The first day of fifth grade was itchy. Pollen came gusting through the windows from the ragweed that grew on Mrs. F.'s side of Adlai Stevenson's fifth grade hallway (that's right. Back in good old 1986, fifth grade in Adlai had its own hallway). Everybody was wearing new clothes, which made us itchy enough, and add to the new clothes the new bras that everybody's mother seemed to think we girls ought to wear—whether we needed them or not.
Aside from that, there were the general nerves. Fifth grade. Ten years old. A whole decade. Double digits! We had the last lunch, the last recess, and a hallway set apart from the little kids, where we were quarantined next to the library and a multipurpose room that housed keyboarding and GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) back in those days. The weight of it all seemed crushing. The homework was longer and harder. The books were bigger. The need for erasable pens was more pressing.
But hardest of all to comprehend was that the teachers teased us and one another. Of course, teachers had teased before, but this was different. The teachers had teased in unsophisticated, childlike ways. Fifth, and later sixth, grade was different. The teasing was sarcastic, full of puns, often scathing. There were times that it was perhaps too much, but that was not to say that Mrs. F., Mrs. G., and Mr. C. didn't teach us respect as well. Still, the verbal banter and the slow graying of the line between student and teacher taught us all two things: (1) we were playing with the big boys (girls) now, so don't dish it out if you can't take it and (2) we really weren't going to be children forever. Here was the first clear invitation to step up into a slightly more grown up world. It took us all quite awhile to step up, but I always appreciated the invitation.