To whoever reads this notebook,
I don’t care if you laugh, cry, or even scream out loud from rage from reading this. I’ll try to write something new in it every day. This year is my first year of Junior High. I’m 12 years old and I love to argue.
So it says on the first page of a green, wide-ruled notebook I once fastened shut with a combination lock looped through two holes punched on the side. It is one of dozens of such journals I’ve saved, knowing even as I wrote them I’d one day want to remember all the small milestones of childhood.
Thursday I walked my daughter Lily to her classroom for the first day of fifth grade. As is customary for us, she was brave and I was weepy, though this year I was conscientious to wait until I’d turned a corner and wouldn’t embarrass her.
My mom friends always tease me. Most of them welcome the end of summer break, relishing the return to routine and an end to summer boredom battles.
I relate to the parents, but ultimately I think my emotions stem from empathy with the children. I’ve written it all down, so I remember it all well.
I know the exact circumstances in which our second-grade teacher paddled a classmate who fought with another. I’m ashamed to be the one who tattled.
In third-grade, superlatives that mattered to me: messiest, giggliest, meanest, quietest, silliest, prettiest, tallest and shortest. I thought “prettiest” was most important.
I know I’ve wanted to be in charge since at least fifth grade. From Space Camp (yes, I went to Space Camp): “We finally got our mission assignments today. I got what I wanted: commander!”
In eighth-grade, I thought this of a boy who is now one of my closest friends: “My mom forces me to like him.”
The older I got, the more elaborate the notebooks and the writing in them. Confessional and ranting sometimes. Pensive and restrained at others.
I’ve left gaps in some places. I’ve peppered others with snapshots and letters written by friends and boyfriends. More than one notebook has old rose petals tucked between pages. I’ve scribbled song lyrics and quotes from lecturing college professors. I’ve created 25 years of lists – daydreams, bucket lists, people I love, groceries, places I’ve been, names I like, meals I want to cook.
When I was very young, I wrote in the third person.
In college, I wrote in the second.
At my daughter’s age, I wrote in the first and focused on facts.
That was the year our school was so overcrowded our classroom was in a hallway. My mother taught sixth-grade in a corner of the gymnasium, and my younger brother’s class met in the girls’ locker room. Midway through the first semester we moved into a new building on what was then the undeveloped side of Mt. Juliet. Twenty years later, it would become the busiest part of Wilson County, where the mega-retail/residential Providence center would be developed.
Fifth grade was the year I had a not-so-secret crush on a boy whose name my friends extracted using a Ouija board at a slumber party.
I was fitted for my first pair of glasses – bifocals for reading.
We held a funeral for a fly on the school playground.
By spring, a presidential campaign was in full swing. I was one of two kids in the class whose parents wanted Dukakis to win.
Lily was nervous when I dropped her off this morning. “Remember, anything that makes you nervous is a good thing,” I told her.
She called in the afternoon to tell me how awesome the school day had been.
Please remember, sweet girl. You wore new shoes your grandmother bought you, a size just shy of mine. You carried your own ridiculously heavy backpack. You hesitated for a moment before you let me take your photo in front of the school. You were nervous, and then you weren’t.
I’ll write it down for both of us, just as I always have.
From a blue notebook, college-ruled:
Knight, if it’s you reading this and you’re not 13 or 14, congratulations on saving this so long. Try to remember back to 1989 if you’re confused… If you’re not me, if you’re my daughter, then don’t give up! Life isn’t as bad as I sometimes make it sound.