First Steps


 (Picture courtesy of mikecasey.net)

I got thinking today about kindergarten.  I don’t remember having much in the way of expectations of my first foray into school, no recollection of anything my mother told me, no sense of excitement or dread.  Kindergarten was just something I was expected to do, so I did it.  When the school bus arrived at our stop that first morning, I climbed up that Everest of steps without a single look back at my mother (unlike my neighbor Bobby — two years my senior — who bawled like an infant and threw a spectacular temper-tantrum that embarrassed both him and his mother).

My teacher, Mrs. Davenport, wasn’t much taller than the kids she was hired to teach; a chunky, round-bodied woman with te face of a squeezed lemon and a soul of arsenic.  It was obvious right away that she didn’t like kids and had no interest in teaching us anything of importance.  Of course back then (we’re talking 1962), kindergarten “teaching” was an over-inflated term.  Ours was a half-day made up of play time, story time, snack time, and nap time before they shoveled us back into the bus for the long trip home.  I’m not sure what Mrs. Davenport had to complain about.  Her job was more that of a babysitter than an actual teacher, but maybe that was her problem.  Maybe she resented the perceived waste of her time and talent.  At any rate, she treated us like the enemy and interacted with us as little as possible, saving her voice for reprimands, sarcasm, and little else.

Play I knew how to do, though what happened in our classroom was drab compared to the rich, imaginative romps in my back yard.  Girls were doomed to play “house” and “kitchen” and (in extreme cases) “school,” while the boys were allowed to rumpus a bit with oversized cardboard building blocks (something I would rather have done).  Story time was coupled with snack time, occupying both our minds and our stomachs.  I have a vague remembrance of chocolate chip cookies and small glass bottles of whole milk, though I can’t remember a single story.  Nap time was a total waste.  I hadn’t taken a nap at home in years and the idea of doing so now, smack in the middle of the day when I was wide awake and there were so many things I’d rather be doing was an alien and ungainly notion.  I lay on my thin mat and stared at the ceiling, while all around me my classmates snored like sailors.  Every now and then I’d be reprimanded to close my eyes.  I would dutifully comply, then roll onto my side away from the teacher and open them again, laying in silence until the call came to wake up, put on our coats, and go home.

All in all, it was an uninspiring nine months.  On the other hand, that time was my first journey into the greater world, the first indication that there was something of import beyond the walls of my home, a thing to explore and know, the sense of an adventure as yet unrealized.  What that adventure would bring — failure as well as glory, sadness coupled with joy — were ideas as yet unrealized, vague notions behind the clouds in my eyes.  All I knew then…all I know now…is that I burned to know it all.

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About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Childhood, children, Courage, Essays, Kindergarten, Melissa Crandall, Memoir, Memory, Personal History, School and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to First Steps

  1. timkeen40 says:

    I was in kindergarten 9 years later in ’71. It was still half-days, finger painting and, I promise you, that before I ever read your post the wasted nap time was the first thing that popped into my head.

    Great read.

    Tim

  2. Lynn says:

    I had Mrs. Davenport too. My mother dropped me off that first day and I remember bawling and I believe I was spanked because I was crying. She was the worst teacher! I eventually settled in but it was not pleasant for me. Glad Mrs. Kirkpatrick for 1st grade was great!

    • Imagine spanking a child because she’s crying. Like that’s going to help. She was a rotten teacher and a horrible first experience, but alas, she was not the worst teacher I was to encounter at Shenendehowa. But, as you say, Mrs. Kirkpatrick made up for it in spades. I wish she were still alive so I could thank her. She was a wonderful woman.

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