My tomboy kindergartener has a couple boyfriends. Well, not boyfriends - boy friends. She's taller than both of them, stronger, too, I bet. They get into shoving matches about who gets to stand behind her in line each morning. I was confused as to why that was the coveted position, but my husband understood perfectly: only if they walk behind her in line do they get to see her all the way to the classroom.
"Ah," I said. "To admire her beauty?" - her tomboyish charm with high pigtails, boy's shorts and high tops.
Yesterday morning I walked her late to the tot lot, and her friend Santiago, the short, black-haired one with an open, cheerful face, was sitting at the end of a slide looking down at his feet. She called out, "Santiago!"
He jumped up and ran toward the fence jumping and crying, "Gabriella! Gabriella! Gabriella's here!" Then he spun around and called to his rival, "Rio! Gabriella is here!"
My little girl has a thing for guys with exotic names.
When she got into the playground, she and Rio, the short, sandy-haired, temperamental one, embraced while Santiago wrapped his arms around both of them for a group hug. I guess the two rivals could unite, if only momentarily, in their joy over seeing Gabriella after a whole seventeen hours apart.
As I finished telling this to my husband at dinner, Gabriella told another story about the class terror, a little boy who gets into trouble for walking around the classroom during learning time, touching the faces of all his classmates at regular intervals, and drawing Picassos on the tables. He had to go to the refocus chair and draw a picture of himself making better decisions. Then Ella told how the art teacher makes her whole class put their heads on the desk until they can learn to cease and desist with their constant babbling.
"Who's you favorite specials teacher?" I queried.
She named her kindergarten teacher who technically, Berto pointed out, is a specials teacher - the homeroom teacher.
"Ah," I said, smirking, and taking a deep breath in preparation to launch a long-winded tale of my childhood, something I try to do regularly for my children's edification. "I bet," I began, "that I could name every teacher I ever had in elementary school."
An expectant or fearful pause - either way I was encouraged.
"Well, there was Mrs. Weatherford....no, Weathersby? Weatherbin? That's not right....anyhow, she was a really sweet lady. It was in her class that I thought I was locked in the little bathroom between classes, and I kicked the door and screamed. It wasn't really locked, but I got out of there alive; that's all that matters. But, wait...Ms. Crow. I forgot her! She came first, and she would beat you just for missing words on you spelling test. Really. Then there was Mr. Cole, my second grade teacher. He's the one who used to throw erasers at you for talking, and they'd leave a big old chalk mark down your cheek." And I slid my finger across my face. "That's something you don't see nowadays. I dodged one once, and he let me get away with it."
"Then, in fourth grade...well, I don't remember her name, but every time she left the class, I got up and did a dance like this" - here a pause to show them, rewarded with broad smiles - "and then when I heard her coming, I'd run back to my chair like this" - frantic arms, scared expression - "That was fun! In fifth grade I had Miss Hooper, and I loved her, but her class was hard. I made my first B in her class. She had a wooden paddle hanging by her door with the signatures of all the students who ever got a spanking from it." I snorted. "Refocus chair? You guys have it easy. We didn't get no refocus chair! We had to sign our names to a wooden paddle! All the teachers had them. This was the South, people!"
I took a moment to reflect how strange a time and region I grew up in. Strangely, like many a devoted mother with a wayward, but charismatic, son, Miss Hooper's favorite student was a stocky, ginger-haired boy named Michael who got more than a couple paddlings in her class. Remembering that reminded me of something else.
"In fifth grade all the boys in the class called me Wild Woman," I went on. "Probably because I had hairy legs."
Here my story stopped. Berto had snorted gravy up his noise, and I politely waited for him to stop laugh-coughing into a napkin.
Not daunted, I continued:
"Finally, in sixth grade I got up at the Halloween party - I mean a real Halloween party with witches and pumpkins and scarecrows; we had real Christmas parties, too. Can you imagine? - and sang 'Ding-dong! The witch is dead! The wicked witch, the witch-oh-witch. Ding-dong! The wicked...witch...is...dead!' All while wearing a witch's hat and dancing around, kicking my legs up in a circle. People were pretty annoyed with me for that one. But I also got up and told jokes to the class regularly and had my own little Bible study group in the corner. Boy, you couldn't do that nowadays! That's also the year we got to play on computers for the first time. The Oregon trail. Remember that, honey? Boy, you kids would laugh! And my teacher yelled at me once, when we weren't supposed to be talking, just for saying 'excuse me' to someone."
I was out of breath and out of listeners. Berto's nose still hurt, and Daniel and Ana had both taken up the refrain of "Ding-dong! The witch is dead. The wicked witch...is dead!" I was beginning to feel I shouldn't have taught them that. Perhaps its best in general if they don't know so much about their strange mother. Well, never mind. Next time it's Matthew's turn. He can tell how New Mexico teachers kept their classrooms in order with refocus cages.