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Kindergarten is Not About Coloring in the Lines
“Okay class, listen up. It’s Andy’s day to be in the play house. Andy, who do you want to take with you?” said Mrs. Toole, my kindergarten teacher.
I remember my year with Mrs. Toole as a time when “school” meant play houses, coloring, snack time. A time before I was David. A time before I didn’t have recess. A time so long ago, but a time I took lessons from that I will never forget. The math and English never did a lot of good because I only used it to apply to higher learning. But compassion, caring, and acceptance are things I will never forget.
My kindergarten and first grade teacher, Mrs. Toole was one of the sweetest women I have ever met. I still talk to her today. She had an old play house in her room for kids who still fit in a four foot high playhouse. Each day she would go down a list and select who could play in it during our break. This person picked a friend to go with them. When my turn cam around everyone knew my one of two choices, Kayla, my best friend up through fourth grade, we did everything together, or Aaron, a younger, meaning he was a kindergartner when I was a first grader. Aaron was loud, funny, a great friend, and he had muscular dystrophy. Aaron was always a bit slower than everyone else because of his disease, but the way I saw it he was just another kid.
At that age I had no memories that surpassed having him in the playhouse, but it went a lot further than just the playhouse; birthday parties, monkey bars, swings, all the good things somebody thinks of when they remember of childhood play. Everyday was fun. I saw Aaron in the pool over the summer, we splashed blissfully and dunked carelessly. At the pool that summer I realized Aaron’s disease hurt him in ways I couldn’t understand. The first time I really noticed was when Aaron, getting out of the pool for the 10 minute life guard break, attempted to climb the ladder, but didn’t have the strength. As a life guard tried to hurry him by pulling at his arms, I heard Aaron yell. Not his playful yell or his frustrated one. This was one of pain.
I was getting stronger and older, by the day I became faster and bigger, Aaron however got weaker, by the day he had less balance and stamina. The first time I was truly angry involved Aaron. Not at him. I could never be angry with him. It was when a new kid, trying to look tough, pushed Aaron. Due to his MD he fell. When he got up the kid did it again. Then, as a group of kids joined in this push, fall, get up, push game I became enraged. I was across the playground when this was going on. Running as fast as I could, I tackled one of the kids. Then the leader of the group jumped on me. This was the first time I punched somebody outside of my karate class. I remember that punch so well. I caught the kid right under the eye on the cheek. Next thing I knew whistles were shrilling in my ear; I was grabbed and lifted away from the bully now on the ground. “Andrew, what is wrong with you? Get to the principals office right now.” chastised an angry teacher.
As I sit waiting for my punishment, I realized I didn’t care what happened, I did the right thing and I knew it. As this mythical creature we only knew as the principal, and only saw in desperate times of when our class became completely unruly, sat down. He flipped through a manila folder that had come out of the depths of his enormous filing cabinet. “Well Andrew I don’t think I’ve ever talked to you on these terms before.”
“No.” was my only response since I had not yet acquired the “Sir” of Culver Military Academy.
“So you like fighting?”
I hadn’t done it enough to know if I did or not so once again I gave him the answer. “No.”
“Well son why did you do it then.” I could tell he was waiting for me to state something along the lines of He called me a puke face, or stupid, or a girl.
“They were picking on Aaron.”
“Yes.” After this he scanned the folder some more. All the teachers and staff knew Aaron had MD and he had this look on his face that I still can’t quite understand.
“Why did you do it?” he asked me in a contemplative voice.
“Aaron can’t stand up so good, and when they push him he falls.” For some reason this response stays with me, it is immature, not that great of a sentence but it is what I said and it hasn’t changed as I have aged. Again he scans the folder. What could he be looking for? He turns his chair around. Picks up the phone. “Oh sh*t, he’s calling my parents.” Well I probably didn’t say “oh sh*t”, but the first grade equivalent. Next thing I know a teacher walks in with Aaron behind her.
“Are you okay buddy?” I ask.
“Yeah I’m fine, Thanks”
The principal ask him, “Was Andy picking on you?”
“No.” Aaron has the same perplexed look as I do. “He helped me.”
“Well Andy, go to class.” At the time I didn’t really know what happened but now I do. I knew I had done the right thing and so did the teachers.
As I matured it was hard watching Aaron. He remained immature and childish, more childish then a second or third grader. Aaron was still my friend but we didn’t play together as much any more. The hardest thing was not talking to him as much but it was seeing the changes in his body. As we grew stronger, Aaron grew weaker and weaker until he reached the point where he had to walk with crutches. This was hard for me. I had been on crutches when I had surgery on my foot, but Aaron had different ones. They attached to his arms, he always used them. He never got better. By the time I was in third and forth grade Aaron was in an electric wheel chair. He never got better.
Aaron passed away my sophomore year at school, I chose not to go home to the funeral. I regret that. Aaron was a good friend and he taught me so much about sticking up for those who can’t, about how it doesn’t matter if you are fast and strong; if you have a good heart it will take you far. I will never forget Aaron or any of the lessons he taught me.