5 years old. I was getting ready to start kindergarten. Everyone telling me how exciting school would be, how many friends I would make, how many fun things I would do. I was having trouble with this, I didn’t feel excited at all.
That first day, I remember being dressed in my blue dress with the white sweater, white socks and black mary jane shoes. I don’t really remember anyone bringing me into Mrs. Brunton’s class. I remember that I was just there. I don’t want to think that I was just put on the bus to face it all alone.
Because that’s exactly what it felt like to me. Like I was left all alone. Without Mama. And how were the kids doing at home without me? This place seemed too big. This place didn’t feel nice. And why do I even have to come here? This is what I used to tell myself every single day before and after crying tears into my little white sweater before hanging it up on the little hook.
Circle time. Circle time was a nightmare for me. First, I was afraid. Second, I was almost in tears and didn’t want anyone to see me cry. If I spoke up, people would see my fear and hear the quivering of my voice like I wanted to cry, who wants to be known as a big baby?
My teacher, Mrs. Brunton, was not kid-friendly, and to this very sensitive and scared little girl, not one kind word, not one nod of understanding. She lost patience with me that first day when I did not answer “good morning” to her during circle time. On that first day, she punished me for not speaking during circle time. I had to stay inside during recess time, trying to understand what I had done wrong.
This went on for many, many weeks during that first year of school. I remember being able to breathe and feeling so relieved “having” to stay in the classroom with the lights turned off during recess. I was in there with the “bad kids” – always two or three kids. But I did not have to feel the wrath of Mrs. Brunton for those blessed few minutes and my little mind would think and think about how to get the nerve up to be able to say “good morning”, how much easier my life might be, how much happier I might be — at least that’s what Mama and Daddy would tell me almost every night at home about saying “good morning” the next day.
Once the kids would come in from recess, I’d feel a little stronger. And then this woman would have something negative to say. Always something negative. And my resolve to say “good morning” would crumble.
It finally got to the point where I was over being labeled one of the “bad kids”, I wasn’t a bad person, I was a good girl. There were a couple of kids who had not yet spoken up, and who had finally said “good morning” to the teacher and, when I saw that nothing bad happened to them after that, I started to think that, maybe it was time for me to say “good morning”.
It amazes me how, at that very young age, that I was able to watch things around me and find the safe time to use my voice and improve my situation. One morning, I shocked Mrs. Brunton and delighted the entire class when I finally answered “good morning”.
It would have been so much easier had the lady been a little more understanding and treated little Carmen with a little more care in those first weeks of school instead of losing her patience and being judgemental. Little Carmens of the world need to be empowered and reminded of the rules for the classroom instead of being told that she is a bad girl. All I remembered was feeling this intense pressure all of the time to say “good morning” – from home, at school, to the point of having headaches. Now I think about…Who was right? Who was wrong? How could this situation been handled in a more positive manner? Why was it so hard for me to say “good morning”? why was this person so mean?
Shortly after that first “good morning”, the school year was, thankfully, over. My parents received progress reports from Mrs. Brunton stating that I was withdrawn and would likely have learning issues throughout my school years. Fast forward to first grade, and Little Carmen was happy, outgoing, and learning a lot. I had a great teacher who was much more kid-friendly and I was able to thrive. I also remember being happy to show my lil sister starting kindergarten that I wasn’t afraid or unhappy anymore.
Many years later, I heard that Mrs. Brunton was no longer teaching. I felt a little vindicated, that 5-year-old Little Carmen was not crazy, that her instincts WERE right, that this was NOT a good person, especially not one to be in charge of the education, physical and emotional security of babies just starting out. I was still a little angry, as I felt as if I got myself through this traumatic experience. Even though it was the only way to relieve the stress from all sides, I spent many years trying to move past that fateful “good morning”.
I always harbor the hope that little ones have an easier time of their first days of school…that their little spirits are not broken as mine was, that they have positive people in their corners to help them see that there are more great teachers than bad ones.
I also know that this was one of the first times that my InnerChingona helped me get through it, even though, at the time, I had no clue who she was.