It’s November, and as football turns to cricket and seagulls prepare for another long hot summer of being chased around by bratty kids, those same kids are counting the days until their tyrannical teachers finally give up on trying to educate them and let them run wild for six long weeks. For me, school holidays mean I can drive 50km/h in school zones every damn day and shopping centres become no-go zones. For those kids, that year-end break is a seemingly endless gyre of possibility with Christmas in the centre. But don’t get your hopes up too soon, kids – those teachers and all that school-book learnin’ will be right there on the other side of the new year just waiting to cram your tiny head full of knowledge.
But some kids won’t be coming back. You might notice Brett’s seat is empty, or that Chris isn’t around to kick your ass each recess. You might hear rumours that Jade’s parents went crazy and she had to move to Canada so her dad couldn’t find her, and all that means for you is you’ll never get back that iPhone charger you lent her. But those parents didn’t go crazy. They actually did the sanest thing they could do when changing their child’s school – wait for a clean break. Yes, throughout the year there’ll be that kid who was there one day and gone the next, the kid who becomes a ghost…and a legend.
“Remember Aaron? That kid who was here for one term? I wonder what he’s doing now?”
“He’s probably buried under the school and haunts it at night.”
“Nah, Aaron wasn’t that cool.”
School counsellors aren’t as prepared as they ought to be to deal with mid-term newbie syndrome, a condition so commonplace it should have its own medication by now. Sometimes it can’t be helped. Situations can change overnight for reasons the rest of the class can never understand. For those kids forced to change schools mid-term, it can be impossibly tough. For the first day at your new school, nobody likes the new kid, and to the friends you left behind, you’re a traitor. A sellout. And the worst part is, it’s not your fault and there was nothing you could do. Heads you lose, tails they win.
The luckier kids are able to change schools at the end of the year, to finish up their time making Christmas ornaments at School A and then start fresh at School B come late January. At your old school, everyone either knows you’re leaving and drops any pretense of liking you/disguising a crush because it no longer matters, or nobody knows and you just ninja your way out of their lives. Meanwhile, at your new school, everyone expects new kids, so you ninja your way in. Win-win, especially if you ninja’d the entire situation.
Back in 1992, I was such a kid. My parents had decided to move, so I spent the late spring/early summer of ’92 saying goodbye to those who had been lifelong friends and attempting to make amends with eternal enemies. Unlike some I’ve known over the years, I made a major effort to give back the toys I had borrowed. Well, okay, my mother made me do it, but I went along quietly. The look on Matthew’s face suggested he never expected to see his Batman Laser Blade Cycle again, so I knew what he really thought of me.
It’s funny to think back on some of those conversations, because they seemed so desperate to sound adult despite the absolutely trivial nature of what was occurring. For instance, Con turned our final conversation into a psychological exploration of what it means to be friends and the nature of staying in touch. Pretty heavy shit for seven-year-olds. On the other hand, Peter just said “Your new school is for fucken idiots! Run away and stay at this school!”
Would that I could, Peter.
The in-class side of things is a different story entirely. Suddenly you have a licence to act like a smug prick, because you won’t be there next year to suffer the consequences. Never mind the concept of picking fights with kids you hate and setting the date of the throwdown as “DAY ONE NEXT TERM, BITCH”, it’s a well-known fact that teachers are powerless in December, and it’s often by choice. They’d rather sit around making kids do meaningless “fun” assignments or making Christmas decorations than any real work, because they know no kid who bothers turning up so late in the game has their mind on education at that time of year. Yes it’s sad, but it’s true. Face facts.
But the teacher has one advantage: they’re keeping an eye on those kids, and making a mental list of who’s naughty and nice (to be checked more than twice, I assure you). If you, like Adrian back in ’92, decide to call your teacher a bitch on the last day of school, you’d better hope you’re going to a new school because that will come back to bite your ass (like it did for him, I later learned). During this particular December, I was imbued with that godlike power, to say whatever I wanted and act however I pleased without consequence or fear of reprisal, and how you use that power proves a true test of character, one I’m certain the teachers would be aware of. Without tooting my own horn, I’m happy to say I limited my abuse of The Power to a general air of smarminess and an obnoxious “NOT ME!” when Mrs. Farbridge warned the class of an assignment she had planned for the coming Valentine’s Day (ahh, “not me”: the catchphrase of Valentine’s Day everafter).
You never forget The Power flowing through you, not even when you start at the new school completely stripped of all advantages. Suddenly, you’re Batman without his utility belt, a book without a cover, or a phone with Vodafone…but that’s another story. Nevertheless, in your lowest moments you can always think back to that Power, remember how it tasted, and how others feared and resented you for it.
It’s something that stays with you all your life. Last day at your job? The power. Last day of high school? The power. Bucks night? The power. But these are all expected and accounted for. That sudden and unforeseen promotion to God-tier is a special thing, it’s The Power instead of the power.
So here we are at the end of another year, that crazy time when special circumstances are legion. The Power is out there, waiting to be unleashed. It’s there, in every slapdash final assignment, every shoddy school Christmas decoration, every half-assed corporate handover. Should you be a recipient of this phenomenon, as someone who’s been there I implore you, keep in mind that tired old saying: “With great Power comes the right to be a smug dickface.”