Monday, March 28, 2011

Odd Girl Out

For this week's RemembeRED prompt, we're asking you to remember kindergarten. If, after thinking about it for a while, you can't recall anything, move on to first grade.

Mine your memories and write about the earliest grade you can recall. What was special? What was ordinary? What did you feel? Hear? See? Smell?
I am the baby of the family and like all youngest chilren, I wanted to do all the things that my siblings were doing. The idea of going to school like my brothers and sister thrilled me. I thought school was going to be the coolest thing since round wheels were invented.

My sister, seven years older, had been playing "school" with me forever. I thought school would be like that: where I was the center of attention (a rare treat for the youngest in a big family), and where everything was fun and I would spend time on things I liked doing.

It was 1969. My sister would be going to junior high that year, my brothers would be in middle school and I...I would be starting kindergarten! I was so excited. I dreamed of notebooks and pencils and a lunchbox of my very own. Mom loaded us up in the Oldsmobile and off we went to register for school.

Mom saved me for last. At the time, I thought that made my registration the most special. I have since realized that she made a loop and my school was the last one before the grocery shopping trip.

While my siblings were comparing schedules and doing a "who's who" of the teachers they would have, Mom held my hand and we walked in to the elementary school office.

The first person to greet her was Mr. Hessong, the school principal. I was in awe of this important dignitary, the famous Mr. Hessong. He was short and balding; he smelled like Old Spice, wore a pinstripe, double-breasted suit and had a very kind smile. My sister liked him, but my brother thought he was a tyrant. I have since figured that out, too.

The receptionist handed Mom a big stack of papers. Is she up to date on her vaccinations? How long has she been a resident of the school district? Mom completed the forms in her neat backhand slant and we went to the next station. We walked past the restrooms, with their peculiar smell of industrial deodorizer, mingled with little-boys-who-miss and Pine-sol.

Mom and I sat at a long cafeteria table: you know the kind, with a formica top and picnic bench seats attached. A sign was taped on the end, "Kindergarten Registration", written to mimic a child's writing, even down to a backwards "K". The irony of that still cracks me up. A teacher waited for us to sit. This was the woman who turned out to be the one who would put a pin to my balloon. The dasher of dreams. My nemesis.

You would think I would remember her name, wouldn't you? She sat there in her round wire-frame glasses. Her flat, reddish hair was parted severely down the middle and a long ponytail that ended in a ratty, skinny tail of split ends. She was fairly young, but smelled like Geritol and White Shoulders. She looked at my forms, talked to my mother and then began to quiz me.

"Do you know what color this is?" she asked, holding up a pencil.
"Good. Do you know what shape this is?"
"A circle."
"Well, I would have expected you to say 'round', but I suppose that will do. Can you tie your shoes?"
"Yes, ma'am." (Mom taught us to be polite.)
"And what is this?" She held up a book.
"That's 'Little House on the Prairie'."
Dragon Lady frowned. "And this?"
"A Child's Book of Days" I was sure I was correct.

She shook her head, looked back at my paperwork and dropped a bomb. "I'm sorry. Patricia is a little bit too young to start kindergarten this year. She won't have the social skills to manage this transition yet, and since she can read, she won't feel challenged by the curriculum. She won't fit in. She will just be a disruption."

I could read, but I didn't understand what a "disruption" was. Whatever it was, it wasn't good, I could tell that much. Mom looked over at me and I was afraid I had done something wrong. Then she looked back at the Dragon Lady and over at the two books that had been my undoing. Then she levelled her green eyes on the teacher.

"Are you the kindergarten teacher?" Mom asked.

"Yes." replied Dragon Lady.

"Good. Because I don't want her in your class. She'll start first grade next year with Mrs. Vest and you can keep your kindergarten!" My Mom. The Great Defender, with a Dutch accent that made her twice as intimidating.

I cried all the way home. I had been rejected. My dreams of school were crushed. I would have to wait a whole year and that seemed like a lifetime. Dragon Lady didn't care that I was a good girl who would never have dared to be disruptive. She didn't care that I was so excited at the prospect of going to school that she would have been my hero. I was exactly the sort of child who would have come home with "teacher said this" and "teacher said that" until the whole family would want to drown me. She didn't care that, as my first teacher, she would have had an influence on my lifelong relationship with learning.

Instead, she took a short look at a skinny, timid girl and chose not to bother.

I'm sorry to say that this is only slightly fictionalized. I actually was rejected for kindergarten for those two reasons. As a kindergarten reject, I never learned to take a nap, color inside the lines, drink milk, share or cut paper in a straight line. It's been holding me back ever since.

I am not wonderfully happy with this piece. It feels clunky to me, and even after reading it a jillion times, I'm having trouble figuring out what is clunking. Ideas? Be tough, I can take it. I got over being rejected for K. I'll get over concrit, too. :-)

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ


  1. I can't believe that this happened right in front of you. Unbelievable.

    Love the description of the teacher and your nickname for her. "Dragon lady" is so perfect.

    Thank goodness for your awesome mom.

  2. First of all it didn't feel clunky to me. You had posted on mine that some details of the era gave away that we are contemporaries. You got that right....oh, my gosh! All the descriptions of smells of an elementary school and the adults in the 1960s are absolutely dead on! Too funny! I was so wrapped up in the details and drifting back in time that when the story got to the rejection part it hit me like a punch in the gut. Very powerful. I felt indignant, sad and shocked and ready to go to bat for that bright little girl!

  3. My heart so goes out to you! It's so exasperating that *that* was the response to a reader!!

    I loved that you called your mom the "Great Defender;" I could hear her Dutch accent!

    I also adored the specific details that you conjured up.

    My favorite line was: "I dreamed of notebooks and pencils and a lunchbox of my very own." because I really do think that those are exactly what little ones dream of!

    Who needs the Dragon lady anyway?! :)