I still remember my first day of school all the way back in February 2007. I was starting a year early, at only 5 years of age compared to the usual 6. My dear late mother Elsa beamed proudly at me in my little green jumper, grey shorts, white shoes, wide green brim hat and carrying a black lunchbox that used to belong to her.
She would wave me off to Greensborough Primary School, which for my whole 7 years there, would be a hop, skip and jump across the road from our house. We lived right next to school is what I’m saying.
Orientation the year before told me my first ever teacher would be Ms. Martin, a veteran of the school, but she ended up retiring. My first teacher would be the lovely Mrs. Crawford, a bright middle aged woman who screamed positivity and definitely had the job to look after the younger children.
She got along very well with my Dad’s mother and affectionately called her “Baba” rather than her first name. She was kind and compassionate, especially when my shoes would come undone or even that time I soaked Mum’s favourite lunchbox in chocolate milk. I wasn’t allowed to take any flavoured milk again!
I remember my Prep classroom had red chairs, tiny tables and you had to ask Mrs. Crawford before using the scissors. I also remember having lots more free time to do nothing compared to older years and that our first excursion was to the local kindergarten, which made me wanna ditch school and just go back to pre-school.
Food was also a fun memory from this time – Mrs. Crawford would bring us big bags of fruit from Shepparton and of course, you got a note written home if you dared bring a peanut butter sandwich.
Prep also had the Buddies program, where one of the kids in the last grade before high school would become a peer to you. Mine was James, and he was a nice young man who I definitely entertained well every Friday afternoon.
Before I knew it, the 1st year of my schooling journey was over and I’d join the 1st grade, in the classroom next door with green chairs, this time under Mrs. Kelly. She had the reputation of being a strict teacher, but in reality she was just as nice as Mrs. Crawford
I do remember that it was around this time I wasn’t really eating my packed lunches and my parents had told Mrs. Kelly to keep an eye on it. The principal at the time, Ms. Stella had even come and knocked on our door to talk to Mum about it.
Ms. Kelly pulled me up in front of the class one afternoon and asked to have a look of my All Blacks lunchbox, where a half eaten cheese sandwich and a bag of potato chips looked right back at her. She told me to eat it then before she wrote a note home. I thought she was a witch at the time, but I know she just had the best interests of a growing boy at heart.
Friends were really hard to come by, and it was in these years that I first started to feel my strong connection to the Macedonian and Māori identities. I am grateful to what Australia provided to my immigrant parents, but my schooling days were proof that I was certainly no Aussie in the eyes of my peers. I was just another Wog, another Pacific Islander or even to some students, a Korean. I would scare some students by saying I was from North Korea.
But of course, my resilience was there from an early age. My first friend was the wonderful Amy Cairns, whose mother was and still is great friends with my Baba. They joke around she was my first girlfriend, but we just remember our friendship as a great one that’s lasted for many years. Even when we departed to different high schools, we would unite years later playing netball together.
My other friend was Gaurav Thakkar, who was an immigrant from India. We would often get on each other’s nerves, but we do enjoy a special friendship as I certainly looked out for him in these crazy times. We did certainly get up to a lot of mischief though!
My first years of school taught me much about the scary thing they call life. It taught me that cliques do exist, that groups of Mums whom gossip about each other’s children are some of the biggest cowards on Earth, and it also taught me that it’s completely okay not to fit in.
But of course, I don’t wanna have a negative spin because I feel lucky and privileged that I can still remember these great times. Little Jordy would be proud that I no longer cry over spilt milk. Or dump his lunch in the bin. I carry on with life, just like Mrs. Crawford and Mrs. Kelly taught me.