Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back to School

As most of you know, in addition to all the other stuff I am, my most important job title is called "Dad". Today is the first day of school this year, so now I'm back on my non-summer schedule, which means instead of sleeping until the luxurious time of 7AM, I'm up at 6AM every weekday to get my boy up and ready to head out by 7:30. He's in his second year of middle school, 7th grade, and each year that he heads back to class, I'm reminded of my own school years.

The Young One
I spent all of my pre-college school years as being the youngest person in my class. I was a smart little tyke, and skipped Kindergarten entirely. In retrospect, it probably wasn't a great idea. While I was pretty decent academically (especially early on), there were times where being the youngest wasn't easy for me. Not only was I a grade ahead of my age, but my birthday isn't until June. I had just turned 17 when I graduated high school and moved out on my own for the first time.

My earliest school memories go all the way back to the 1974-75 year, when I was five years old. This was before we moved to California; I was living in a nice town called Marblehead, Massachusetts, and I attended a private facility called the Tower School for first grade. Not so surprisingly, my two main memories from that time were performing in the school plays (I was a von Trapp child in "The Sound of Music"), and my first kiss from a girl. A little lady named Katie pulled me into a coat closet and planted one on my lips. I certainly didn't complain.

By the way: I was already a musician at that point, having started on piano lessons at age 3, and writing my first tunes before my fifth birthday. I literally cannot remember a time of not being a musician.

Ladera Linda Elementary
When we moved to California in August 1975, the school district advised my parents to have me repeat first grade again, to be more in line with the ages of my classmates. My parents, pointing out my 99th-percentile test scores, were adamantly against it, and I entered Mrs. Hupp's second grade class instead. Again, with hindsight being 20/20, there were some problems that would arise from this decision, but at the time things were pretty good. I did well in my little elementary school, which was right there in my neighborhood, and I'd walk to school and back every day (in fifth grade, I started riding my bike there, which I thought was very cool at the time).

Me, around 1977. I was already playing piano, violin, and guitar, and my teeth were on their way to my patented snaggletooth look of today.

I played violin in the school orchestra (well enough to make it into the district's Honor Orchestra by fifth grade), and after abandoning piano lessons, picked up the guitar in 1976. Ladera Linda closed not very long after I left there, which is a pattern you'll see moving forward. All of my schools below the college level are now gone, so all I really have are these memories.

Side note: that neighborhood where I spent my formative years used to sit perched above a lovely open field of chaparral that bordered cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Today, that field is long gone, replaced by Trump National Golf Course.

The site of my former elementary school, Ladera Linda.

Margate Intermediate
As mentioned up top, I'm now the parent of a middle school kid. I certainly remember my own middle school years. I'd have to say that my biggest problem wasn't a lack of maturity, despite my young age relative to my classmates. Instead, it was a desire to grow up too fast, and middle school (which I entered in Fall 1979 at age 10) was the time when I started exploring life beyond childhood, and not always in a positive way. I recall my first girlfriends around that time, and certainly was in a massive period of music discovery as well. But I also had my earliest experiences with drinking and drug use by the time I got into 8th grade. You can be sure that I am very watchful in this regard with my own son now.

By 1980, I was already a guitarist with four years of playing experience (despite being a 6th grader). Here I am (middle) with my friends Randy and Ian (who would become my first two bandmates a couple of years later).

I was fortunate in one aspect; despite my young age compared to my classmates, I was a tall kid and pretty athletic, so I didn't get messed with too badly. However, middle school is probably the prime time for bullying, and I wasn't immune from it. But the other saving grace was that my two closest friends were a grade ahead of me, and they did a pretty decent job of making people know that messing with me would result in retaliation by them. I survived.

My middle school, Margate.

Margate closed within a few years of my graduation from there. What was happening to cause these closures was that the area where I grew up, in Palos Verdes, CA, had a population that was aging, and few families with school-age children could afford to live in the affluent city, so no new kids were moving in. The schools couldn't justify their existence with this dwindling population. Several have since re-opened but often in different formats (i.e., my high school is now a middle school, etc.). Margate, I'm happy to say, is once again an intermediate school, though called something else today.

Miraleste High
I was crushed when, during eighth grade, I found out I'd have to attend Miraleste High School instead of Palos Verdes High where 90% of my classmates were headed. The reason was simple: Miraleste's declining population, combined with the location of my family home, caused the district to redraw the boundary lines, and I was just on the other side.

So, I started high school knowing very few people there. At first, this was the cause of a lot of stress, but then my dad gave a good perspective: I'd have an opportunity to completely redefine myself, getting a fresh start with people who had no preconception of who I was. Pretty good advice.

My former high school, Miraleste, which is now a middle school.

Like a lot of kids that age, I was finding out who I was, and I ended up going in a number of directions at once. I played basketball on the freshman squad (not very well, but I did play). I got involved in the drama department and made friends there. I met some girls who liked my vibe and my curly hair, so I started dating more (though as a 13-year-old, I probably wasn't that great of a date, having to take the bus everywhere and so on). And, of course, there was music. My friends and I started putting together bands and jamming, and there's probably no easier path to popularity as a teenager than being in a band.

I went through many phases during those years. At one point I was huge fan of Duran Duran, and dressed accordingly in swanky new-romantic clothes. A year later, I got way into the Grateful Dead and was in ripped jeans and tie-dye. I look back and note that all of this was good; it gave me exposure not only to different kinds of music but the subcultures that went along with them. High school was also the time when I began to realize that I could write pretty well; I took journalism and advanced placement English literature and composition, and I still draw upon some of the things I learned at that stage.

Here I am in 1985 or so, all 125 pounds of me, performing at my high school.

By the time my junior and senior years rolled around, while I still had the facade of being an honors student in certain areas, my home life wasn't so terrific. My mom and dad were on the verge of a breakup, and they eventually separated right around the time I was leaving for college. Meanwhile, with both of them working and my having a lot of unsupervised time, my forays into drinking and drug use had become a daily activity. My friends and I started skipping school far too often, and I ended up in trouble from both the school and law enforcement on several occasions. Despite the fact that I was taking honors classes and was chosen as a representative for my school's Academic Decathlon competition, due to my unwillingness to do homework and often being ill-prepared for tests, I just barely managed to graduate in June 1986.

But graduate I did, and I went straight off to San Diego State University, where I failed miserably before doing some serious growing up and getting my bachelor's degree elsewhere, but that's another story for another time.

What I Learned
Perhaps the most important training I got during my school years was how to recognize the signs of trouble in a child. My son, who I love and trust completely, still has a much more supervised life than the one I was leading at his age. I am deeply involved in his school activities, and keep my eyes open on his choices in social activities as well.

School is a microcosm of life. You are put into an environment with many different kinds of people, and who you choose to follow, to befriend, and to be influenced by will have a huge impact on your future in ways that aren't always apparent at the time. I am one of the fortunate ones; the experiences that I had -- good and bad -- were valuable to me in gaining perspective and real-world knowledge. And, I was lucky enough to not cause any long-lasting damage to myself or anyone else as a result of my immature actions. If you're at all like me, you probably know people who didn't manage to turn things around, and ended up dead, in jail, addicted to substances, or just plain miserable.

Today, I consider myself a very happy person, with a good business, a healthy family, great friends, a wonderful romantic relationship, and a bunch of interests that keep me very busy. I can't wish much more than that for my own son. In fact, if I had to sacrifice everything except one aspect of my life, it would be that of keeping him on a good path from now through when he goes out into the world on his own. I don't have as much time as it would seem between now and that inevitable point, so I'm doing all I can to give him the ability to make his own decisions... and make sure they're the right ones. If I do that, I've done my "Dad" job well.

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