Part II of II about my first day of kindergarten.
The teachers finished their counts. Those with larger classes were still checking the last names off of their attendance shets as 5 and 6-year-olds stood restlessly on the blacktop.
When it was over, my teacher, Mrs. Robbins walked past us and toward the door of our trailer-classroom. She stopped just outside the entrance turned around and crouched. She started greeting us one at a time, saying hello and something nice.
As soon as I saw this, I got nervous. Questions, raced through my mind – what if say something wrong? What if I can’t talk at all? Do I get kicked out of school? Will everyone be looking at me? As the line moved forward, pupil-by-pupil, the thoughts started coming and going faster, leaving me with only an impression of self doubt and anxiety.
I felt warm in the face. I watched my shoes carry me forward until I stood before Mrs. Robbins. Still crouching, we matched eye levels. It was loud but empty inside my head. Just a minute ago, I had too many words crammed in my head, now I had too few. I muttered as best and as quietly as I could, as I didn’t want the other kids hearing me, “Good morning Mrs. Robbins.” I shoved the small bouquet of marigolds forward, stopping a few inches from her face.
She said brightly, taking the flowers and holding them to her chest. I stammered, struggled unsuccessfully trying to recall you’re welcome, and managed to break the silence with,
I felt embarrassed right away. I knew I was supposed to say something else. I must have turned bright red, a habit of my youth. I’m sure I wanted to hide. Who doesn’t want to hide when they are embarrassed (even non human primates hide their faces in embarrassing situations)?
I don’t remember anything from that point until about 40 minutes into the class. By then, I had to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Robbins had switched over from a song about heads and toes and shoulders and knees. It was all very confusing. I just copied the other kids, pretended to be saying words, and hoped my lag and lip-sync wouldn’t be noticed.
After that, Mrs. Robbins brought out a small instant coffee tin with brown yarn cut into little four inch segments. The class played a game with “worms,” but my mind was fixated on my bladder. I followed what the other kids were doing, wondering the whole time when she took a bathroom break.
Finally the worm activity concluded, and Mrs. Robbins collected the yarn. The moment she put her box of worms away, I raised my hand to get her attention. The bladder situation was urgent.
She asked me if I needed something, and I stood speechless. I couldn’t remember how to ask to use the bathroom in English! I just blanked out. I stood, stammered, and watched in horror as my bladder gave out and my pants darkened with urine. The pattern of corduroy caused the urine to run vertically upward and downward.
I was petrified. I started crying. By then I was so stressed, I couldn’t remember any English at all. So I just cried and cried until they called my mom to come pick me up.
“Bring some pants,” they must’ve said.
While waiting for my mom, I was allowed to go be by myself in the bathroom. It wasn’t long before my mom knocked and opened the bathroom door. She had carefully prepared me for months to transition smoothly: months of English practice, rules of school, and talking to me about how I needed to be brave. Here I was, it took only two hours for me to pee in my pants, become the laughing stock of my class, and cry myself into the bathroom.
I felt badly for letting my mom down. On the drive back home, I interrupted my mom humming softly along to a Linda Ronstadt tape. We were stopped at a red light, and I spoke up,
“I’m sorry,” I said, starting to choke up.
“Why? I thought you were very good today and very brave,” she said, smiling at me.
“Really?” I asked.
“Really,” she said, still smiling.
I smiled back.
P.S. Marigolds are still my favorite flower.