Kindergarten is a right of passage for most children. Our little school in Hidden Valley was a wonderland for me and it was also the first place I discovered what an awkward child I was (but in a good way). My dad decided because this was a big day for both of us he would drive me to school and skip daycare. Spending more time with my dad was always a plus and something I cherished. I was without doubt a daddy’s girl. My dad made me breakfast which was his childhood favorite, white rice, sugar, butter and milk. We ate together listening to John Lennon’s newly released Double Fantasy while my dad sang “Beautiful Boy” changing the lyrics to Beautiful Girl. He brushed out my thick hair while my eyes watered in pain and let me pick out a mismatched outfit of tan corduroy pants with a koala shirt. We got into his blue Monte Carlo with the continuing music of “Watchin the Wheels” in the background. My dad held my hand as I cuddled up next to him on the blue dusty seats.
We pull up to the side parking lot closest to the classroom which was the long way to the campus. The fear set in as my dad killed the engine. A child’s anxiety is different from an adults in that a child does not have as much experience to draw on but it is also more terrifying because a child has raw imagination. The gravel cracked under our feet and my hand was sweating in my dad’s hand as we walked to the classroom. Mrs. Rowe greeted us with a big smile, short blonde hair, blue eyeliner, blue mascara and a gold chain which bounced off of her shirt that clung onto her glasses. She was not someone I liked immediately. She seemed strict and succinct in her dicta; she barely addressed me. Mrs. Rowe was busy wondering where this child’s mother was as she showed us around the classroom and my dad was trying not to be affected by her obvious judgment. I did not spot any toys that caught my wonder but I did catch familiar faces from the daycare. I looked up at my dad for permission to be released from his grip so I could head out to the playground. He bent down, told me to behave and then released me to a group of little people who I would journey through life with all the way to high school.
I watched kids flip from the bars, sway their bodies to glide across the monkey bars, kick balls, throw balls and run from each other in pure delight. There were 18 of us total and even though we were pint size we felt HUGE on our first day of school. Allegra was there from daycare but she was busy showing the boys who was boss by kicking the ball further, running faster and pushing harder than any of them could hope to compete with. I spotted another blonde haired innocent who was alone and just observing the rest of the kids on the sidelines as I was. She was more like me. Introverted preferring to be invisible while walking through the children. We connected instantly. Marion was a girly girl. She liked dolls, dresses and all things pretty. She was delicate and quiet but as we held hands through the play ground she was my new best friend; to a small insecure girl, anyone who paid attention you was in fact your new best friend. We climbed to the top of the jungle gym and delighted in the birds flying above, at the sighting of the school neighbor taking her horse for a walk across the field and at the clouds running past our heads. When it was time to start class we insisted on sitting on the mat next to each other.
Mrs. Rowe introduced us to the rules of the room which were basically: if you get out of line, you will sit in the corner. We had stations of learning reading, math, spelling and nap time. If you completed each station successfully, there could be a prize…. bubble gum! I had a head start on most of the kids in reading. The family story is that I taught myself to read and by 18 months old I was spelling too. So, when it came time to sit at the reading or spelling station I shined as I reaped in the booty. This served me well for bringing me out of my shell since I was happy to give it away. Sugar never really excited my picky taste buds so I was more than happy to trade it for attention from my 17 classmates. One child in particular that seemed adept at instantly knowing my weakness for friendship and wanted my bubble gum was Erida. Erida was a child who I was friends with on and off throughout my life. All of my memories of her are soured pain because she was a cunning bully. Highly intelligent but completely unable to empathize with anyone unless they were giving her what she wanted; she was a person who alway made people feel bad about themselves and I was a consistent victim of hers. She was probably one of the coldest people I have ever met and it always amazed me how much people accepted her (and still do). She and I were forced friends because of our proximity of homes, the fact that her mother was a stay at home mom so my dad always could locate a babysitter when needed under the guise of playing at her house and because she was able to manipulate me constantly into making me feel less than her which she delighted in. There would come a point in our lives where I saw opportunities to hurt her as much as she had always hurt me and I jumped at them. It’s not something I am proud of but I always found it perplexing how Erida was so smart and yet confused at my betrayal of her.
As I think back to my classmates, I recall the lack of childhood diagnosis available. We did not have an option to label a child ADHD, conduct disorder or depressed. The kid was just simply unruly or odd. Why did Arthur put ketchup on his head during lunch time (and no I am not kidding. There really was a child who one year our senior who was so disturbed and angry he used to put ketchup on his head)? As a child you do not think about these things because at age 5 it just does not matter. With the exception of Erida, a 5 year old has not learned to be cruel and is not trying to herd people into conformity. We were all innocent quirky children who were more than happy to be friends with each other. Even with Arthur who never seemed bathed and always on the brink of meltdown was accepted by his minor peers.
Kindergarten is the point of your life where you are socialized to the order of things. You start at the bottom of the food chain, work your way up and once you get to the top you are forced back down so you can climb back up again. Kindergarten you’re at the bottom, 6th grade you have worked your way up to the top, middle school put you right back down again, high school and the circle just keeps going on and on and on.