My oldest starts kindergarten this week. Since most of my clear memories of childhood start at around age five, I’ve been thinking about what she’ll remember about this year. This big day.
I’m sure it won’t be the things I’m fretting over that she’ll remember. The world through her eyes is different, necessarily, than it is through mine. I’m in a place of details and deadlines, checking the clock, zipping the backpack – functional, fretful; at five, she experiences life in bigger sweeps of color and blasts of sound, brighter and more harsh but still a little blurry, like sitting in the front row of a 3D movie without the plastic glasses on.
So it’s impossible to know what she’ll remember about kindergarten because we experience things differently, she and I. And saying that out loud feels blasphemous in a way, because just the other day she knew only my voice and my smell and I was the sole arbiter of every experience from what she ate to how she slept to what color socks she wore.
(That was an awesome power, if a false and fleeting one.)
I started kindergarten twice. We moved to California in January of that year, so I started a new school a few weeks into the calendar year 1986 and about halfway through the 85-86 school year. I have very few memories of the Montessori school I attended in Oregon, but I remember quite a bit about my public school kindergarten experience after we moved.
Here are 10 things I remember about kindergarten:
- Instead of cubbies we had deep, square drawers (something like file drawers) that lined the back wall. Laminated name tags labeled each drawer, alphabetically ordered along the room from left to right. Because I joined the class mid-year, my drawer was all the way to the right after the last name in the alphabet. I remember I memorized my classmates’ names alphabetically by staring at those drawers.
- My teacher was a doctor. Not a medical doctor, but a Ph.D. And she was a woman. I remember all of this confounding my five-year-old brain, whose frame of reference for doctors was something medical and male. (Also? A 60-year-old female Ph.D. for a kindergarten teacher in the 80s? That’s kind of badass.)
- I remember my mom staying after pickup one afternoon to talk with my teacher about some extra work I could do at home. I was not challenged in class, apparently. I don’t know if my mom asked for the extra work or if it was the teacher’s idea, but I do remember feeling a little smug that I was in need of a special arrangement of this kind.
- After lunch we came inside for a rest. It wasn’t naptime on the ground, but rather a head-to-desk mandatory quiet time. One person got to pass out Care Bear pillows, which sounds like a great idea until you find out there are about six fewer pillows than kids in the class. So the pillow-passer-outer got to (had to?) exclude a handful of peers who were left to rest with sweaty forehead on sweaty forearms and wonder why they got passed up.
- I remember the left-handed scissors. Rounded tips instead of pointy, just a couple of pairs in a box with dozens of the normal ones. They had LEFTY printed on one of the (rounded!) blades. I am an indisputable lefty but I learned to cut right-handed that year. When the teachers passed out scissors they’d offer me the “special” ones (having obviously noticed my southpawness in writing and other areas) and I’d refuse, taking the pointy, normal, not-weird cutters instead.
- Popsicle day was Friday and for a quarter you got a rectangle of frozen orange juice, sold by a PTA volunteer on the playground after lunch. I remember that if (when) I forgot my quarter I was heartbroken.
- I remember having a crush on a boy in my class who was jovial and charismatic and mischievous and too smart for the teachers who both adored him and wanted to strangle him. (I realize now I’ve just described my husband.)
- I remember reading groups. Long tables, each for a designated reading ability, with a teacher or parent volunteer at the head of each. We got a word printed on a manila card and were told to go to our seat, sound it out, and then get up and bring it back to the teacher for a new word. I remember walking around the table in circles without ever actually sitting down because reading just made sense to my brain and I didn’t need the extra, seated time to sound it out (hence the need for the take-home work, I guess – at least in the reading department).
- I remember a Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox – the metal kind – and the smell of smooshed PB & J. I remember eyeing other kids’ nacho cheese Doritos and Hostess treats with envy, shamelessly accepting any artificially-colored, crinkly-packaged castoffs that came my way.
- I remember turning six only a couple of weeks after starting my new school. We must have invited all the girls in my class to the party, which was forced indoors because of rain (despite growing up in southern California, it almost always rained on my birthday). The activity – and the take-home party favor – was a pair of strap-on roller skates for each new friend. I remember my mom’s horror when one of the girls went home and broke her arm skating in her kitchen the next day.