Monday, August 5, 2013

Golden School Days...Filled with Detentions and Demerits

My four-year-old daughter posing for a "back to school" photo.

The annual migration of children heading back to school starts in less than a month. I would like to take a moment and reflect on my golden school days. Do you think I was a model student? Why are some of you laughing? Maybe because you know me too well. I was born in Wisconsin but grew up in Illinois. Being raised in the mid-west, in a middle-class neighborhood, I lived in the middle of the Great Recession. (Notice I did not say the Great Depression!)

I recently came across a writing article that said, "Your protagonist should want something, even if it's only a glass of water." If your hero or main character doesn't want anything, then he'll be wondering around aimlessly in your novel in search of nothing and your novel will be going nowhere fast. I think back to my childhood. What did I want?

This is me heading out the door on my
first day of Kindergarten!
(Is that a 70's haircut or what?!)
I crafted my first novel several months ago and now remain in the editing phase with hopes of moving into the publishing phase soon. When I created my character, fourteen-year-old California native ??? (his name is still under wraps), I asked myself, what does he want more than anything else in the world? And how can I make it almost impossible for him to get? Because we all know we can't make it easy for our heroes to accomplish their goals. Where would the fun be in that?

In my contemporary action/adventure novel, my protagonist lives a relaxed surf's-up kind of life. But by the second chapter, I propelled him straight into a private school setting half-way around the world. As he leaves behind his sloppy surf attire, he must now wear the school uniform, which includes a noose, I mean, a tie. (Don't worry, my novel is not about wearing uniforms!)

I mostly attended private schools my entire life. I hated, despised, detested uniforms. I wanted one thing: desperately to wear normal, cool clothing. Hmm, maybe that's why I love shopping for clothes? Private schools have their advantages and disadvantages. My lack of conformity to the rules earned me many disadvantages like demerits and detentions and left me labeled a rebel. OK, I admit, my fun-loving-disregard-for-the-rules-spirit clashed with many of my teachers. I was young. I included a detention scene in my novel, and of course, it was my personal experience in detention that led me to add this fun chapter!

I longed to be free to choose what I wore to school each day. Let me insert an example here from my eighth grade year. I will refer to it as The Jelly Shoe Incident. My dear best friend (I won't mention any names--she knows who she is!) and I decided to ditch the "black dress shoes only" rule on the last day of school. At that time, the jelly shoe/bracelet craze was sweeping through the 80's. We both decided to wear our new matching jelly shoes on the last day of school.

What are they going to do, give us a detention? Besides, they won't even notice. We got busted the minute we sat down at our desks. The uniform police sent us straight to the Principal's office. We both sat up in our chairs, waiting for the headmaster to hand us our heads on a platter. I had the giggles, which set off my friend's giggles. We got yelled at for our silliness first, then on to worse matters, like our complete disregard for the rules by wearing white jelly shoes instead of black dress shoes. You would have thought we wore swimsuits to class! I think the principal busted a blood vessel in his head that morning when he shouted, "You two better get your dress shoes back on before the awards assembly!"

We left his office and looked at each other terrified. "Did you bring your dress shoes?" My friend asked me, because obviously she didn't bring back-up. I dug around in my backpack and pulled out one pair of black dress shoes. "I guess we'll have to share." I tossed her a shoe and, with one shoe on and one foot barefoot, we giggled all the way to the assembly.

With a harsh hand of punishment, these types of schools often lead children to the exact opposite of what they are trying to accomplish. It's by God's grace I turned into a decent, medication-free, law-abiding citizen. And, boy am I thankful for a wealth of insight into private education, enabling me to give a first-hand account of the fear and the fun they can fuel!


  1. Hi Jenny. Fun post. I didn't go to a private school, thus no dress codes. Except for gym class. We had these 'gym uniforms' we had to wear. I've never worn a 'jelly shoe' in my life :o) I think it is neat how we insert snippets of our life into our manuscripts. It kind of keeps our past alive in our stories. PS Don't worry I won't tell anyone your main character's name.

  2. Thx, Janet!
    I agree it is loads of fun to add parts of our past to our novels. And I don't plan to wear a jelly shoe ever again for the rest of my life;-)Thanks for keeping my main character's name top secret. I just finished book two (I have to flesh it out and edit like crazy) but I can't tell you how excited I am to have created another novel based on his life!


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