Kindergarten graduation was the most nerve wracking day of my life, that is, until my first day in a public elementary school. My mom walked me in that first day; the procedure seemed superficially similar to that of Kindergarten, but I was unaware of the beast that nested in the cold cavernous halls.
I thought I had mentally prepared myself for the volume of kids I would be exposed to, but really the activity, the noise, it was all overwhelming. The writhing body of the school twisted around me and I tumbled through that first day without a solid grasp of what was happening. It was taxing and tumultuous, unlike last year the first day left me as anxious as I had started.
The structure was totally different, the whole concept of a “classroom” was a strange one. Neatly lined desks, each one carefully labeled with a name; our fate was sealed, our frame of the world was assigned. Seemingly insignificant variations in vantage point would send tremors into our future. Gradually though the days became defined and the struggles of elementary school life began.
Amenities of elementary school like Art and Music class were fascinating and new, an outlet and focus for our bubbling creativity. Cluttered but inviting studios united us first graders into a mass of painting, singing, rumbling energy. The satisfaction of laying a meandering line of paint onto paper, the aftermath of messy hands and broken crayons, smacking away on a tambourine, these were cathartic releases from our fidgety containment in the classroom. Always the commotion ended all to soon and we grudgingly marched back to our classroom, single file, dreading the hours of learning that awaited.
Much of the material that was covered in the classroom was a short and natural progression from what I already knew from Kindergarten. As a result, the lessons were often frustratingly uninteresting. Only Lunch, or even better, Recess offered a reprieve from the outward distraction or the introspection of “learning”.
By now I knew to expect a lot from Recess, but the institution that truly blew my mind was Kickball. A red rubber ball was the best, but really any of them would do. Psyching up in the lineup, the explosion of the kick, limbs flying to the base, the sweat and release was precious. We were athletes, every players skills had been refined to the limit; winning was the goal and the anguish at a loss was bitter. This was the greatest game on Earth. Then a whistle would be blown and the game was over, we were no longer players, but merely first graders that needed to get to class.
Learning in first grade was grating and confined, but occasionally we were offered refreshing breaks from the monotony. Long term projects often required effort and even Homework but it paid off when our monument was unveiled. In math class the unit on counting provided the crowning project of my youth, it was a competition, and the drive for success pushed us on in the race. A count to 1000, a number with 4 digits, an incomprehensible amount; but day after day of scribbling in our notebooks brought us ever closer.
The year stretched and our numbers grew, 263…345…684… then someone finished. Mrs. Bohon poured over the work and deemed it acceptable. My chance at the prize had passed and it was easy for the motivation to seep away. More classmates finished everyday, and I found that observing them was far more interesting than trying to comprehend 1000.
The end of the year arrived quietly and quickly; I had progressed from a reclusive dreamer to a casual troublemaker in the back left of the classroom. The alphabet had picked my friends; my neighbors had appreciated my cynical observations. Fluttering of that first day butterfly had produced a socially viable classroom participant. I never did finish that climb to 1000, it’s my shameful first grade secret. I did however build a frame of the world from my desk, and my life in elementary school had begun.