It was like a scene out of Gossip Girl: rich girls with their perfectly braided hair and matching ribbons being dropped off to school in their flashy cars. There were Mercedes, BMWs, Range Rovers, a Bentley or two, while my parents pulled up to the school in an old Chrysler Sigma.
I would flee the car as quickly as possible in the hope no one would see our embarrassment, bomb of a car. It was mortifying.
I was that girl.
A middle class girl in a rich kids’ school.
All my friends had mansions with circular drive ways and sparkling swimming pools that resembled Barbie’s Dreamhouse. We had an old Queenslander, which Dad painted himself, and a jacaranda tree which sprinkled its purple flowers over the backyard during spring.
It was an idyllic home and a place of which I will always have fond memories – a place where we climbed trees, played in the dirt and read books on the sunny deck. But when it came to school, I felt out of place. I felt like the poor girl.
Both my parents worked full-time to get us through private schooling; every single last cent was poured into the school. It was important to them that we had our blue-chip education.
They only wanted the best for us.
While my friends’ mothers would pick them up in their lavish cars after school, I would catch the bus or walk home alone. This came with a lot of sadness.
On freezing days I’d cook myself up some comfort food – some hot cocoa and cinnamon and sugar on toast – then I’d phone mum at her office just to hear her voice. My friends’ fathers were doctors, lawyers, CEOs, and their “Stepford Wives” stayed home, preparing homemade afternoon teas, and were there to help with homework.
One time a friend’s mum picked us up after school for a play. We swam in her pool, with its own water slide, sat in her sauna, and then she took me for a walk past her tennis court to a small parcel of land where she had her own pony – a pony!
Then there was another friend whose dad flew planes and once she took me to its hanger. It was magnificent. We would sleep in her double bed, with its luxurious pink bedding, and stare at all the Disney toys she had brought back from Disneyland.
While I have such fond memories of these grandiose affairs, it brought with it much confusion as a child, as I constantly compared my life to theirs. But while I got terribly lonely on those school holidays and fending for myself after school, I believe it helped me become the dreamer I am today; someone who can make do with little and to be inventive and creative.
I would cut flowers out of brown paper and stick them around my room. I painted old pieces of wooden furniture and made mixed tapes. I particularly loved to change my room around a million times just to freshen things up. I kept busy. And I haven’t changed a bit. I love to dream, write, create and romanticise.
But I still have issues with loneliness. I so desperately wanted a parent home to keep me company during those long school holidays. I wanted a mother there to help with me with art projects or take me to the park or the pool.
But I don’t despise my parents at all for what they did. They are my real-life heroes and my inspiration in tough times. They worked incredibly hard to put us through those schools. We are a tight-knit family, and they put their life on the line and I’m forever indebted to them.
So, now as my own children are growing older, I wonder if I should put them through a private school. My head says yes, but my heart just isn’t so sure. Is it worth the heartache? The pressure?
I got reasonably good grades, went to university and became the journalist that I am today. But could I have had the same opportunity, without all the exposure to extreme class division, if I had of been sent to, god forbid, a state high school?
Private schools can be very sheltered.
For years you wear polished uniforms and live in an unrealistic setting, with state-of-the-art facilities. All this with the added pressure to be an over-achiever, just so the local billboard can boast about how many OP1s your school has.
Then when you leave – whether you choose work or university – you can find yourself living very poorly, with flatmates and living off two-minute noodles. It can be quite a shock. And if you go to an all-girls or all-boys school it’s not uncommon to find it hard to make friends with the opposite sex.
Do I want to put my child through this? Or would a state high school be a better option, where there’s a good mix of people from all walks of life, exposing them to the real world? Where education is free, so we can treat ourselves to a holiday, expose our children to other nations, or have spare money for extra-curricular activities, so our children can learn a craft or two?
Separating the classes – the rich and poor kids – can be very traumatic and confusing to children, particularly so if you are caught up somewhere in the middle. And it totally sucks that poorer families can’t have the same opportunities, simply because they can’t afford them.
Sometimes I just wish I didn’t have to make such big schooling decisions.
Sometimes I just wish we could all mix together.
Sometimes I just wish private schools didn’t exist.
Do you send your kids to private or public schools?