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    Entries in old harlem (1)

    Wednesday
    Sep022015

    Number 5: That Time I Went to Kindergarten

    Fall is upon us!! I love the fall. I always have, and not just because it’s the season of my birth. Summer in the northeast can be outright oppressive. The heat and humidity commence in mid-May and maintain a death grip on the region unlike any other punishment known to mere mortals. That may be a little dramatic, but from about the third week of August to the middle of October, it’s the norm to have a nice and warm days sans humidity and a cool evening. Taking the subway or walking a few blocks no longer feels like you’re inhaling pea soup!

    I also greatly appreciate some of the things that autumn represent in the life cycle, like harvest and change. The end of the growth cycle gives way to resurrection of the ground so that the cycle can start again in the spring. And nothing represents change more beautifully than does the fall foliage. One of the things I most miss about high school is watching the wind blow the trees back and forth in mid-October. The various shades of brown and orange and red and yellow almost looked like the hills are were on fire when the sun was in a certain position in the sky.

    Then there is school. I love school, I always have. That’s not completely true. Not always. I grew to love school. After that whole kindergarten incident that is. Until I was about 8, my father worked nights and my mother word days. They would do the parent hand off in the morning which until I was 5 meant that I got to do my 3 favorite things in the world: 1) Watch Sesame Street; 2) Go to the library (it was right next door!) and 3) read. My parents were big supporters of head start programs insomuch as they both believed that they should exist, but they didn’t see much benefit in me attending one. The people that ran the local head start in the church were nice enough folks but not exactly the most academically minded. I believe that moms once referred to it as glorified babysitting. I didn’t care at all. See, moms worked in the neighborhood so in the event that dad had to work overtime, we would go to her office for the day. Sometimes dad and I would pop up mid-day and have lunch with her. My days were GRRRREEEAAATTTT! Until that fateful day in September 1980.

    The cliché all good things come to an end never held more meaning than it did for me that fall. Aside from being very introverted, even at that age, I was EXTREMELY shy. I didn’t say much to anyone that wasn’t family or a close friend. It took me quite a bit of time to warmup to new people and new situations that I didn’t control. This confluence of circumstances was about to get volatile. Moms was very much a “rip the Band-Aid” type of person. Dive into the pool in the deep end feet first and go forth. Great attribute and a great trait to instill in growing children. But there are probably more delicate ways to handle some situations.

    One morning, moms got me dressed and I thought I got to spend the day in her office (swivel chair for the win!) which was always exciting. Only, we walked down a different block on the way to her office. I noticed that immediately and asked why and she deflected. We approached a big brown building that I had seen a million times and always wished that I could play in the playground behind the black gate. This playground was unlike any other in Harlem at the time. There were a bunch of foreign structures that were made for running and jumping, none better than the structure that had ladders and poles like the ones that Batman and Robin used! Much to my chagrin, today’s trip wasn’t to the playground, not directly at least. We were actually going into this huge building. We get to a room on the ground floor that was full of kids and a couple of adults who all started looking at the door when we arrived. I immediately hid behind my mother to escape the collective gaze, but in her typical fashion, she implored me to stand front and center out on my own. There was an empty seat next to a girl that I knew who lived across the street from me. One of the strange ladies directed me to the seat next to this girl and despite my silent protest, also known as the Klingon Death Grip that I had on my mother’s hand, my mother agreed that I should go sit next to this girl. Hesitantly I did go and have a seat and struck up some small talk. She tried to share her coloring sheets and crayons, but while I let go of her hand I would not let my mother out of my sight. She stood smilingly at the door talking to some of the other parents encouraging me to talk to some of the other kids at the table. I started to warm up a bit and talked to my neighbors periodically checking in on my mother. All was good for a little while, this wasn’t so bad right?

    Then it happened. I turned my head and my mother was gone. I jumped up out of my seat and ran toward to door to try to find her. The teachers let me get to the hallway to see that she was long gone and escorted me back to my seat. I howled. I’ve broken bones, strained ligaments, had my heart broken and had paper cuts yet I am pretty sure that I have never cried like I did that day. I cried loudly. And pretty much all day. The teachers tried their best to calm me down, as did my neighbors. Everyone did their best to assure me that my mother would come back and that she had not abandoned me.  I couldn’t care any less about anything they had to say. This was a new experience that I was completely hating. Where was my family? Where was Sesame Street? And why was everyone staring at me? Oh, because I was screaming and crying like I was experiencing medieval torture methods. This was the longest day ever. My mother and father did show up eventually and I sprinted to them like we had been separated for decades. I begged them to never leave me like that again and pleaded for things to go back to normal.

    Moms did her best to ration with me, but I wanted no parts of it. Finally, she let the hammer drop that I would be going back to school until further notice. Most kids would have accepted this and looked for the good in the situation. I mean, there were other people my size, toys and that playground right? This couldn’t be all bad. For better or for worse, I was not most kids. The waterworks and noise show went on for another week or so. I’m a little hazy on when it exactly stopped but I clearly remember why. The teachers had taken to the method of talking over my nonsense to get through their daily plan. One day, I noticed that they were doing some of the things that Sesame Street use to do. But why? This was stuff that was about a year or so old. Shouldn’t they be doing some of the more recent Sesame Street exercises? One of the teachers tried to hide her shock that I had stopped crying and asked if I understood what was going on in the class. I did, and inquired as to why they were going over these easy letters? She asked if they were so easy, could I read the words on the board. I read them all and most of the room seemed shocked. I was annoyed. They were staring again. The other teacher asked what other words I recognized in the room. All of them, one after the other I read each one aloud. Miss Frazier went over to the Scholastic box and got me some materials and told me to read them while they worked with the rest of the class. Then it hit me. Unlike at home, everyone here couldn’t read. This was odd. Reading was a huge part of my home life and being the youngest, I was playing catch up. Everyone had much bigger books than I did and I wanted to get to that level badly.

    This was a turning point. I worked my way through the levels and the crying stopped. I’m sure that alone accelerated the learning curve for the rest of the class and being off to the side gave me a sense of calm. More kids would eventually join me at the side table and I would completely warm up to the environment in due time. Like all change, this was painful at first. It worked itself out and I can safely say that even when I moved states away from home or to new local schools, each first day was better than that one. I got out of the gate roughly, but I would learn to love the beginning of the school year so much that my first two years after college had me completely confused as to what I should be doing in September. I miss those days sometimes. Other times, well, let’s just say that adult life is good!