does not sit in the cafeteria alone.  He does not have to pronounce his name over and over again in front of classmates who might otherwise even not notice it is so different.  He has had sleepovers and play dates.  He has friends.  He knows his teachers.  He knows which room he is supposed to go to.  He belongs.

No, they don't seem to care about honor roll or highest reading group or brand names of the clothes they are wearing.  But they are smiling and happy to see me everyday after school. Tyler tells me what he learned in school as if it had never been discovered-"mom, we did you know that caterpillars turn into butterflies" or "did you know water and ice are the same thing?"  Jackson tells me which girls are pretty and how many touchdowns he caught at recess.  When I see them walk out the door on the way to my car, they still have that hop in their step as another day of childhood school days go by.