Growing up, we moved. A lot. Which means that I was the ‘new girl’ at school, A LOT.
By the time I was 16 years old, I had attended five elementary schools, two high schools and my future-self would face two more colleges. While not a completely unfortunate or unique situation (army-brat, anyone?), I often find myself a tad envious of the friends that can revisit their childhood home anytime and still have some of the same friends they did in elementary school. That legacy and history sometimes tugs at my heartstrings and make me yearn for a childhood with a few more roots.
However, I attribute our moves and the inevitable new schools that came with them to some very positive personality traits that have helped me in everyday adult-life and even some priceless lessons that have helped me conquer some pretty big demons.
While being the new girl had it’s many disadvantages – especially when you attend a snobby country school full of rich kids whose parents had forgot to teach them basic kindness – it also had its many advantages.
1. The less they know, the more they want to: If I were able to remove the inevitable nerves that come with a new crowd or situation, the allure of being the mysterious new girl is one that I secretly enjoy. Realizing at a young age that I had the control to be able to pick and choose the pieces of myself that I wanted to reveal, when I wanted to, helped me a lot in my dating life, but also when it came to making new friends. Even now as my career life evolves and I face another new team and a whole new set of people, the idea that these people know nothing about me is sorta thrilling.
2. The popular girls aren’t all they’re cracked up to be: I was once immediately accepted by the ‘popular’ girls – this never happens, especially true in elementary school. As an outsider, the popular girls were a group you really had to work to be a part of – something I never had a knack for, so you can imagine my surprise when a group of 10 of the most liked, prettiest and wealthiest girls wanted to hang out with me. It was the worst week of my life! They wanted to control everything – from what brand of jeans I should ‘tell’ my mother to purchase, to how to wear my hair, who I could socialize with, who I was allowed to be nice to, how many turns I had to take at the end of the double-dutch rope… seriously, horrible. After that, I stuck with the boys and the misfits – so much more fun and I was accepted just as I was.
3. Variety is the spice of life: Often times we fight to hold on to the old and familiar. Throughout our lives we become attached to people, places, things – the things that provide comfort and give us the feeling that we belong. Not having the chance to create those deep-seeded roots through school coupled with the constantly changing scenery has given me a certain kind of advantage that one might not expect. While I do find comfort in the familiar, I am fiercely independent of the need for these things and have very little fear of being alone. This ability to be comfortable anywhere, with almost anyone has allowed me to meet some pretty funky characters, go on some amazing adventures, sit down at some of the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants and have some of the best meals of my life without hesitation. I often find people who are creatures of habit lack the ability to do this and I chalk up the ease at which I step outside of my comfort zone to the frequency of moves made in my young life.
4. You only get out what you put in: As a self-proclaimed expert in all areas of being the ‘new-girl’, I can tell you this is 1000% true. If you don’t try, be kind, stay open, make an effort, there will be no reward in return. If you close yourself off, play cool, be cold, not take that leap of faith, you will forever be sitting on the sidelines – even if it is just the sidelines of the Kings Court game with the super fun crew at recess.
5. The mean kids get theirs too: And no, I don’t mean that you’ll run into them 15 years down the road, working at the local gas station while you’re busy driving your dream car, paid for by your dream job, gassing up at said station, looking oh-so-fabulous…well it might. But, what I mean by this is it’s easy to forget that after the bubble of high school is popped, life has its own way of leveling out the playing field. Not all of those mean kids will realize it right away, but how popular or mean you were in school has little play in real life and it kind of boils down to your brains, skills and drive.
6. No one knows your older sister: Thanks to the age gap between myself and my BRILLIANT older sister Julia, I was always fortunate to be the first of the sisters to make the mark on any new school I attended…sorry Jacqui and Andreah. Thank goodness. Seriously. After the first round of elementary school, which Julia and I attended together, and her reputation of being a somewhat goody-two-shoes, I was happy that this was also the last as I was less than stellar in the areas of listening and rule following…sorry mom. It was the first time in history that I didn’t have a reputation to live up to – both thrilling and terrifying. While I didn’t know it at the time, I was getting my first lessons in first impressions and I made sure to make my mark a memorable one…again, sorry mom. Thankfully, my understanding of the importance of first impressions has evolved and I feel that I owe my ability to usually nail them properly to the multiple chances I was granted at every new school I attended.
7. Everything is so temporary: I have not always been the best at putting life’s funny surprises into perspective – something I really am only mastering now and still have far to go. However, much like my stints throughout multiple schools, the realization that situations are only temporary was one I did happen to grasp quickly. Sadly, during one particularly rough year of middle school, thanks in large part to a group of girls to whose standards I just didn’t measure up, I remember sitting on the bench of the baseball field and telling myself that everything would be okay because next year it would be a different school, with a different bunch of kids to fit in with. It was temporary. I’m not sure how I exactly came to this conclusion, or why that memory of 11-year-old me has stuck so well, but it is one that has helped me to face every inch of adversity in my life with a bit less panic than innate Toni would have managed. If life isn’t going so well, just remember, it’s all temporary.
8. There will always be that one teacher: For me, it was Mrs. Radkey. As previously mentioned, I was not exactly a teacher’s dream student. I was rambunctious, outspoken and opinionated. I was tough. I had to be. And the majority of my teachers made sure I knew it. The truth being, I was and still am, kind of hard to love. Mrs. Radkey was different – she accepted me, dealt with me in kindness (even when I really didn’t deserve it) showed me patience and love and, for what seemed like the first time, I was thriving in school. She was my favourite elementary school teacher. Not confined to the walls of an institution, every once in a while, special teachers come along – to show us grace, humility, love. To make us come alive in ways we had not yet learned about. These teachers can be partners, friends, unexpected relationships, children, seniors. They come in tough bosses, and kind ones and in the least expected, sometimes temporary people. And, of course, they come in sisters. Be open to the teachers that spend a little extra time with you and make you want to learn whatever lesson they were sent to teach you. Often times it’s a lesson about what’s in you and what you’re really made of.