Every summer vacation I ever had ended with the terrifying fear of going back to school. There’s even a name for that fear: Didaskaleinophobia — because nothing describes the fear of school so aptly as a word you will never be able to pronounce or spell.
My fears in elementary school included being in a class without my best friend, finding out I wasn’t smart, having a mean teacher and being forced to eat everything on my lunch tray. (The fear of school lunch is a whole different topic.)
Boys were also a great fear. They were unpredictable, incomprehensible, disgusting show-offs – and that was on a good day. I continue to be afraid of earthworms after a stupid boy in first grade threw a handful down my shirt. I screamed for 23 minutes straight.
As I got older, my fears increased exponentially. Entering junior high was akin to walking into the Roman Colosseum to face a hungry lion. A lion who had better hair than I did. And no pimples.
Seventh grade was the year of deodorant, showering at school, Clearasil and the ever mysterious feminine hygiene products no one talked about. The anxiety of reeking with body odor sent me into a Love’s Baby Soft addiction. Even now, that scent reminds me of junior high locker rooms.
Getting lost at school was a huge worry, as was finding and opening my locker. I would often scamper from class to class with my head down, clutching six textbooks across my chest because I couldn’t find my locker.
Increasing my fear of lockers, one afternoon my boyfriend was standing next to me with his arm casually draped over my open locker (it looked so cool). Then I slammed the door, accidentally cutting off the top of his finger. If you think it’s hard remembering a locker combination, try opening your locker when the boy you’re trying to impress is screaming and crying with his finger stuck in the door. He broke up with me soon after that.
Then there’s the primordial fear of not being cool. I’d be in the hall when a group of older, popular kids walked by (for some reason, in slow motion). The girls laughed and casually tossed their spiral-permed tresses over their shoulders. To a seventh grader, the mature age of 15 was the epitome of awesomeness.
I stared dumbstruck, my mouth agape, displaying my un-cool braces and wearing my first pair of Levi’s 501 button-fly jeans that my mom bought only after I convinced her I would NOT wear homemade clothes to junior high.
In one of the most misguided rebranding campaigns of all time, I decided junior high would be a great time to change my image. I tried swearing for the first time. It was cool. I was determined to reinvent myself as a rebel who drank Coke and said “damn.” For a 12-year-old Utah girl, that’s akin to being a homeless wino who juggles bunnies on a street corner.
But what scared me more than anything were the people who kept telling me that my school years would be the best time of my life.
It was paralyzing to think avoiding bullies, flunking geometry, dealing with no self-esteem and eating Funyuns and Coke for lunch every day would be the highlight of my time on this earth.
They were so wrong. There’s not enough money in the world to convince me to relive that hellish experience. For all you students facing these fears this year, trust me, it gets so much better.