The one thing I loved about Kindergarten, well, two things actually, were story time, and learning the Alphabet. There were not pre-schools back then, and daycare was something mothers did, this was still a time of stay-at-home moms, at least for those families that could afford it.
My mom wasn’t one to “tell stories” though I’m sure she must have read a few story books to me, at least when I was little. I wish I could remember. What I do remember is when I would have an asthma attack at night, she would come in and tend to me, and sit in the bed with me, holding me up in a semi-sitting position, so I could breathe more easily and eventually go back to sleep. I remember how secure I felt in her arms, and so, strangely, some of my fondest memories of that age involve being sick. Something to think about.
I had no idea what reading would bring into my life. I just know that even at the age of five, sitting in Kindergarten, I knew there was some special power that was just beyond my reach, and that learning those letters and numbers they showed us had something to do with it. I learned the letters and numbers very early on and then waited patiently for the teacher to show us how to put them together to make magic. But that never came. It was just the same letters and numbers, the ABC song, over and over, as if we didn’t already know it. I didn’t realize at the time, but many of the children that age did need the repetition.
I still enjoyed it, and sat patiently while the teacher showed us one more time how the letters looked, and had us sing the song. Soon it would be story time, my favorite time of the morning.
Most of Kindergarten itself is a bit of a blur to me, aside from images of letters and numbers, and one unpleasant memory. To put it in perspective, understand that I was always a good girl, wanting to please, no, needing to please, needing to be good. I don’t think this was anything my parents imposed on me – I can remember maybe two times in my life that I was actually punished for something, and both of those came later. So it wasn’t fear that made me that way, I just wanted to please others, to make them proud, to be looked upon with favor, to be who they wanted me to be. And I truly believed that the big people (adults) knew Everything, and so any Rules they gave had to be Right, right?
It was story time – a time I usually adored. We would all sit on the floor in a small group, with the teacher in front reading from a story book and holding up the book to show pictures. This day the teacher was reading a longer book than usual, which normally would have been wonderful for me – except for the fact that about halfway through the story I needed to pee. Suddenly aware of it, whereas before I had been absorbed in the story, I realized it was a truly pressing need. So I did what little Judy had been taught, I followed the rules. I raised my hand and waited to be called on so I could ask to go to the bathroom.
That was a Very Big Rule. Never interrupt the teacher when she is reading a story, (or anytime for that matter) and if you need to ask something, raise your hand and wait to be called on. I raised my hand. I waited. The teacher either didn’t see me, or ignored me, I don’t know which. My need became urgent, I really needed to pee, so I started waving my hand – desperate to be seen. The teacher continued to “not see” me. I didn’t dare call out, that was Against the Rules! The pressure inside me reached a critical state, and I could no longer control it. I felt the release, no longer able to stop it.
As the warm puddle spread around me, a little boy sitting behind me called out to the teacher, yes, Interrupting her, to tell her what happened. I sat there feeling shamed and confused. Ashamed that I had peed on the floor – confused that the boy who called out wasn’t reprimanded. He did, after all, Break the Rules. But the teacher just stood up and gently took me to the bathroom to clean me up. To her credit, she didn’t scold me, just told me to try to remember to go during the bathroom breaks even if I didn’t think I needed to. She also told me that if it ever happened again, that I needed to go that badly, I did have permission to speak up if she didn’t at first see my raised hand.
An early memory, but a strong one. That was the first time I realized that there could be exceptions to the rules. It was a revelation. Of course, it didn’t change much outwardly – I still obeyed the rules almost religiously, but the idea that there were exceptions stuck with me, reassured me, in a way, made it even easier to follow those rules I was asked to follow. The Rules became more accessible in a strange way, and I was even more willing to follow them because I knew that if I really had to, I could break them.
But I rarely did.
At least, not during childhood. 😉