Back to school: from Victorian childhood through communism to contemporary UK

My partner’s daughter, Rosie, goes to high school starting this year! Her first day there, last week, sounded a bit scary and disappointing, but now she comes back home with a glint in her eyes and a knowing smile in the corners of her mouth. She reminds me of when, exactly her age, I won one of the few ever “battles” with granddad. I earned my independence.

With school now started for 2018-2019 in both countries, Romania and the UK, I invite you on a trip back to childhood. On the last stretch of the summer holiday (and what a summer!), we took the family down to Sudbury Hall. The main attraction for us, the Museum of Childhood  and the black dolls dedicated section, turned out to be even better than expected. And then we discovered the exhibition celebrating the ladies of the house and 100 years of women’s right to vote.

In the vlog published last Sunday, you will also experience glimpses of a day in the life of a Victorian child. You can even sit in a old school desk and possibly reflect on the threat of the cane and the Dunce’s Hat. The National Trust volunteer and real life teacher I interviewed, plays a very convincing Victorian classroom master.

Travelling to school in UK 2018 and in Romania 1989

But we started with Rosie now attending high school, and my memories from my childhood days. What moved me to write is the similar experience both she and I had around the same age. Our girl now catches the bus to school with her friends, of course. And back in Romania, fresh out of communism, I wanted to do the same. Only one barrier prevented me to do so. As I hate calling my granddad such, let me tell you what exactly happened.

I went to live with my grandparents in the city at the age of 8, for a number of reasons. My parents couldn’t move out of the countryside themselves, where father was a priest.
First, I kept being unwell with my asthma, as the old house triggered my allergies.
Second, I did excellent in school and more advance education would benefit me. And it truly did.

My asthma, the time spent in hospital, moving to the big city in late childooch, I can name so many reasons my granddad could not let go. He insisted on taking me to school every morning. Weirdly, I cannot remember him picking me up, brain goes blank on that. However, I know what the reason for my selective memory might be: one morning I rebelled.

The day I broke my granddad’s heart and won  independence

(photo: At the end of the first year in primary school, top of my class, I earned my hair garland and prize book.
At the end of the next year, I wanted a horse. Never got it.
)

I stand proof to the cruelty of children. That particular day, when w

e got on the bus, I sat in the completely opposite corner to where he was. We lived at the end of the line, and travelled all the way back to the other end, in the city centre. Poor dear granddad Ernest carried my bag, he waited for me to choose where I wanted to sit and joined me then. This time, once he sat next to me, I got up. Then  I strolled with conviction to the other end of the bus and sat there, ignoring him completely.

That broke his heart. Next, he complaint to mum about what I did and how inconsiderate and rude my behaviour was. But mum pleaded my cause.

“You know, she is old enough now to go on her own, with her school mates. At every stop here more of them join her, so she is not alone. She knows her route to school and knows how to stay safe.”

And, yes, dear granddad let go then. I earned my independence and he never mentioned the incident again. If I think of it, maybe it remained a sore spot. But I don’t know how he felt about it later on.
Did he remember the incident with understanding and acceptance?
Or did he think about it with regret – his granddaughter finally grew up and did not really need him that much any longer?
I’m afraid I will never know for sure. I choose to think it was a mixture of both.

I sometimes go back to school in my dreams

Not sure many other people dream of themselves back in school, but I do. For me, it wasn’t only the place where I belonged as a studious child who loved to learn and also be praised for my results. Later it became the profession I chose out of passion. An ENFJ by personality, all the time growing up I was saying I wanted to help people, as my major life goal. And in 2000 I started teaching religious education to teenagers in post-communism Romania, a time when parents worked so hard they had little time for their kids. Or some of them already migrated to other countries to provide for a struggling family.

I loved being a teacher and doing much more than just relaying information to a bored audience. True, no matter what I did, some of them showed little to no interest. Some of them even hated me and my persistence to engage them, to provoke them to debate, consider, analyse. But many reached out to me and we shared a wonderful time together.

Nostalgia probably creates these dreams. In some of them, I’m back in high school and about to pass an exam I cannot remember anything about. Still, I’m not scared as I generally did well with exams. In others, I realise I am the only adult there and not sure what to do. Or I am waiting for something.
Curious, isn’t it?

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