Starting School

 

Me, on the far left with my dad, brother and sister, taken around the time I was five years old.

An excerpt from a collection of childhood recollections I am working on.  This one is fitting for September and beginning school…   

 

  It’s time for me to start school. I am five years old, turning six in December. The Springfield school has no kindergarten, so I will be going straight into Grade One.

     I will be going to school on the bus, but on the first day, my mother takes me. I have a lunch in a plaid tin lunch pail. I can’t imagine eating it; my stomach is clenched in about twenty knots.

     The classroom is empty. My mother brings me in before the other kids come. Mrs. Leacock is there, standing amongst the rows of little desks. The classroom smells like furniture polish and paper—it’s a good smell. I love the idea of school, but the reality is, my mother is about to leave me there with Mrs. Leacock. At the age of five, I still cannot bear for my mother to leave me. I want to be able to be left by her—I know she will come back for me, and yet, I also know she won’t. Even at the age of five, I know how impossible that is, and yet, it’s the way I feel. My mother keeps moving subtly towards the door and Mrs. Leacock tries to distract me. I am little, but I am not stupid. I don’t take my eyes off my mother for one minute. A man in a suit comes in. He has a bald head and he does not look kind the way that Mrs. Leacock does. He comes over to me and holds one of my arms and Mrs. Leacock holds the other one. My mother hurries out the door with a promise to see me later while I stand there and scream bloody murder. It had been their plan all along. I am devastated.

Later, I learn that the bald man is the principal of the school. I am terrified of him. His office is on the second floor landing of the huge staircase. That’s where he keeps his strap. The big boys in the school have to go there sometimes and he whips the strap across their hands when they are bad. I will never be bad. The school is three stories high, red brick. The floors are creaky, made of wood. There are windows over all the classroom doors that can be opened and closed with a long, hooked pole. There is a gym with a piano at the side and a big stage. The washrooms and the lunch room are down in the basement. This is where the janitor named Albert has his office.  When we have lunch in the basement, I never eat the sandwiches in my tin lunch pail. I hate sandwiches. I would rather starve than eat soggy bread. There is a big television on a stand in the lunch room and we get to watch cartoons while we eat. Sometimes, my mother wraps a dime in a Kleenex and I am allowed to go across the street to the store for a chocolate bar or some chips which I bring back to school to eat. I have a best friend named Nancy who I play with at recess. We are on the bus together. The bus picks me up right in front of my house. The bus driver is a man with a deep voice who always wears dark sunglasses. His name is Ron. Whenever a kid gets on the bus, he says “Good Morning” to them in a very polite way, the way that grownups talk to one another. I don’t feel like a little kid when Ron says good morning to me. Also on the bus is a boy named Richard who I think is the cutest boy I have ever seen and I will probably marry him one day.

     After the first day when I screamed bloody murder, I settle into loving school. I love my fat red pencils and my notebooks with the smooth white covers. I love the ledge in my desk where I keep my pencils and eraser. I love the pencil sharpener where I can line up to sharpen my pencil. I love the reader that I use in my reading group. It has lots of colourful pictures of Sandy and Susan and their black dog named Cookie. I love reciting the colour words on the side board. Red-orange-yellow-green-blue-black-brown-white-purple, in that order. We practice printing letters every day. Mrs. Leacock peels stickers off a sheet and puts them on our work when it is neat. Many days, I do not get a sticker, even though I try so hard to print the letters neatly. The children who get stickers stand on one side of the room with their books open so the kids who stand on the other side without stickers can see the parade of beautiful stickers and perfect letters. I am usually on the side of the room without stickers.

     We also do math questions in our math workbooks. Mrs. Leacock makes beautiful sweeping checkmarks in red beside the right answers. She puts X’s beside the wrong ones. When I get an X, it’s like a strike to the heart. We watch health movies sometimes with the film strip projector. There is a lady who has a skeleton model who teaches kids “All About Me.” I like the cheerful music at the beginning of the films. I love to do art too, on the enormous white sheets of paper that Mrs. Leacock puts on our desks. We get to use paints some times, with fat brushes. The colours spread across the page, and I can paint anything I want to. It makes me lose all track of time.

     The playground is a fun place and I always like to go out there. The school has two entrances—one for the boys and one for the girls. The boys stay on their side of the yard and the girls stay on theirs. Once in a while, I sneak around to the side where the boys are playing marbles. I like to watch. Other times, I stay and watch the girls play jacks on the cement steps, or watch the older girls playing double-dutch. I long to learn how to skip. My other goal is to ride a two-wheeler. Out in the field, there are teeter-totters made from long wooden planks bolted to a metal frame. There are no handles on the teeter-totters and they go very high. When you go up, you have to grip the edge of the board behind you, and when you go down, you hang on to the front. The person on the bottom will give you a good bump sometimes, and send your bum rocketing off the plank. It’s the most terrifying and delightful game ever.

     A few weeks after school starts, I am sitting in my reading group with Mrs. Leacock and the other kids. We are taking turns reading words from the reader. There is just a word or two on each page, words that repeat over and over. I put my fingers on the words. See Sandy. See Susan. Run, Cookie. There is suddenly a new word on the next page that I haven’t seen before. But I know right away what it says. The word is Surprise. I am reading the work surprise that I have never seen before! I flip through the next few pages. There are new words on them, and I can read them, too. I can read every word in the entire reader! It’s the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. I want to read more and more and more.

     We have to stay on the same page with the other people in our group and follow along with our fingers. We are not allowed to take the readers home. But I sneak the reader onto the bus after school, and I sneak-read the entire thing in one night. The next few months are painful as I go through the reader with the rest of the kids in my group, slowly, word by word. I want the next reader so badly; I am almost jumping out of my skin. The next reader is a lot harder—plenty more words on the pages, and I gobble them all up, as quickly as the first. I might be on the no-sticker side when it comes to printing, but when it’s reading time, I am in the “high” group. And once I am reading, my own stories start to find their way out of the tip of my fat red pencil.

     “Corrina has quite the imagination” is what Mrs. Leacock writes on my Grade One report card. It makes up for the C in printing.

 

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nancy
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 13:35:39

    How well you capture those ‘little person’ feelings experienced during our first encounter with school! I, too, was very afraid of the principal in grade one and thought my teacher was kind! I loved the way you pointed out that young students can ‘read’ us and know exactly where they are in the heirarchy of the classroom in all subject areas. Also, I’m glad you haven’t lost your imagination nor your love of reading and writing! Nice hat!

    Reply

  2. Lynn Nicolle
    Sep 20, 2011 @ 14:36:35

    I really enjoy reading your writings, Corinna. I feel like I am right in the story with you. You have a way of capturing the reader and making us smile inside as we read. It’s amazing how much you remember of that early age. I remember snipits of kindergarten and some of grade one, but I remember more of what happened in grade two.
    Keep writing…it’s a pleasure to read.

    Reply

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