COLUMN SIX: King of the castle

The author on her first day of school. SUPPLIED PHOTO

The first day of school proves an eye-opener

Special to the VOICE

I first became skeptical of the grown-up life shortly before my fifth birthday.

It was 1991 and my first day of school—Senior Kindergarten.

After four (almost five) tediously long years, I had finally been freed from the shackles of domestic life, and was ready to journey out into the world. Finally, I too, was able to ride the bus with my older brothers, all the way to E.W. Farr.

I’d looked forward to this moment for months, ever since I went with my mom to visit the kindergarten classroom and spent the whole time rearranging the face on a Mr. Potato Head.

“You can play with him all the time when you come here for school,” my mom promised. “You’ll have so much fun!”

I suppose things has been pretty good at home. But what a thrill to leave behind the meandering walks outside and endless hours with my mom, and finally enter the real world.

I eagerly awaited the bus that September morning with my brothers, and humoured my mother with an adorable smile as she took the “getting on the bus for the first day of school” picture. I thought of how difficult things would be for her that day. I imagined her spending most of her time sitting despairingly on my bed and sobbing.

After all, what else would she have had to occupy her time? With three of her brood in school, that left her with only a 1-year-old to care for and a farm to help run. No doubt she wished summers with all four kids in the house could have lasted forever.

I arrived at school after an uneventful bus ride. We were allowed a short play time, but then had to line up alphabetically outside the kindergarten doors, so we could walk (single file and quietly) to the classroom.

Stuck back in the “J’s,” I was a bit worried about my chances of getting to Mr. Potato Head first, but I reminded myself that I would have the whole half day there to play.

We were shown our (assigned) cubbies for our indoor shoes, our (assigned) hooks for our coats, and our desks (also assigned). I couldn’t help but notice that my first taste of freedom was pretty regimented.

Next on the agenda was a tour of the school, given by our teacher, Miss White.

Once again we lined up in single file, and began our trek. Everything was ordinary until Miss White led us in and began talking about some of the different equipment, but my attention was quickly drawn elsewhere.

Off to the side I saw a portable wooden staircase, three or four steps high. Compared to the forced tour, that staircase looked irresistibly fun. I broke rank and excitedly ran over to the steps and made the ascent. Finally: real freedom.

Wanting to be sure everyone saw what I’d found, I yelled out the first thing that came to my mind: “I’m the king of the castle! You’re all the dirty rascals!”

I sang of my triumph with fervour. High on my mountaintop, I didn’t notice the look of disapproval on my new teacher’s face until I heard her admonishment.

“Emily! Get down, now.”

It was suddenly very quiet in the gymnasium. Up to that point there had been the expected amounts of fidgeting and quick whispers, but everyone gave their full focus when they realized someone was Getting Into Trouble.

I felt my face grow hot. I did not like disappointing people. If I did something wrong at home, my mother often could just look at me knowingly and my guilt would cause me to burst into tears and apologize. A public reprimand was my worst nightmare.

When I think about it today, I know the tone the teacher used was probably “annoyed” and “authoritative.” I understand that on an intellectual level. If you ask me how the tone felt, however, I’d have to say “furious,” and “terrifying.”

I meekly left my throne and found my place back in line, hoping I’d become invisible.

As the tour continued and my embarrassment lessened, I had time to think.

My glorious reign had lasted all of nine seconds. This was what I left home for? Up to that point school had been nothing more than endless lining up and being marched around the grounds. What kind of operation are they running here, anyway? I had been there for almost an hour, yet still hadn’t been taught anything worthwhile.

And who was this Miss White? If I’d wanted to be told what to do all day I could have just stayed home with my mom.

At the thought of my mother I felt a pang of remorse, as I realized all too late what a fool I’d been, and what I’d given up. Meandering walks outside, endless hours with my mom—that life was gone for me until summer vacation, an agonizing 290 days away.

And there was something else bothering me. Throughout the ordeal, there was one gnawing question that still had not been answered (and in fact would remain unanswered for several days): where was Mr. Potato Head?

It appeared that I had fallen victim to a cruel bait-and-switch. I had been promised playtime with kids my own age, colouring, and reading stories. But I had been given rules, marching and more rules. What made it worse was the fact that it seemed as though everyone—even my own parents—had been in on the ruse.

I thought back on conversations I’d had with adults leading up to that first day of school. At the time I had thought they were just very happy for me when they asked, “Are you excited for school?” in their overeager tones. Now I knew the truth.

They’d been jealous of my freedom and selfishly pleased I wouldn’t have it much longer. I was now one step closer to their rat race.

Though not the type of lesson I’d hoped to learn that day, school had finally taught me something: adults were not to be trusted.

A little bit wiser in the workings of the world and a little more skeptical of the adults who ran it, I marched along with the other minions.

I had entered the real world at last.

About the Author

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