Friday, August 28, 2009

Donna Starts School

August 28, 2009

Since I mined my children's kindergarten experiences in the name of story-telling, I'll share my own first experience as well.
When I was pre-kindergarten age, I had an older brother who liked to taunt me. He was really good at it. (It was a skill, by the way, he honed to perfection on all of his siblings.) At the age of five, he started school. I was only three, but really looked up to my big brother. I wanted to go where he went.

Sensing his upper hand, he played up the 'cool' factor of kindergarten. "You'll really love it, Donna. We get to sing, and play games, and color all day. When we take naps, we get to lie down on our own special mats. And our teacher gives us snacks! That's really what school is--we play and eat. It's so much fun! Too bad you're just a baby. You're too little to go." I was indignant--I was NOT a baby! I could color; I could play games! Why wouldn't they let me go, too? (I discovered, later in life, that he actually really disliked going to school. He would much rather have been able to stay home. But teasing me gave him enough pleasure to make it worth his while.)

Towards the end of the year, Gary started talking about the big end of the year party that his class was going to have, complete with ice cream and face painting. I begged him to ask the teacher to let me come. "Alright," he finally relented. "I'll ask my teacher if you can come, too." Every day I waited for him to come home, and I would immediately assail him. Did his teacher say I could come? And every day, rather nonchalantly, Gary would dismissively wave his hand and say he had forgotten. He was enjoying making me wait.

Kids who aren't in school have no clear concept of the passing of time, or days, or weeks. I had no idea when the end of school was; I just knew that every day Gary left, and then a few hours later he'd come home. One day, as Gary walked in the door, I met him with my usual hopeful question. "Oh, that," he said, smug grin on his face. "We had that today. Today was the last day of school, so we had all the ice cream we could eat and had a big party for the class. I guess I forgot to ask if you could go." WHAT??? All that build up and anticipation, to be let down in such an unceremonious (and less than contrite) way?? I couldn't believe he had done that to me.

Flash forward another year. Now was my time. After watching Gary head off to what I imagined was akin to a daily carnival of fun for two years, I was finally going to get to go to kindergarten. Imagine my surprise when my mom and I passed several children on the sidewalk in front of the school, sobbing and clinging to their mothers' skirts. I gazed in wonder at them. Why on earth would they be crying? Didn't these children know about the games? The songs? The lovely little naps on mats that were their own? Hadn't they heard about the snacks? I nearly ran to the front door dragging my mother behind while these children clutched their mothers' hands and begged them not to go. I couldn't understand it.

My first day of kindergarten was everything I had hoped for. There were colorful toys and posters all over the walls. There were magical letters and words posted up everywhere, and I couldn't wait to learn how to read them all. There was also a big playhouse off in a corner, big enough to stand in, where you could pretend to cook at the stove and wash dishes in the sink. It was beautiful, and I thought I might like to have a house just like that when I got older.
My teacher was a wonderful and beautiful woman named Mrs. Wells. At the beginning of class, we all sat, cross-legged, all around the edges of the big square carpet in the middle of the room. Mrs. Wells sat high in her chair at the front of the room. My little edge of the carpet was almost right next to her. She started off the day by greeting us one by one, reading our names on the little badges affixed to our shirts and dresses. She started off with the little girl right next to her. "Good morning, Karen." Karen was supposed to respond with, "Good morning, Mrs. Wells." Then she came to me. "Good morning, Donna." Smiling brightly, I said, "Good morning, Mrs. Wells." What a lovely way to learn everyone's names! One by one, she welcomed each child into her classroom.

The rest of the day went well, and I was thrilled to get to go back the next day. On the morning of the second day, we all knew we were supposed to sit around the carpet and be greeted by Mrs. Wells again to begin our day. This time, instead of sitting to Mrs. Wells' right, I sat off to her left. Once again, she began the welcoming us, one by one, to her classroom.

As a child I was quite shy, most of the time. I was so overwhelmed with the magic of my new surroundings on the first day that I didn't pause to let myself be worried about what the other kids might think of me. On that second day, however, as Mrs. Wells made her way around the carpet, wishing each child good morning, I had plenty of time to really take in my surroundings. There were a lot of kids sitting around that carpet! One by one, all eyes would turn to the next child to be greeted as Mrs. Wells said her hellos. EVERY classmate looked at the child as he or she responded with, "Good morning, Mrs. Wells." I started to realize that when she had gotten nearly all the way around the carpet and it was my turn to say good morning, I would have all those eyes staring at me. I started to panic. I didn't want all that attention; I didn't want all that focus on me. It was too much pressure. Mrs. Wells continued to make her way around the carpet. She was getting closer and closer to me, and my heart was beating so loudly that I was sure my neighbor could hear. My palms were sweating, and I couldn't breathe. Only two more kids before me. Only one more....

"Good morning, Donna," she smiled at me. For a few horrifying seconds, I stared at her, open-mouthed, unable to form a proper response. Everyone was staring at me, waiting. I could feel their eyes on me. "Good morning, Donna," she repeated. Suddenly, I jumped up and turned around, fleeing toward the inside of the playhouse where I could hide. Before I got three steps, my shoe caught the edge of a throw-rug, and I went sprawling across the floor, face down, my little skirt flipped up so that the whole class could see my underwear. In trying to escape the burden of the gaze of all my classmates, I drew their attention in the most spectacular fashion. My teacher helped me up, put her arms around me, and gently walked her sobbing student to the nurse to settle down.

Luckily, children are resilient little things. One instant of humiliation was no match for two years of anticipation, and I came back to school the next day, determined not to let my fears keep me from the wonder and joy I had found on the first day. I just made sure that for the rest of the year, I started my Good Mornings right next to Mrs. Wells, so that I could get it out of the way before I could think about it.


  1. Great story, Donna. I know the horror of which you speak - good for you for figuring out a way to get through it!

  2. I remember a playhouse in the corner of the room too with great cardboard bricks to stack and to knock over. Very fun. I loved the big sheets of paper that we had to paint and to color on in class.

    You remember way more details than I. Very impressive

  3. Wow. You have an impressive memory. I don't remember kindergarten.

  4. Thank goodness Mrs. Wells was a kind teacher :)

    No wonder that day is etched in your memory!!