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Defying: The Ungainly Search of Freedom for all Kindergarteners
I was unaware that the woman who had given me a colorful name tag to, “place on any desk I wanted,” would soon become my mortal enemy.
By the age of five, I had already garnered a deep hatred for any authority figure who was not my crazy Grandpa. I was, quite possibly, the most difficult student in my kindergarten class. I frustrated my teacher to no end. Mrs. Singleton, a plump, gray-haired, troll of a woman, was not only a “Nap Nazi”, but the “Commander of Coloring”. Every time I looked at her, I thought of that story about the three billy goats and the troll under the bridge. She always wore tan pants and a floral blouse. Her hair was pulled loosely back in a barrette, and pieces of her bangs were always in her eyes; making her look disheveled. She smelled of cigarettes, cats, coffee, and vanilla. She did not seem like a mean lady when she greeted me at the door of the jungle-themed room.
My mom had divorced my dad two years earlier, and since then, we had been living with her parents. She paid rent and bought groceries in exchange for us living there and my Grandpa babysitting me. With my mom off at college and work all day, it was a relief to my Grandpa, but not to me, that I was going off to school during the day. With me gone, he would have time to nap, and drink his afternoon coffee and watch The Price Is Right without any interruptions. It was a shame to me that he found Bob Barker and the Beauties more entertaining and interesting than me, a hyper five year-old. Neither my mom nor my grandpa had a clue that I would find a way to interrupt their days without even being at home.
The first week of kindergarten was a nightmare for my poor mother, a part-time college student who also worked at a garden-supply center and cleaned houses. During that week, I managed to not take a single nap; hate whatever was for lunch; finish all of my alphabet books for the week by Monday night; start a Spice Girls Club at recess; and color all of my assignments like I was on LSD. I was a whirlwind of eccentric youthfulness in overalls and bright red cowboy boots.
The first of my principal visits/calls home had something to do with my excessive energy that seemed to coincidentally pop up at the same time as “nap time”. My mother was called from her job at a gardening supply store to my school, 25 minutes away, to discuss my hatred for napping.
During “nap time” I would lay on my roll-out yoga mat with my My Pretty Pony pillow and hum songs. After being told to be quiet about ten times I would then be forced to move my mat and pillow next to Mrs. “Troll’s” desk. During that time I would ask her questions about anything and everything until she couldn’t stand it. “Do you live at school?”, “Where do you live?”, “Do you like purple or pink?”, “Are you a ‘cat lady’?, Skyler said you are.”
After I had finished my interrogation, she would ask me if I had to go to the bathroom. Finally, a way for me to get up so I could stand in the light of the hallway, away from my gruff teacher and the ugly, brown shag carpeting I was forced to look at as everyone else slept. This went on for three days.
I had not taken an afternoon nap in a while; I thought they were a waste of time and would have much rather stayed awake playing with Legos and Barbies.
“So what? If she doesn’t want to nap let her go color in the library!” said my mother to Troll as they sat on either side of Troll’s desk. My mother had come from work and arrived shortly before the last bell had rung. She was still in her dirt-covered work uniform, a t-shirt with an “Earl-May” logo on it and brown shorts, and a messy ponytail. I was sitting in an empty chair on the other side of the room reading.
“ Afternoon naps are beneficial to young minds, it helps refresh them after a long morning,” crooned my teacher in the hopes of calming the blonde Amazon sitting across from her.
“Whatever, she hates naps, I can’t get her to take one at home. Forget about it, it’s not happening. I’ll send her with an extra book to read tomorrow,” huffed my mom as she leaned back into the small chair she had been given to sit in.
“Yes. Well…Okay. Uhm. Thank you so much for coming to meet with me. Perhaps you could work on the napping at home?” said Troll with plead in her voice.
“Bye. Let’s go kid. I have to get back to work!”
In the car my mother’s mood was quite different. After buckling me into our very old, baby blue Cadillac she proceeded to ask me what I thought was wrong with Troll. I had no idea, but I did know that a war had begun.
After nap, was lunch. I hated the cafeteria. For the first time in my life, food had become depressing to me. The cafeteria was practically monochromatic. All the décor was brown and tan, except for the rusty-orange colored benches and tables where we sat. There was an old traffic light above the entrance that was hooked up to something that measured how loud the room got. When the light got to yellow, we were told to, “Quiet down,” by Ms. Robin, the principal.
But a select group of children, myself included, decided that they liked being solely responsible for the light turning red.
The second day of school, as we entered the cafeteria in our single file line, Brittiany turned to me and said, “Let’s make the light turn red!” I knew just how to do it.
It was decided that as soon as the room was quieted down and the light turned back to green, I would stand on my bench and scream at the top of my lungs, thus turning the light red. The result: eating lunch in the principal’s office for a week.
The second half of my first week of school, my lunches were eaten with Ms. Robin. My mom didn’t pack my lunch; I was on the lunch program. That was a problem. The menu alternated between about three meals that I remember: Monday was always chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes, corn, and cherry applesauce. Tuesdays we had Frito pie, mixed veggies, banana slices, and blue Jell-O with a Swedish Fish on top. Wednesdays we dined on hamburgers, french-fries, green beans, and pudding. After that, the list just alternated to create a menu for the year.
Needless to say, I did not like any those things, they were grown-up food. I regularly informed the cafeteria workers of this. They would laugh as I scooted my tray along the metal bars in front of their work-station and tell me that it was too bad, I would have eat it. I would refuse until Ms. Robin called my grandfather to bring me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He would deliver it with a grumble and hug. I had P.B and J., carrot sticks, and apple juice five days a week, nine months out of the year, for five years. P.B.and J. is no longer a part of my daily diet.
The Monday of the first week of school I felt fabulous and much more advanced than the pathetic losers sitting around me at the table. I learned to read when I was three. My mother worked really hard to get me to read and write before I went to school; she wanted me to be ahead of everyone else, and was hoping that if I could read and write, I would get to move ahead faster. I brought two Little Critter books with me in my backpack that day to read with snack, and I did, to the dismay of Troll.
At the end of that day, Monday, we were given three work books for the week. They were entitled Fun with A, B, and C. We were to only work on them with help from the teacher or a parent. My natural urge to overachieve overtook my entire being at that very moment as she ended her instructions. I’ll show her, I’m finishing early! And I did. On the way home I whipped the “A” book out and had it finished in time to get off at my stop. Each line was filled with sentences in awkward penmanship, but I had finished. I was an accomplished writer. And it was all right. So, during my afternoon snack, I finished “B”, then “C” after supper.
The next day, I was so proud of myself that I ran to class early to show off to my teacher.
“Well, maybe since you are so able and ahead of everyone I should give you all of the books,” Troll said hatefully. Perhaps she felt undermined by my genius, because later that day I was shuffled down to the principal’s office to have another “discussion”. The only person they could reach at home was Grandpa.
He walked into the office in a flannel shirt, baggy jeans with suspenders, a trucker hat and an unlit cigar in his mouth, picked me up, carried me to Ms. Robin’s desk and implied that maybe my teacher needed to teach better.
A small gasp was heard from every woman in the office. My principal was speechless.
“I thought so. Let’s go, I want some lunch,” said Grandpa in my general direction as her glared at Ms. Robin.
“Sonic! Sonic! Sonic with pop!” I yelled as I bounced out of school and to the car behind my knight in shining armor with a cane.
Half an hour later I found myself in the back seat of Grandpa’s purple and silver Pontiac next to a box of alphabet books D to Z, along with a book on punctuation marks, eating a kid’s meal from Sonic, and listening to classical music on National Public Radio. We had won.
Recess has got to be every child’s favorite time of day. The single terrific moment as you run out onto the black pavement and the hot sun hits your face as you throw your jacket on the ground and race your classmates to the swing that goes the highest. It’s priceless. But I soon found out that I was not the fastest, or the biggest, and fighting for the swing was hard. I wanted something I could control. I also wanted to be a Spice Girl, it didn’t matter which one either. My best friend, Brittiany, winner of Little Mid-West Miss two years in a row, also wanted to be a spice girl. She made a great Spice Girl. Her mother dressed her in matchy-matchy outfits. Her socks and hair scrunchies always matched, her pants and shirts were always the same hue, and her shoes went with the “theme” of the outfit; playful was sneakers, cute was saddle shoes or Mary Janes, and Fridays she usually wore sandals or galoshes. What more could one expect from a pageant mom? When we played with our dolls Brittiany was always Baby Spice, and she even had her hair put into piggy-tails to match and get into character. The only doll I had was Ginger Spice.
We needed three more girls to team up with. They came almost instantaneously after we got on top of the monkey bars and yelled, “If you wanna be a spice girl, then git over here!” There was even a little boy named James, he was the best boy: the only one that didn’t have cooties. We chose the meanest girl in class, Stacy with the matching socks and hair accessories, to be Posh Spice. Soon after, there was a quarrel involving Jess, the nap-time-pants-wetter who pushed me down at snack, and Valerie, the girl who had the longest hair in class for the role of Sporty Spice. We chose Valerie; I was not getting pushed down at recess every day by a bed-wetter. The final spot of Scary Spice went to the tallest girl in kindergarten, Jenna. She was always playing with the boys and was always dirty, but she would keep them from throwing stuff at us during rehearsal by the picnic tables. The rest of the girls were left to disband and hate on our own time, we had songs to practice and dances to come up with.
Since we knew all the songs by our idols, practice was useless. Our group was fabulous, or so we thought. An indecisive and ill-operated group, we each chose separate songs to sing.
“I don’t care if you wanna sing that, I’m singing my favorite and you can’t stop me!” screamed Brittiany; used to having her way.
“No, we’re singing what I want. I’m the most important!” screamed Jenna.
It wasn’t until Brittiany’s scrunchie was yanked out of her hair and Jenna had pinned her on the ground that Valerie suggested that we all could do what we wanted. Valerie would have made it far as a delegate in the United Playgrounds.
Our dance moves consisted of standing in one spot, bobbing up, and down and making arm movements. The Spice Girls 2 was a huge success at Holden Elementary. We got the cutest boys to bring us our milk and graham crackers at snack, the nice slide at recess, and the table with the purple chairs in class. We didn’t break up until the third grade, when Jenna moved away and the boys started to throw stones at us during our routine on the curvy slide. “You’re stinky and stupid. You’re not the Spice Girls!” the boys would yell.
My lions were purple, my sky was red, my trees and sand were black, and I was colored pink with my masterpiece. My dreams of becoming a famous “colorer” were crushed as I waltzed to the teacher’s desk and handed it to her. I didn’t receive the fuzzy kitty sticker I had been expecting, but instead a confused face and a trip down the green-carpeted hall to the counselors’ office with my life’s work in hand.
My counselor, a woman who wore long floral skirts and sandals, was very nice. She always had candy and apple juice in a mini-fridge by her desk for her disgruntled patients. I was indeed disgruntled when I was told that nothing was wrong, but I was going to need to color more pictures so that she could tell for sure. I cried and refused until I was sent to the nurse and my mom came to pick me up. My mother arrived covered in dirt from work and red-faced. When asked why I was crying I wailed, “I think I colored wrong!”
“Great…,” she replied, “Naps, lunch, coloring…Maybe we should just send her to the zoo to live with the monkeys. When will you people just leave her alone? Is my kid’s the only one with problems? I doubt it. Pick on someone else’s kid. Someone who stays at home all day! I WORK! We need to live! I live with my parents, and go to school, and go to work when I’m not here trying to prevent you people from socially slaughtering my kid!”
“That’s not what it is at all. Perhaps your behavior is reflecting badly on your child. It seems like you have a lot you need to talk about,” said the counselor. She must not have gotten the picture. More talking meant less time that my mother was working and making money for us.
“Shut it hippy,” mom growled as she yanked me out of the room.
A brisk and jostling walk to my kindergarten room would fix my dilemma. After my mother opened the door to my room, plopped me, sobbing, into my seat next to Brittiany, and asked my teacher to please have a chat with her in the hall, where they could discuss why her, “daughter was unnecessarily sent to the school psychologist.” I was sent home early for the third day in a row. On the back of my paper, in perfect cursive, is written, “Perhaps Alyssa needs to focus more on positive aspects of life, and to be taught realistic artistry.”
The picture is now framed and hanging on the wall of my mother’s powder blue sewing room, in-between my baby picture and first report card. And to this day, my mother insists that, “that woman was completely nuts. Who tells a kid they colored wrong?”