You can feel it in the air. The skies remain sleepy in the early morning and the cool winds are starting to pick up signaling a change of season is on it’s way. Ready or not we are heading into a busy time of the year with back to school shopping, one last dip in the pool, and the beginning of holiday commercialism mayhem. I stopped at a local craft store on Monday to gather supplies for our family photos that we had taken yesterday. The isles were over flowing with plastic pumpkins, quilted turkeys, and wooden statues of Santa Clause. Not ready. And this year I swear I will hold sacred the true meaning of Christmas and not succumb to the pressures of corporate America. Tim likes to remind me that I say this every year. This year I promise.
Long before pumpkin spice and the traditional attire of leggings, long sweaters and boots, Fall has been my favorite out of all the seasons with Summer running a close second. My birth sign, Cancer, is spot on… I am a lover of all things home. Apple spice scented candles, soft cozy blankets, and a crackling fire in the fireplace make my heart content. One of the benefits of having school aged kids is experiencing the newness each year brings in the Fall. A new teacher, new friends and of course new pencils. I love the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Is that weird ? This Fall our family is entering into a major transition zone. Charles will be starting middle school, Elle is moving onto High School and Amelia is off to UW. They are growing older, so am I.
Transitions can be difficult. Seasonal transitions are typically when people come down with a cold or flu. Nothing like the transition of starting a new job which conjures up feelings of awkwardness and dis-ease. The transition from the final moments of the first to second stage of labor is the most intense for a woman about to give birth. And being the new kid in school is one of the worst transitions… right ? But the thing to always keep in mind about transitions is that by definition they are short lived. Intense but brief. Of course, in the moment, they feel like they are never going to end…. but they do…. eventually…. and usually without you even realizing it.
Fall of 1985 was a major transitional time in my young life. I was the new girl in school. This was not an ordinary school however. It was more like Hogwarts for girls, only it was Annie Wright, constructed in 1885 along the cliffs above the Puget Sound south of Seattle. A beautiful and historic building. I have not been back since graduation, maybe things have been updated since then. However in 1985, the foyer was carpeted in Royal Red with a larger than life size portrait of the school’s name sake at the top of the stair landing which led to administrators’ offices and student boarding rooms. Down the hall to the left is where we studied English literature, French, and art history. To the right of the foyer was the Dean’s office and the Great Room where we gathered for demi-tasse and held student council meetings. The descending stair case led to mathematics, science labs, and world history class rooms. Quite a place, quite an experience.
I lived at Annie Wright for the last two years of high school. If you have read my blog The Four Swans, you already know that I spent my Freshman year in high school at Holy Names while I studied ballet at PNB. Towards the end of my freshman year when it became apparent my body did not fit the mold of a classical ballerina, I moved back home to Mt. Vernon. Feeling out of place and no longer connecting with the identity of “Shelley the dancer” I began the process of reconnecting with former middle school friends and found my place as a sophomore at MVHS. I was ready to let loose, be like all the rest of the kids I had known for years, go to parties, go water skiing with my boyfriend and his buddies, and skip class. These were the days of big hair, Purple Rain and Miami Vice. These were the days when my best friend Monti and I sang along with Prince at the top of our lungs while acting out hand movement “You, I would die 4 U ” as we flew down the dike roads boarding the pristine Skagit valley. Fun and liberating needless to say.
One of my favorite memories at MVHS took place in late spring after tulip season. The farmers select certain fields in which they do not clip tulips for the purpose of selling the flower but for the intent of cultivating the tulip bulb. Once the tulips are fully grown they are clipped at the top, leaving rows and rows of rainbows of colorful petals. As part of a MVHS tradition, one spring evening I joined a large group of friends and traversed out into the fields and gathered garbage bags full of tulip petals. We all met back on the front lawn of our high school and spelled out the names of the people we were supporting for our student council elections. Such a great memory. I can still smell the fresh cut grass, feel the dirt on my hands, and remember the comradery of gathering with my mates. We were fully engaged in an activity that was unique to our home town. Clearly this predates Facebook. This was a time where kids actually had real “face time” and texting was not even a thing…
I had every intention of finishing out my high school years at MVHS. I even made the cheer team and was measured for my new uniform for the up coming school year. However, my parents had an alternative plan. They wanted something different for me, and for them. One evening at the dinner table my mom handed me a booklet describing the offering of an all girls boarding school south of Seattle. She reminded me that she had gone to an all girls school and had loved it. My parents were concerned about the “quality” of education I was receiving at MVHS and the friends that I was keeping. Hmmmmm….. I guess they did not like that I had told a few white lies. Apparently sneaking out to the lake to go water skiing when I was suppose to be at cheer practice was not acceptable behavior. Whoops. Our secret plan was not so secret. Some how my stepdad had over heard, followed our trail and left his business card on Monti’s little pick up truck. He wrote a message on the back of the card which read ” see you back at home”. Yes, we both about shit our pants as we hustled back to town. Or maybe it was the time my parents would not let me go to the Elks Club dance because it was on a school night. I desperately wanted to go as everyone would be there. After my mom said good night and shut my bedroom door, I slid out the basement sliding glass door and met my boyfriend on the street below our house. Apparently my step dad saw my shadow trotting across our yard. Whoops. Not exactly sure how he always seemed to be on to me but rumor has it he may have had my land line tapped… not kidding. (Imagine Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents, sort of like that).
Before I knew it my mom and I spent a day together late that spring visiting Annie Wright. And before I knew it, I was enrolled. Sigh. In spite of my initial displeasure there was a small part of me that knew this was probably a good thing for me and a good thing for my parents. This was also during the time that the old sitcom The Facts of Life was a weekly favorite of mine. I was slightly intrigued by what it would be like to go to an all girls school, to be a border, to wear a uniform, and to have a new house mom. At the same time, I had found my clan of friends at MVHS, was excited to cheer at the games and continue to experience life as a typical teenager. But times change, plans change, seasons change… change is one of the certainties in life…
This decision hit home the hardest on the first Friday night I spent at Annie Wright the following September. I had not made friends quite yet with anyone and there were no awesome parties to be had. Instead, I spent that first night alone in my room thinking about how I should be cheering at the first football game of the season back home. Ugh. That was rough. Feeling cheated, angry, and lonely. I was not a happy camper. I could hear the band, I could feel the energy of the crowd, I could see the boys in pads with their backs to us lined up along the bench. But I was not there cheering in front of the stands. No where near there.
As time goes, I moved on. I transitioned into a new season. I began to appreciate being free of the pressures of coed life, appreciated the unique setting of small classes and single sex education, and taking part in the sacred tradition of Wednesday morning chapel. Annie Wright prepared me for life in ways that I could not fully understand or appreciate at 16. It would be a few years before I began to realize this truth. And thanks to Zuckerberg I remain in contact with a small handful of “AWS” sisters to this day.
Fall is coming. The season is changing. Life is changing. Change is constant. The challenge is learning to go with the flow, take what you learned and what you valued from one experience, one phase of your life, and carry it with you to the next. And repeat.