The anticipation for that first day was palpable. I had been warned many times that the bar would be raised, that the expectations of me were high, that the lackadaisical and casual babysitting of Preschool was over. Kindergarten meant business.
Clinging tightly to my mother’s hand I was understandably nervous. As we entered the door I hesitantly detached myself, none of the other mothers had frightened children holding their hands… My mom began to investigate the social jungle of the already conversing gaggle of moms, leaving me to my own devices. This was my first test.
Laughing and frenzied activity radiated outwards as I descended into the heart of the classroom. I attempted to assert myself and casually picked up a block. Immediately I was master of the world, skyscrapers grew from the colorfully carpeted earth up to the sky clear above our heads. Another boy commented on my building prowess; with him though, I insisted, an even more grandiose construction could be produced. Gradually the outline of a grand metropolis formed, cars and imaginary helicopters fluttered around us as we painted our masterpiece.
All at once I realised that the parents were gone, the teacher had shifted to our side of the room, and the other children were begrudgingly organising the mess. After a frantic dismantling of our work I was back in line with the other children. The hiccup in social conformity was even more disconcerting than my great city’s ruin. Nonetheless, life in kindergarten went on.
The teacher was introducing herself, and explaining the “cubby” system. We were each to have our own small piece of real estate in the classroom, a bright blue tub emblazoned with our name. It was ours, no one elses. This system seemed reasonable, as a Kindergartner I could deal with a certain level of accountability after all. A seemingly quick coloring session yielded me an acceptable name tag for my cubby. And right on target with our schedule, the next trial was something that both scared and excited me: lunch.
A labyrinth of corkboard and shady hallways whizzed by as the kids were herded to our destination. We were to sit huddled together at a long table near the left side of a large bright room. After sitting down, the whole ordeal was a blur. Forced social interaction, yelling, desperate grabbing, lunch was truly survival of the fittest. And on the first day no one held back, everyone let out their pent up nervousness; the teachers looked especially overwhelmed.
Shortly following the eating fit we were told the procedure for “nap time”, something I resented well from my childhood. My cot was worn and smelled like it had an interesting past, and although they could not be detected in the dim light I was sure that it was covered with stains. Staring at the ceiling only intensified my awareness of other kid’s tossing and turning. This was the longest installment of my day, the only indication of the time passing was the droning voice of our fairy tales audio book. And as suddenly as my sleep had begun I awoke to an earthquake of 20 pairs of feet, jumping to attention from their beds.
Every transition period was just a crazed maelstrom of bodies, no one knew what to do and no one wanted to be wrong. This time we all lined up at the door after the cots were stowed. Again the maze of hallways unfolded before me as our line progressed. Suddenly, we were outside, the sun was bright and a gleaming red castle of jungle gym stood. I had dabbled in tag before this, but someone in our midst taught something called “Cops and Robbers”, a game more enthralling than anything I’d encountered before. Especially with this many people. It was simply the best. I was not exceptional, but I ran and sweated and most importantly, I smiled.
Back into the classroom, and the free for all began anew. This time I decided that my true calling was not the blocks, but LEGOs. The familiar sensation of combining block after block, the burrowing of my hands into the bucket, here I felt at home. From this more comfortable vantage point I could not only enjoy what Kindergarten was offering me, but I could survey my surroundings.
Most kids played pretend or some offshoot with cars figurines or other toys. Running around the room and vocalizing their mental images aloud it was easy to see their level of enjoyment, but even other more solitary Kindergartners seemed to have adapted to this new environment. I turned back to my LEGO project and continued on. Gradually I lost interest in my own creation and began collaborating with others, new playmates were everywhere.
Slowly parents began to arrive and retrieved their children. The class dwindled down to a handful of kids, at this point we were all centered on a rug sporting roads, buildings, the standard fixtures of any city. Facing the door I knew immediately that my time had come, as my mom entered I felt a twang of regret for all that I hadn’t accomplished that day. I showed her my cubby and waited politely by as she said her goodbyes to Mrs. Sarah; in my last fleeting glance around the room I had an unexpected realisation, I was really going to like this Kindergarten place.