I returned to Kaneland High School as a substitute teacher yesterday. I attended that school from 8th grade through sophomore year. Nothing makes you review your life’s decisions like walking the halls of a high school you attended decades before.
In some respects, the memories were thick and I let them pass through my mind. But most of all I realized that kids today are pretty much cut from the same mold that all of us were. When we’re that age most of us have no idea what’s going to happen the next day, much less what comes along in the future.
So I refused to beat myself up for being a recalcitrant student. Avoided second-guessing all those cross country and track performances. Truth: sports occupied so much of my brain in those days, it was almost unhealthy. All that self-esteem tied up in sweaty knots. Yesterday I talked with a trio of boys wearing running shoes and track shirts. They were part of the Kaneland team that won the state cross country meet a year back. They could well have been teammates in my day as well. Same lean look. A bit geeky. But cool in their way.
Beyond sports, girls dominated the other hyper-stimulated aspects of my attention. These days while serving as a substitute teacher it is interesting to absorb bits of conversation between the young women and men chatting between classes.They sound just like we used to sound. It is also true that the Alpha women still don’t mess around. They can’t stand asshole guys any more than they used to, and say so. Without a sister to normalize my understanding of women in high school days, I was left trying to figure them out on my own. Some were patient with me. Others not so much.
Beyond those interests, I spent time birdwatching. My friends gave me constant grief about it. The social maelstrom of high school worked like that. People probing at what they considered your soft spots.
I was a hard-wrought kid in so many respects. We ran all those laps around the asphalt parking lots in the teeth of those cornfield winds. Only then would my brain clear of hormones and insecurities. Refined to a bone and flesh being committed to one thing: running a little faster than the last lap.
It’s no wonder I would save up money to buy sweet cinnamon rolls from the cafeteria during lunch hours. My calorie-strained body craved carbs and those rolls were rich with bread and sugar, gooey cinnamon and delicious frosting. Comfort food.
I will apologize for many things in life, and recognize my failures from fifty years ago as well as today. But I will never apologize for loving those cinnamon buns. They were my salvation.