The first day of junior high, I wore a red fair isle sweater, a blue oxford button-down shirt, and gray wide-wale corduroy walking shorts. It was at least 80-degrees inside the old junior high. It wasn’t a single building but rather a three-story academic wing and a gym, which had a raised track that would rattle when twenty 12-year olds ran laps around it. The two older parts were fastened together by a newer cement corridor and outside of that was a small village of temporary classrooms: Mrs. Cook’s French class where the student teacher once notably left the word “cochon” on the board; Mr. Froehle’s “quick brown fox” typing room; Ms. Brotherton’s double-wide art class where I discovered the Impressionists and made a series of sculptures.
There was also Mr. Monson’s math room.
My daughter’s junior high, the one where she’ll start her own 7th grade odyssey tomorrow, has a gym named after Mr. Monson. A humble, sweet man, he was also a wrestling coach and usually wore a red nylon polo shirt and loose pants to school that he could also wear on the mats. But I only knew him as an Algebra teacher.
How I tested into higher level math would remain a mystery and a point of consternation for me for the next five years. I would eke out a C- in pre-calc my junior year (before a blissfully math-free senior year) by befriending the recently divorced teacher who was happy to have my daily company for lunchtime review. But in Mr. Monson’s class the mistake wasn’t obvious yet. The Xs and Ys did not undo me as cosigns would.
Mainly what I remember about Mr. Monson’s class was that first day. It was the period just after lunch. In the middle of giving us instructions on where to go for tornados (out into the cement corridor in a crouched position) and distributing the worn textbooks with a decade’s worth of other kids’ names written in permanent marker on the inside cover, I threw up. Vomited. Barfed. Hurled. Lost my cookies.
Mr. Monson was matter-of-fact about it. I don’t remember anyone laughing. A few friends from elementary school were really nice about it. In short, it wasn’t a John Hughes moment. And yet it was not how I wanted to start junior high – in the nurse’s office regretting the pimento loaf and mayonnaise sandwich that I’d been so proud of myself for making earlier that morning.
Tomorrow, Bella goes to homeroom and then searches her way through her 8-period schedule. She is happy that P.E. comes last – who cares how sweaty you get or what your hair looks like. She’s equally happy to have first lunch. It’s ridiculously early – before 11 AM – though it’s longer than the quick dashes she had in elementary school (“I can eat more!”).
It’s going to be good – I can just feel it. She’s one grounded soul. As I write it’s 9 pm and she’s not sure what she’s wearing, but I trust it will be heat friendly – no wool or corduroy. Her lunch (already made) is well-balanced and contains not a trace of mayo. She’s already had a slow dance (thanks Camp Wapsie for helping us cross that one off the list), so the Halloween dance-party shouldn’t be too stressful. And she’s more than fine to be in regular old math 7. Did I mention that the PE teacher is her homeroom teacher, so she starts the day in Monson Gym?