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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Back-to-school jitters

As we walked into Westerly School for new student orientation, the faces were sullen as the group gathered in the lobby shuffled their feet awaiting the principal’s arrival. I’m not talking about the students who will be new to the school this year I’m talking about the parents.

It didn’t hit me until just that moment that not only are Ryan, Patrick and Michael starting over, making new friends and navigating their way around a new school, but so are Danny and I.

Our decision to switch our children from Catholic school to public school this year was an arduous process—rife with plenty of fear, stereotypes and what ifs. Just as we would derive a certain level of comfort with our decision, we would be at an event with parents we knew and comment on how much we enjoy—and would miss—their company. Many of our friends have boys both Ryan and Patrick’s age, so we became a pretty tight-knit group. Since when is our social network more important than the educational success of our children?

And so we’d come back to the fundamental reason for the switch—the desire to see our boys thrive academically and athletically in the Bay Village City Schools. We are fortunate to live in a small town with a small district that has been nationally recognized for student achievement. I know the boys will do well. They have already made a ton of new friends this summer. And Michael will know no other school than the public schools.

That leaves Danny and I. We’re in a no-man’s land this summer, caught between the life we knew at St. Raphael and the life to come at Bay Schools. It’s an odd place and I think it’s caused a bit of stress for everyone.

I drop Ryan off at football practice at St. Raphael and see the cadre of parents I’ve known for seven years. We’ve spent so much time together on the sidelines, in the classroom and at church functions. I hope we can continue that on some level. And here's why: It's not easy to develop friendships as you get older, but we've done just that with some pretty special people.

For example: The wives of Danny’s fellow baseball coaches and I had a good laugh at our husbands’ expense the other night. The trio went out for A beer (Like Lay's potato chips, can you ever really have one?), supposedly to discuss the rankings of their baseball team. We were assured that they would pick up the boys at football practice at 7. But the phone rang right at 7. “Uh, we’re still here. Can you pick up the boys?”

And of course they were there for a few more hours. Rick, Bob and Danny are all big talkers so we should have known. They’ve coached together for a few summers and truly enjoy each other’s company. Gail, Susan and I got a charge out of the three as they developed their own shorthand during the game. You’d see them huddle together for a brief moment and then burst apart laughing hysterically. I don’t even want to know what they said, but I know them well enough to know it wasn’t about baseball.

My husband loves to give people nicknames. To his credit, he’s pretty original in his choices. A few summers ago he started calling our friend Bob (who is nearly 7 feet tall), Zimmer, as in Don Zimmer. Bob is a masterful coach, incredibly well organized. While warming up the kids in the outfield, Danny turned to see Bob’s lanky frame sitting on the dugout bench working on his lineup, something he takes quite seriously and with careful deliberation.

Danny, definitely more of a “wing-it” kind of coach, yelled to him from the outfield, “Hey, Zimmer, how’s the lineup coming?” Over the years that name has evolved into Zimmy, Zimeister, Zim-man, etc. We’ll be driving through Bay and see Zimmy and Mrs. Zimmy walking down the street and Danny can’t wait to roll down the window and scream “Zimmy!” at the top of his lungs. Bob gives him a wave and a big smile. And now Bob has taken to calling our Michael “Little Zimmy.” Helps to keep the kids straight when we’re all together because they also have three boys—Michael, Patrick and Jimmy.

Bob and Danny are like great girlfriends. They can talk on the phone for an hour, recapping a game or the assessment of player talent. Throw Rick into the mix and the storytelling reaches epic proportions. We’re still involved with CYO athletics this year. Danny is working with the fourth-grade boys basketball program at St. Raphael. Maybe that will serve as a nice transition for us.

But that doesn't change the fact that we’re being pushed outside our comfort zone starting not one, but three new schools. I think the boys are going to be fine. They’re very excited about their new schools. Now Danny and I have to step up to the plate to expand our social network. I just hope we can do that and find a way to maintain friendships with the terrific group of parents with whom we've already shared so much.

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