News flash: I just learned my old Catholic grade school is celebrating its 80th anniversary. A call went out to former students to send in a little blurb about where we are now and any memories about the school we wanted to share.
Hmmm. Memories? Share? With the school that gave me the memories I’d rather forget? Tell me, did anyone have a joyful grade school experience? If you did, you’re either lying or you were the kind of student who made life miserable for the rest of us.
I’m going to take a trip down memory lane, but it’s just for the nerds, the shy people, the insecure and the socially-awkward. So get lost, perfect people. You’re not welcome here. Neener, neener, neeeeeener! If you were like me and wonder how you made it through school and came out the other side, hop on the bus. We’re going for a ride!
You’ll see soon there is no rhyme or reason to what I remember about grade school. But knowing a little bit about Grade School Me at least puts things in perspective:
Fact 1: I had to wear a plaid uniform every day, which could be worn only with a white blouse, white or green socks, and sensible shoes. The only thing that made you unique was the length of your skirt. The popular girls always wore them short, short, short!
Fact 2: My skirt was one of the longest of any girl’s in the school. The rule was “Hemlines below the knee.” The only Moms who followed that rule were mine and the mother of a girl who went on to become a nun.
Fact 3: I wore glasses from kindergarten to third grade. To jack up the ridicule quotient, I also had to wear a patch over one eye to improve the strength of the other, though thankfully, not during school. But I was still known as the poor little Pirate Girl by people who saw me wear it.
Fact 4: I had kinky curly hair and tried to wear it as a shag. I have pictures of how this looks, but they’re in a safe-deposit box where they can’t hurt me anymore.
Fact 5: The first four letters in my last name were M-E-S-S, which lent itself to some interesting name-calling by all the mean girls, as in “Kathy, did you mess yourself today?”
With that vision of Grade School Me in your head, perhaps it won’t surprise you what Grown Up Me remembers. Ready?
Day 1: I Hate it Already
By far, the worst memory is of my first day of kindergarten. I felt like my Mom had sent me off to prison. I cried so hard, I almost threw up. None of the other kids was having a problem, and realizing this only made things worse. My mother was called to come collect me. I don’t recall how the second day went, although it’s possible a teacher’s assistant sat with me to make sure I didn’t go AWOL. I really wanted out.
The Bishop is Coming! The Bishop is Coming!
One day in the 7th grade, our principal got a call from the diocese that the bishop was coming for a visit. I don’t recall why he was coming, but I got the sense that it wasn’t expected. Because as soon as the word got out, I was handpicked along with another student to run outside with brooms, dust pans and garbage bags to furiously tidy up the front of the building for his visit. Leaves, garbage, branches, dog poo, you name it. What said “Housekeeper and Landscaper” about me, I’ll never know.
Roll with it, Baby.
During a 4th grade talent show, I massacred the gymnastics routine I’d been practicing for days. I’d forgotten almost all of it, so to the tune of It’s a Small World, I did the only part I could remember — somersaults. That, and oh yeah, more somersaults. Roll, roll, roll up the mat, Roll, roll, roll, down the mat. I ended the performance with a fist-pumping ta-DA! I got a round of applause, but only because the audience was happy I’d put an end to my own suffering. Worst. Performance. Ever.
I’ll Cast a Spell on You!
In the 3rd grade we had the nun from hell. Only one person liked her. God. And we weren’t even sure of that. Her name escapes me at the moment. Let’s just call her Sister Hates-Kids-A-Lot. One day while she led our class down to the gym for an assembly, Sister Hates-Kids-A-Lot fell down the stairs and broke her arm. Then she did something that we didn’t expect. She began to cry real, human tears. We thought we should help her, but we were immobilized by fear and confusion. Fear, because she was the nun with death ray eyes, and confusion, because we didn’t think she had a soul, much less the capacity to feel pain and emotion. After the accident, we still hated her and she still hated us. And we feared her even more, now that she was wearing a cast on her arm and could use it to crack open our skulls anytime she wanted. To this day, I feel guilty for not having helped her, but I’m also not ashamed to say we thought she had it coming.
What’s in a name? Too many letters, that’s what.
I was the last child in kindergarten to be able to print her full name without the aid of a cheatsheet placard. In my defense, my last name was twelve letters long. But being the last at anything is no fun, and I remember that trailing-behind feeling like it was yesterday.
The Agony and the Irony
In the 4th grade, I received a punishment that did not fit the crime. Painfully shy, I wouldn’t open my mouth unless someone talked to me first. Even then, I was afraid to say anything. One day, as class was preparing to take a quiz, I was turned around in my seat talking to another girl, but never realized the test was starting. The teacher loudly and ceremoniously called me a Chatty Cathy – a Chatty Cathy! Me! The one who never speaks! — and told me to turn around and write a big fat “F” on my paper. She said nothing to the girl behind me who was also talking. I was mortified that day and ruined for weeks after that. Just when I thought I’d finally put it behind me, Geico came out with this commercial. Whenever I hear it, I’m transported back to the 4th grade and I flop to the floor, start sobbing and my husband has to remind me where I am and what year it is.
Being a bad sport about it
In the 6th grade, I made my first attempt at organized sports. I joined the basketball team and at the first practice got hit in the nose with the ball. I bled profusely and then promptly quit. This would be the first in a long line of sports I tried and sucked at: gymnastics, cheerleading, and softball, among others. If you’re a parent and your kids want to quit a sport, let them. There is no value in making them embarrass themselves in front of their classmates. No value at all.
We Don’t Need No Stinking Child Labor Laws
I recall the weekend one summer that some of us kids were picked for a chain gang, whose job it was to paint classrooms and hallways. I’m quite sure someone volunteered me for this job. I couldn’t have wanted to waste a weekend smelling paint and getting lead poisoning. Catholic schools always drew on slave labor one way or another. If it wasn’t painting the school, it was going door to door selling candy like some hobo begging for a place to sleep. But even hobos didn’t have to meet a quota.
I saved this next incident for last because while it starts out badly, it ends on a high note. You need to know that sometimes there was a silver lining.
She Almost Made a Grown Man Cry
My house was only four blocks from school, so I walked there and back every day. Sometimes I’d walk along with another student, Rob S., who lived in my neighborhood. One day as we were dismissed, I paired up with Rob and then heard my fifth grade teacher, Mr. G., inexplicably shout at us “Kathy and Robbie sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g!” It embarrassed me so much I thought I’d die. I didn’t tell my Mom about the incident until the next morning, after stressing about it the whole night before. She made an effort to take my mind off it and I thought “Case closed.”
But what happened next, I’ll never forget. She showed up during recess, and in front of everyone, she marched right up to Mr. G and opened up a can of whoop ass on him. I had never seen my mother like that before or since. She stood there waving a finger at him “How could you say that? What is wrong with you? You ever do that again, and you’ll have me to deal with.” Mr. G. was never more polite to me than after he got a face full of Mom.
Perhaps I’ve triggered some grade school memories that you have. Perhaps you’ll hate me now for doing so. Would anyone care to share their grade school horrors? You’ll find a box of tissues and a shoulder to cry on in the comments section.
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