I dropped my son off at summer school one morning this week. He normally drives himself to the private school just outside Calgary where he is taking Grade 12 English. But on that day, my husband and I each needed a vehicle, so I had the opportunity to spend time in the car with my 16-year-old. I had no inkling that as I passed the rolling gate that closed off the school’s road to the public, all sorts of feelings would start to rumble inside me. I went to private school myself, and I have A LOT of baggage from those 9 years.
I pulled up in front of the main entrance, my Sequoia sandwiched between a Cadillac and a Mercedes. I laughed to myself, thinking my car was probably one of the cheaper ones in the drop-off lane. I did a double take when I saw a young person get out of a Tesla.
“The rich really are different,” I thought to myself.
When I drove away, winding my way back through the gate to the main road, my brain filled with thoughts.
“Holy shit, that’s a nice building.”
“We could actually afford to send our kids here.”
“Who would have thought the poor, fat kid would have gotten this far in life?”
I went to private school for grades 1 through 9. My mom, a single working mother, fought hard to get my tuition subsidized. She paid for some, my grandparents paid for some, and I have no idea where the rest came from. We didn’t have uniforms and by grade 7, I was acutely aware that what I wore was very different from what my classmates we wearing. They had Lacoste polos (collars up), Tretorn running shoes, and LeSportsac purses. Everything I owned came from Woolco or Biway, the discount stores where I also got my first bike and my first bra, respectively. I felt out of place and less than priviledged.
The drive from the fancy school to my generous home takes 21 minutes. Over that time, I reflected on my own experience at private school: a fantastic education, social alienation and insulation from the world at large. By minute 12 of the drive, I gained a new appreciation of just how hard my mother had to work to get a subsidy. To my knowledge, I was the first of many who had part of their education paid for. And it was a brilliant education. I can see that now with almost 40 years of hindsight.
By the time I got home, I was thankful for my lot in life. From where I sit, my life has not always been easy. From the outside looking in, I am truly privileged. How the hell did I get here?
I worked hard. I refused to let my lack of social status or financial stability determine my future. I pushed back on authority. I did a lot of drugs. I lived life, met people, asked questions and silenced the voices of others telling me I wasn’t good enough, or smart enough or that I was too fat. I fought for everything I have that matters: my marriage to a wonderful man, a strong relationship with my teenagers, and an awareness that my choices moved me from a life of want to a life of, yes, privilege.
I fully expect the posh private school to send me an email to encourage enrolment. I’ll consider it for a while, because I can. In the end, I know we won’t pay the tuition. We’ll send our kids to a school that is most likely not as good, academically, but will prepare for them what real life and struggle and standing on your own two feet looks like.
That is the privilege I want them to understand.