Monday, February 9, 2009

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

My first true memories date to the year I started kindergarten. Most of them are vague, but a couple are very specific.

I distinctly remember being on the bus when some of the older kids looked out the window and commented on the pretty Lassie dog. I proudly and knowledgably informed them that that particular breed was actually a collie, and Lassie was just the name of the dog on TV, because Lassie was a collie, too. I went on to inform them that there had been several Lassies over the years and some of them had been boys. Then I giggled about all the times Timmy said, “Come here, Lassie! Come here, girl!” And it was really a boy! That is some seriously hi-larious stuff when you’re 5. Get it? He’s really a boy and they call him a girl. In front of EVERYone! Yeah, I know. The older kids on the bus weren’t very impressed, either. But I didn’t quite learn the lesson that no-one likes a know-it-all. Not at that point, anyway.

Another very salient memory from kindergarten occurred one day during nap time. We were half-day students, so we didn’t actually nap, but we did have quiet time after milk and cookies during which we were expected to put our heads on our desks and shut our eyes. On one particular day, my mom had casually relayed a story to me over breakfast. The story involved a boy who, through some sort of shenanigans, put his eye out. She surely meant it as a cautionary tale. I tended to respond pretty well to those, at least when I was that young. Well, this was no exception. She mentioned it casually, but it stayed with me all day, eating away at me. I considered this poor boy and the lifelong consequences he would have to pay for one moment’s curiosity. (I sure do wish I could remember how he’d done it!) When nap time rolled around, I couldn’t relax for thinking about this poor boy. So I started to relay the story to the little girl resting next to me. Not sure how I thought that would help, but I knew I couldn’t keep that disturbing story inside me for another moment. I remember covering one eye to simulate what it must be like to live like that. Forever. It was right about then that the teacher looked at me sternly and reminded me that nap time was quiet time. She didn’t even raise her voice, just reminded me that I was off task. The tears welled up, then, and I couldn’t stop them for anything. Tears for myself for being reprimanded, for sure - I still don’t care very much for that – but tears, also, for that (possibly fictional) little boy from the cautionary tale who would only have one eye to see out of for the rest of forever.

Turns out I didn’t like disappointing my teacher, or anyone in authority, so, for the next couple years or so I became ridiculously compliant.

Once, while watching a magic show at the mall, the magician asked me onstage to help with a trick (illusion, if you prefer…). He told me to hold my breath for a moment. A few seconds later my mother had to interrupt his act to ask him to tell me it was now okay to breathe. I was starting to change color and sway. I was going to hold my breath till I passed out, because I had been told to by someone in authority (clearly I interpreted that term rather loosely).

Another clear memory from kindergarten involved a boy in my class who had mastered the left/right thing that I was having a lot of difficulty with. He mastered everything before everyone else, but I was usually close on his heels. The left/right thing I just couldn’t grasp. He was leaving me in the dust and I was pissed. I clearly remember the teacher – my beloved teacher – my revered authority figure – fawning over him. She even invited him to the front of the class to help her teach the concept. I couldn’t even hear her words – and I certainly couldn’t hear his – through the pounding jealousy that was occupying more than its fair share of space in my brain. I didn’t have cusses in my vocabulary yet, not even unspoken ones, but if I had, the vilest of them would’ve been hurled at this boy. This smugly superior boy who acted like knowing your right from your left was like second nature or something. Jerk. Boogerhead.

One more salient memory from kindergarten: I was a bit of a show-off. I loved attention and the world hadn’t squelched my inhibitions yet. The teacher, as most kindergarten teachers are, was pretty indulgent regarding this trait. So one day, during show and tell time I decided to treat the class to a solo of a song I’d picked up somewhere. The song was “Never on a Sunday”, a song from a movie of the same name about a prostitute. My five year old self sang, most sincerely, that you could kiss me any day but Sunday, as that was my day of rest. This was the mid-60’s, and kiss was a thinly veiled euphemism for – oh, I already told you it was about a prostitute. Perhaps one who was the opposite of Julia Robert’s ‘Pretty Woman’ character and only kissed? No such luck. I like to hope that the teacher was amused, but my mother was mortified. I tried to remember that in later years, as a teacher myself, when kids came into my classroom singing lyrics that were too mature for them to possibly understand with sweet baby-voiced sincerity. Obscenity is in the eyes of the beholder, and all that…

So at five, these lifelong aspects of my personality had already taken a hold: I was a know-it-all who didn’t know when to keep her mouth shut. I had an almost inherent need to please people, particularly those with some degree of authority over me. I was a show-off who didn’t always worry whether or not my actions were going to be appropriate, as long as they’d get me some attention (and wouldn’t get me in trouble). And I was jealous to the point of distraction of people who had more than I did. I was also, to be fair, compassionate towards those who had less. Bleeding-heart levels of compassion, actually.


Swine said...

This is terrific, Tammy. I love how you write. I was right there with you in hating the little left/right showoff. But I have news for you. My dad lost one of his eyes when he was 11 years old. No lie. So, perhaps your mother was talking about him? His name is Rupert and it involved farm machinery. Ring any bells?

Tammy Howard said...

Whoa - that is - where did he grow up? My sister only has vision in one eye, but it was not the result of shenanigans and it happened as an adult and she has accommodated quite beautifully. I assume your dad, having lost his at such a young age, accommodated beautifully as well. But if you'd told me that when I was five, I would've called you a lying liar pants who lied.

Thanks for the compliment - I love how you write, too. Mutual admiration society.

Swine said...

He grew up in Northwest Ohio, so it's probably some other poor boy your mother warned you about. And yes, he seems to have done quite well for himself. But, really? Is your dumbhead past self callin me a liar? Stupid dumbhead!