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Why Did I Keep My Elementary School Report Cards?

Finally arriving at the right conclusion should be worth an 'E' (Excellent)

By Lisa Iannucci

I just sold the home I lived in for more than 20 years. It's the longest I've lived anywhere and where I raised my three children. It took me 22 months to slowly downsize the stuff from my kids, my mom who also lived with us, as well as the lifetime of items I had held onto for all of my then-55 years. I sold so much and gave away even more. I kept what was sentimental and important to me like photos, drawings, and a few choice dollar store tchotchkes that my kids gave me at Christmas when they were little.

A stack of old report cards with handwritten notes. Next Avenue
I'm now 57 years old. There's no logical reason to keep old report cards, so why do I feel an emotional attachment to keeping them?  |  Credit: Getty

However, tucked in a photo album were several of my report cards. I thought I could easily toss them, but I still can't seem to do it. Why?

I found a community of friends who begged me to save them. Many of them still had theirs and those who didn't wish they did.

Now, these aren't the college transcripts that I would need if I choose to go to graduate school (not happening). These are report cards from kindergarten, first and second grade. You know the ones, where the teacher graded our early penmanship with an E for excellent or an S for satisfactory and wrote comments such as "Lisa loves learning." I'm now 57 years old. There's no logical reason to keep them, but why do I feel an emotional attachment to keeping these?

Let's state the obvious: a few pieces of paper do not take up much room anyway, so what's the big deal? I posted a picture of the report cards on Facebook and jokingly asked my friends, Time to get rid of these right? I figured I would be teased for keeping them for so long. Instead, I found a community of friends who begged me to save them. Many of them still had theirs and those who didn't wish they did.

But I kept asking myself 'why?' Why do I need to re-read that my kindergarten teacher thought I was reliable and did beautiful work, but that I was a worrier and a perfectionist? Fast forward several decades and she was right, I still am, but I could have just read that and given myself a good laugh before throwing the papers in the trash. Instead, I've read her comments multiple times since.

Reminder of an Innocent Time

Some of my friends who encouraged me to keep them actually have their parents' report cards, too. One has her dad's report cards and never knew her grandparents, so seeing their signatures was poignant.

Another friend said that the report cards reminded her of a more innocent time. I can see that. It was a time when someone else paid the bills and made me dinner while my life revolved around homework and friends. My childhood wasn't the easiest: my father died when I was six and my mom raised my three older brothers and me on a single salary. But the pressure was on her, not me. I went to school, played Barbies, read books, and dreamed of what my future would be. Innocent.

"It would be interesting to see what you were like as a kid," my daughter Samantha said.

One friend asked if my family would want them when I was gone. I never thought of that. When they packed up to move out, I urged my kids to keep their own report cards to look back on and told them they would regret not having them when they were older. Yet I was questioning the same for myself. So, I decided to ask my now adult children if they wanted to look at them.

I was surprised to hear that they did. "It would be interesting to see what you were like as a kid," my daughter Samantha said. "We can compare them to us." I've shared stories about me and school before, but never showed them the report cards. I was glad I didn't toss them.

My 86-year-old mother passed away in April. Now, after talking to my kids, I realized I never saw my mom's report cards, either. She said that she liked school, but that's all I knew. Now I was wishing I could have seen hers.

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I was advised to just take a photo of them and then toss them, but like the smell and feel of an old book, there's something about holding the originals that tugs at my heartstrings.

So, at this point, I knew that I wanted to keep them — mostly for my kids to see — but I still didn't understand why I wanted them. Once they looked at them and laughed at the truism of Mom being called a perfectionist, that would be it. The novelty was over, and I would be back to wondering if I should toss them.

The Reason Came Down to Dreams

Am I going to write my autobiography and use the info in that? Maybe. I was a young widow who raised three children and I am a two-time cancer survivor. I think my story is interesting, but I'm not sure my readers would care that I excelled in spelling or that math wasn't my favorite subject.

I asked my therapist for her input on why I couldn't get rid of them.

Every time I think of that time in my life, I realize that I've accomplished a lot since then, but that I still have more I want to do.

She said that '"it was a time that you made your mom proud." Yes, one of the report cards allowed room for parent comments and Mom wrote, "We are very proud of this report card." It's nice to read, but I still don't think it's the reason I want to keep them. Whether or not I should keep these has taken up more space in my head than other bigger items, but the question of why has truly fascinated me.

Finally, I decided to sit with the report cards and think back to those times — what I could remember at this point anyway. I smiled because it really came down to dreams.

What do you want to be when you grow up, Lisa? I was asked that so much when I was in kindergarten, first and second grade. I said that I wanted to be a stewardess or a doctor, but at my young age, I already knew I wanted to write. For television. For movies. For books. Poems, songs and anything I could. If I close my eyes, I could see little me discovering that passion for reading and writing. I also wanted to travel the world and write about what I saw.

Every time I think of that time in my life, I realize that I've accomplished a lot since then, but that I still have more I want to do. I might be in my late 50s, but that young girl with dreams and passions is still very much alive. And those report cards transport me back to the time in my life when I was learning all about the world.

The report cards are no longer stored in the photo album. Instead, they are now prominently displayed on my desk as a means of inspiring me to keep chasing more dreams.

Lisa Iannucci is the founder of The Virgin Traveler, a travel blog for those who are finally getting a chance to travel later in life. She is the host of the Reel Travels podcast and The Write Start podcast. She is the author of "The Film/TV Lover’s Travel Guide" and "Road Trip: A Sports Lover's Travel Guide." Read More
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