I don’t have an extensive memory cache from my early childhood. I often confuse what I think I remember versus what I feel might have been a questionable recollection told to me by someone else. I have a handful of vivid memories from that stage in my life and the rest are hazy. My first day of kindergarten is one of those memories that I seem to have etched into my mind.
At that age, I had very little experience with being cared for outside a home setting (i.e. daycare). My parents worked a lot, but we were lucky to have my grandparents (for the most part) or other relatives care for us during the day. In fact, my only experience with school at age 2 was the horrifying account of what my older sister’s first day of kindergarten was like.
You know when an unfortunate incident happens to someone who’s far removed from you (for instance, maybe a friend of a friend of a friend), and the unfortunate thing is perhaps they fell on their face ice-skating while showing off or maybe a bird shat on their head in front of their first date? (How mortifying!) The first thought that selfishly comes to mind for me is: “Wooahh, thank God that wasn’t me! Phew!“
Well, that was precisely the thought process of 2-year-old-me when I unknowingly accompanied my mom to deliver my older sister for her first day of kindergarten. My sister was beside herself with mortal anguish. I remember her shrieks, the tugging and, oh, the crying. The seasoned teacher helped pry my sister’s grasp from my mom’s leg as she held on for dear life while I stood behind my mom hoping I wouldn’t be meeting the same fate (because whatever fate it was, it must’ve been terrifying by the looks of this dramatic scene). Finally, just as my mom’s leg was freed from the Jaws of Life that was my sister’s miniature arms, she picked me up and ran like hell. Okay, maybe it wasn’t like hell and I don’t actually remember running but I do remember thinking, “Sheeessh, thank God that wasn’t me!”
Fast forward two years later and I was inevitably in the same shoes as my sister. As we approached the school, memories of my sister’s beautiful hellish first day of school came flooding back to me. The rhythmic beat of my heart increased by the millisecond, and it echoed so loud in my ears I thought everyone could hear my fear. Once in front of the open classroom door, I surveyed my surroundings, swallowed hard and stoically waved bye to my mom who was already half way out the damn door. I didn’t have the right words to process my emotions at the time, but I do remember understanding that I had two distinct options: I could scream, cry and be paralyzed in fear or I could be quiet, do as I’m told and get through the day hoping that my mother would be back for me by day’s end. As a timid little girl, I was more afraid of embarrassment than total abandonment from a parental caregiver, so I automatically chose the latter option. I nervously assimilated to my surroundings and clung to my teacher’s side the whole day.
When it was my little sister’s turn to hit that kindergarten milestone, the whole family dropped her off. Although, naturally, my older sister and I had to attend the same school in the upper grades, so we tagged along to see her off before attending our own classrooms. My little sister was obviously upset and anxious about all the new experiences to come. She was always referred to as the baby of the family so instinctively we were all protective of her and felt it was our duty as those who had come out the other side to reassure her that she’d be alright too. One by one, we each gave her a hug and went on our way to our own respective classes. By mid-morning, I asked to be excused to use the washroom down the hall but instead, I snuck off to my little sister’s class and (on tip-toes) I peered through the glass window on the door just to make sure she was okay. I saw her sitting across from another kid playing a puzzle together with her teacher close by. In that moment, I remember feeling relieved, smiling to myself, and then skipping off to class. I didn’t know what empathy was then, but I know that was the first time I remember feeling what I now know is the emotion of empathy.
I was inspired by a fellow blogger, Jennie Fitzkee, to recount these long-buried memories. Jennie is a dedicated and gifted preschool teacher who is fiercely passionate about reading aloud to her students. She believes the act of reading aloud to children increases their confidence, piques their curiosity, and helps develop their early learning skills. She recently wrote a post about author Robert Fulghum who wrote a book called “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
In her post, Jennie quotes an important passage in Robert Fulghum’s book:
These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
This is such a basic concept but I bet not many of us (at least not me) have thought about it in its simplest form. Jennie writes that Robert Fulghum’s work has stayed with her throughout her teaching career. She adds, “I knew that the little things mattered the most, because they were really the big things in life.”
Indeed, all I needed to know in life I learned in kindergarten, especially empathy.
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