Tag Archives: childhood

Fourth Grade: The Missing Year

I have an outstanding memory.  In fact, my memory is so outstanding that it is often cause for embarrassment in social situations where I mistakenly reveal the precise details of past events my mind holds and therefore appear to possess subtle stalker-like tendencies.  (If you were wondering, my first boyfriend, Jordan Holling and I began dating on May 9th, 2002.  Drawing attention to the fact that I know this is not something one should point out.)

I vividly recall exact outfits I wore on specific days of school, verbatim quotations from inconsequential conversations past, and can replay movies in my head of many events from age four on.  Recently however, I have discovered that I have a big blank spot in my memory.  An entire school year of my life has lapsed into the recesses of my brain, and for the life of me, I cannot draw them out.  Fourth grade is the missing year in my childhood.

I’ve developed several theories as to the cause of this, and I’m sure you could too.  For those old-school psychology types, you may think that I am repressing some unspeakable, ghastly event.  Others may argue that my memory just isn’t that great.  Others may claim that if I simply think hard enough, it will come flooding back to me.  I must insist you are all incorrect.  Over the past months, I’ve reached only one logical conclusion.  Fourth grade was painstakingly boring.

Mrs. Carter was my fourth grade teacher.  It’s not to say that Mrs. Carter was a poor instructor; she merely loathed children.  Perhaps loathe is too strong a word, but she certainly didn’t like them.

Of the 180 days spent in this woman’s classroom, I recall the following events in this all-inclusive list:

  1. Spelling Tests
    Each week we had to learn twenty words.  Mondays were pretest days, where we were to spell each word without any advance notice or study to serve as a frame of reference of our prior knowledge.  We worked on the words throughout the week and had our post-test on Friday.  We kept data on our results in our Spelling Folders.  I earned a perfect score on every single post-test for the entire year.  I experienced great anxiety that I would receive a 19/20, and one day this almost happened.  The offending word: lemon.  Fortunately, at the last moment I abandoned the second ‘m’ I had placed in the middle of the word before submitting my assessment for grading.

  2. Proficiency Test Prep
    I abhorred any day that I spotted those yellow spiral-bound packets sitting on Mrs. Carter’s desk when I walked into the classroom.  It was at this point I knew any remaining hope of having an engaging, interesting day was now killed when I laid eyes on them.  Reviewing for the Science Proficiency Test was the bane of my existence.
Thank you, Mrs. Carter, for providing me with such wonderful memories of learning and discovering in the fourth grade.  This served as my first lesson in, “sometimes one is required to do incredibly vapid and wearisome tasks in order to get where one wants to go in life.”

I Was a Board Race Champion

First grade was the year of board races.  Math review?  Board race.  Spelling words?  Board race.  Grammar correction? Board race.  You name it, we board-raced it.

I was the (nearly) undefeated board race champion.  I won all challenges, except for my first (and perhaps a lone race here or there which I have since blocked from memory.)

I vividly recall my first board race.  It was for our spelling words, and I was about mid-way through the line up.  I carefully watched as my peers took their places at the board for the face off in both speed and accuracy.  It was a simple process.  The two students were given a word from the spelling list, and whomever wrote it correctly first (timed by when you placed your chalk back down on the board’s tray) won.  The loser sat down and the next kid came up to challenge the champion.  This process repeated until all had been defeated with one student remaining.

As my turn approached I began to consider my potential for victory.  I knew all of my spelling words by heart and had practiced all week long.  Things were decidedly looking up.

With mixed confidence and apprehension, I approached the blackboard when my turn arrived.  Steven was at the board and he had been doing rather well.  I stood poised attentively, chalk in hand, awaiting the word.

However, I should take a moment to mention that in addition being a school-focused six-year-old with superb study habits, I was also quite the perfectionist.  Throughout my life this would plague me with oddities such as: recopying all of my notes in sixth grade math because I had to scribble out notes quickly thus it became ‘too sloppy’, insisting that all objects on my desk had a proper place and never getting up without checking said placement, copying the alphabet repeatedly to perfect my handwriting.  Call it perfectionism or borderline obsessive-compulsive tendencies, it’s a fine line.

Mrs. Larkin called out the word: vacation.  I without a doubt knew this one.  I carefully placed the tip of my chalk to the board and wrote the outline of the ‘v’.  Two straight, white lines, meeting at a vertex centered precisely in the middle forming symmetrical angles against the black.  The ‘a’ was also an excellent specimen of penmanship.  The perfect circle was connected seamlessly to the stem to the right.  I was just beginning my ‘c’ when Steven slammed his chalk onto the tray.

I had been defeated.  My beautiful lettering had lost to the sloppy chicken scratch next to it on the board.  I was shocked.  I had lost.  Mrs. Larkin gently reminded me that it was about speed, not how neat the final result appeared.  This was an entirely foreign concept to me.

I let this knowledge sink in as I slept on it that night.  I abhorred the thought of recklessly scribbling away words without attention or care being poured into each letter.  I couldn’t make up my mind about this predicament.

The next day this was still on my mind as I rode the school bus, and I hadn’t come to any conclusion.  The day followed its usual routine.  First I had morning packets, then reading groups, followed by AM recess.  We ran back into our class lines and were still panting as we filed back into the room.  While taking our seats Mrs. Larkin announced that it was time for board races.

Ohmygosh I had forgot!  My mind had wandered from my conundrum as it focused on the morning’s activities.  I was caught entirely off guard, and I was first.  I walked to the board with my mind racing too quickly to reach any sort of a logical verdict.

The next thing I knew, Mrs. Larkin had said the word and my hand was vigorously scribbling messy connections of lines and loops and dots.  In a flash of a second I had decided to go for it, without even realizing it.  I slammed my writing utensil to the chalk tray and realized I had won.  I was caught between triumph and disgust as I saw my correctly spelled word on the board.  But I had won.

Although it pained me, winning outweighed perfection of penmanship.  From that day on, I was unstoppable.  I was a board race champion.

Image from Web Design


Events From My Childhood That Scarred Me With Irrational Fears

#1.) Fire Safety Week: five instructional days dedicated to teaching school children what to do should their house burst into flames or they begin to spontaneously combust. Many of America’s youth reflect on this week and recall activities such as:

  • Mapping out fire escape routes in your home
  • Deciding on a meeting place for your family once escaping the fiery place of residence
  • Perfecting the ‘Stop, Drop & Roll’

All classic memories of this week in school.  The week ended, we took our maps and plans and knowledge home to share with our families (along with the death sentence to our furry friends whom we were instructed to leave behind), and continued with our lives.

Except for me.

I, Miss OCD, did not get on and merrily continue with my life.  I lived in deep fear day and night.  Horrific scenes haunted my dreams as I lay, apparently not so safe in my twin sized bed.  Images of becoming trapped in my second floor bedroom flooded my mind.  I even once begged my parents for an escape rope ladder.  (They declined this request.  After a bit of research it turns out said ladder would have been a greater hazard to a child than a fire.)

Denied my one remaining hope for survival, I cowardly climbed into bed each night hugging my most beloved stuffed animal, Ernie tightly to my chest.  “But don’t worry,” I thought to myself, “you can’t take him with you either: no toys!”

I was most distraught by this thought.  I could eventually learn to cope with leaving my photos, blankets, pets, and all of my other possessions to set ablaze in the fire.  Fine.  You win fire safety marshals. But not Ernie.  Ernie was pushing it too far.

It was at this point I began to desperately search for a loophole.  The lovely men at the local fire department didn’t want children burning to death in their homes whilst searching for Mr. Potato Head amidst an array of a toy-covered floor.  That made sense.  But Ernie wasn’t cast off into a vast sea of toys, nor did such a pile exist in my mother’s household.  Ernie slept with me each night; he couldn’t be that hard to find.  Except, sometimes he did slide down and get wedged in between the mattress and the wall or other tricky hiding places.

I had to devise a method to quickly and easily locate my beloved friend should my house erupt in flames.  Running out of options, it dawned on me.  The only items that made it out of my room in such a catastrophe were myself and my pajamas.  If Ernie was in my pajamas, I wouldn’t be breaking any rules.  Just as your pajamas made it out safe and sound simply because you just so happened to have them on your person, Ernie would just so happen to make it out as well.

Thus one day my mother walked into my bedroom to the following site: me, crawling across the floor in my pajamas with Ernie stuffed down my bottoms, head sticking out above my waistband.  (I had to practice.  Duh.) She must have thought I was crazy, or clearly was already messed up in some weird, sexual manner.  I like to hope she recalled the rope ladder incident months before and connected the dots before phoning a psychologist.

*This post inspired by Genesis Meranda


First Failures

Mound Elementary had many great qualities and truly did bestow upon me a good, or at least decent enough, education.  During my grade school years my instructors designed an array of purposeful and effective lessons and kept us all more or less in line behaviorally speaking.

That said, there did exist the outlier, the occasional, “Are you serious? We’re actually doing this?  Wait.  School is for education, right?”  Okay, so perhaps as an elementary school student I didn’t have quite the sarcasm I now possess, but nonetheless was left confused and mildly annoyed at the waste of my precious time.

One such instance occurred several weeks into my Kindergarten year.  I liked school so far.  I found it interesting, educational, and purposeful.  Pleased with my schooling experience thus far, I walked into Room 2, took my seat and prepared for another enriching day of enlightenment.

My teacher, in her Sunday School dress and Grandmother sweater walked to each table and dropped off the morning’s work.  It looked like this:

Fresh off the xerox, the purple ink was slightly smeary.  Surely this mysterious paper must be part of some intricate science experiment!  Typically our morning worksheet was simple, straight-forward, and self-explanatory.  But this – oh this was something different, special!  I eagerly sat in my navy blue chair, wearing my sailboat dress with matching bow, awaiting instruction from my teacher, the bearer of all knowledge.

She spoke: “Good morning class!  Today, for your morning work you will need to take out your scissors.  This is a cutting assessment.  Use your scissors and neatly cut each line on the paper.”  She went on to explain not to stop cutting too soon nor cut too far and other obvious things.

“This certainly must be a joke,” I thought silently to myself, “It must, must, must be a joke.”

I waited for Mrs. Finch to let us in on it, tell us she was kidding, to start laughing at what a foolish assignment this was.  None of these things happened.  Instead, every kid in the room began rummaging around their school boxes for what I could only assume to be a pair of scissors.  Sitting there dumbfounded, and mildly offended, I realized I was now the only student doing nothing; everyone else was meticulously cutting away.

Not wanting to appear noncompliant, I obediently removed my blue fiskars from my school box.  I ferociously began to work in what was perhaps the most hasty cutting job Room 2 had ever witnessed.  I haphazardly guided my scissors across each line.  The last started and the first finished, I marched over to the book corner where I read a lovely story with beautiful illustrations in what was clearly a much more effective use of my time. I received what was nearly my lowest mark of the year, only to be rivaled by the time I received an “unsatisfactory” in skipping.


Food for the Hungry

Reflecting on Kindergarten and the many memories it entails, one specific story keeps coming to the forefront of my mind.  I think that this is my own memory, but maybe it’s just borrowed.  Perhaps it is simply one of the stories you have been told over and over and over again that you start to internalize it, and slowly start to mistake it for your own.

Dad always had a soft spot for people in his life; not just people so much as humanity.  There was a man we often saw around town. He had long, tangled hair and was clad in many tattered layers of heavily worn clothing.  He stood on the corner of state route 725 where cars exited interstate 675.

I remember the first time I saw him.  We were driving home from West Virginia, and there he was, standing there, cardboard sign in hand.  It read, “Will work for food.”  I was confused by this and did not understand.  Food came from your refrigerator and cabinets and pantry, and when you ran out you simply went down the road to the local grocery and picked up some more off the shelves of Cub Foods. Armed with this vast background knowledge I had acquired through my five years of life, this strange man holding this strange sign didn’t settle well into my brain.

But life continued as it always does and on occasion we would see him out, holding his weather-worn sign.  One day we saw him while I was out with my sister and dad.  I’m not sure what was so different about this specific day, but on our way to Burger King we once again passed this man.

When we arrived at the drive-thru, Dad ordered one meal more than what our family required.  This, he informed us, was for the hungry man who stood on the corner.  After getting our food we turned out onto the road and headed back in the direction from which we came.  I felt proud of my dad for such a kind deed, and even quickly forgave him when he reached for the wrong cup and took a sip out of the drink which belonged to the man we were doing this act of kindness for.

We pulled the truck to the side of the road and rolled down the window.  Dad handed him the meal.

“Hey partner,” Dad started.  Dad was always calling people ‘partner’, only it came out much more like, ‘pardner’.  I’m not sure why this was, but I always thought it a perfectly normal thing to say.

“Here you go,” he continued, handing him the bag, “Sorry, but I did accidentally take a sip out of your drink,” he explained as he handed over the cup.

I’m not even sure if this man spoke any words at all, but the next thing I recall he was throwing the cup of Coke back in Dad’s face.  The dark liquid flew through the air in the midst of the cubes of ice splattering down the side of the truck.

Everything beyond the moment is a bit fuzzy in my brain.  I imagine my father didn’t say a word, and somberly drove off, perhaps muttering to himself under his breath, or, perhaps not.


Dead Fish & Day Care

For the majority of my life, I was fortunate enough to have one parent or the other around frequently enough to avoid all forms of child care. However, Mom conquered the near impossible and earned a college degree while raising three children, therefore some sort of child care was inevitable. Thus second grade was the year of AM Day Care. Now, admittedly, I was at first excited at the prospect of this. Apparently, I thought that this would be cool. Seven year old children are strange; I suppose it had some type of social appeal. I went, I believe, for two days a week in the morning before school.

I suppose it went alright at first.  At least, I think I liked it. I remember eating dry cereal and playing downstairs in the facility. There was a fifth grade girl who befriended me, but I thought she was a bit strange and fat. She wore these clunky black platform shoes with a buckle across her foot that her chubby little ankles hung out over. I thought such a shoe was not only unnecessary, but rather repulsive and decided I did not care for her. I remember riding in the van to school from the Three Bears Day Care and listening to country music on the radio.

You start walking your way, I’ll start walking mine, we’ll meet in the meadow and we’ll both be fine.

Yes. Sing-a-longs occurred. To this day I have no clue what song this is.  I remember that I liked that one the best. I had never really heard country music before.

But then things began to turn less than ideal as things often do. Let’s just say the lovely women of Three Bears were not so wonderful or lovely.  In fact I feel quite certain they maintained a deep rooted loathing of children. In addition to this wonderful attribute, they also vastly underestimated a seven year old child’s observation skills.  Either they were extraordinarily foolish, or I was exceptionally brilliant. In hindsight, I’m going to go with the former.

Their favorite game they taught us was one called, “Dead Fish”. In case the title isn’t sufficient, allow me enlighten you. It worked like this: lay on the floor, and pretend you’re a dead fish.  Still.  Silent. They especially liked to make us play this one if we were being too loud, or getting on their nerves with our basic needs or silly things of that nature. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? (Parents, I hope you’re whipping out some paper so you can take notes for effective child-rearing techniques). I myself didn’t find this so entertaining. To the contrary, I found it rather degrading even though I didn’t know the word for it yet.

Already disenchanted with these women, whom I imagine were middle-aged, overweight, and in general were lacking in the personal hygiene department, I really was not impressed by the manner in which they physically handled children.  Judging by their actions, the best manner in which to handle an upset young person is to pick them up by their arms and toss them into the timeout corner. I guess I missed that day in my behavoir management courses while in college.

Needless to say, with my astute powers of observation, combined with my desire to engage in conversation I disclosed all of this information to my mother. (Good ol’ mom.) A meeting was promptly set up between the faculty and my parents. While I do not recall the verdict of said meeting I do remember that I was swiftly removed from the center. Thus ended my childhood experience in day care.