Yesterday was the first day of school for one of our house-hold… there was so much excitement. For the little one here it seems as if it was a great success. But of course, it led to all of us who have survived the school experience to reminisce over our own first day of school.
I remember that when my mum dropped me off that morning her hair was long as it seemed to have always been. When she came to collect me it was short, above her shoulders, a little bob. I was balling my eyes out insisting that she was not my mother, that I didn’t know who she was. Poor mum! She must have wondered what to do when I claimed I had never seen her before.
I had difficulties understanding the school thing. Mum clearly needed my help at home with my two younger sisters. I enjoyed our walks to the library to read and go shopping. Everyone seemed to know my mum so we chatted with many town folk. We had a very contented routine. Leaving mum to go off to be with other children was not my idea of a happy state of affairs. Mum and Dad could see how perplexed I was about this arrangement. One of them put the idea into my head that the headmaster had put a special request to have me at the school so that I could teach the other children how to behave. When I asked questions about this, the reply was things like teaching the other children to use a knife and fork (this had been a major challenge for me up to this point but I had recently conquered it and was very proud indeed).
So at my first lunch-time I sat down and started with my task. I announced “children, listen to me, I am going to teach you about knifes and fooooorkes” (I was terrified of mispronouncing the work “fork” so took pains to make sure I lengthened the vowels)….the other kids were staring at me. The girl opposite me, whose name I remember very well (and years later we played netball together) took the flask cup of orange juice she held and threw it at me. I realized I had my work cut out!
I didn’t like school. But I was told that if I didn’t go to school my parents would be put into prison. This I found very distressing indeed. I felt as if it was a bit of a nightmare situation. I contented myself with the thought that I had already worked out how to get to the swimming baths if my mum and dad were ever killed in a car accident (I know this thought sounds very morbid for a little one only it had happened to some good friends, so I was very practical and realistic that anything might happen to us). So I decided to keep going to school until I could no longer cope and then if mum and dad had to go to prison, at least I knew how to get down to the swimming baths on my own. (Never crossed my mind that me and my sisters wouldn’t be allowed to stay at home on our own and who would pay for my swimming lessons?)
The only way I settled in my mind this separation from home was feeling I had a role to fill. I was always tidying up after the other children, helping them put their coats on, putting straws in milk cartons at “milk time”. I also had issues about the uniform – well it was grey…as some school uniforms are. I said to Mrs Richardson “Yes, I know all the other children have to wear a uniform, but what I don’t understand is, why do I have to wear a uniform?” I didn’t see myself as one of them but that I was being forced against my will to be at this school. Well….whatever I said to the teachers, I was allowed to attend school throughout the infants and wear my choice of clothes rather than the uniform. What did I wear? I had so many pretty little girl dresses that had been given to my mum by my dad’s customers and friends. Quite an impressive wardrobe. I remember some of them vividly. Although I also loved wearing shorts and T-shirts at home, I was too proud to wear shorts for school, I did want to be smart. It sometimes strikes me as odd that although I was such a tomboy in so many ways – I always loved my dresses.
What would the other kids think of me? Bright blonde hair. Pretty dresses in white, pale pink, peach, lemon, baby blue (I had some that were darker coloured but I preferred to use them as play clothes as when I was climbing trees or playing football I would get quite muddy). I am helping every child I cross paths with, breaking up fights, sharing my crisps with everyone, doing all these jobs to help the teachers and tidying up. I remember sobbing to my parents that the children were bullying me. When my parents looked into it this is what was happening. The children were following me home and asking me if I was an angel. I was very upset. In our classroom, there was a golden book about the Bible the teacher used to read stories from at story time. The angels in the pictures were all men with beards and big muscles and huge wings. I thought the kids were being unkind calling me an angel. Mum and Dad tried to explain that some of the children were just fascinated by me. They were not trying to be unkind at all. They thought angels were like little fairies. I had been reading books like “The Famous Five”, “The Secret Seven” and “Mallory Towers” – they didn’t have little fairy angels in them….so my understanding of angels was big burly men with bulging muscles – so I found it an insult they were asking me if I was an angel.
Sometimes I was overwhelmed with challenges. I am one of seven – the fifth in order. Number four – my brother is eight years older and number three, one of my sisters is nine years older than I am. So, my Dad had done a lot of playing with us and had treated us a bit like little boys. It was all climbing and sports. But he hadn’t taught us girly games. We went to a lot of parks and went to the beach a lot and to the swimming baths and picnics with other families, most of whom had sons so I remember huge games of hide & seek in the woods and building dens with them. At last here was a reason to be at school. The girls taught me two things I never had experienced elsewhere. But the other girls at school knew how to do handstands – it took me a long time to master them. They also knew how to make daisy chains. You wouldn’t believe how much patience and effort I put in to trying to make them. I went missing several times, and although twice I was found fast asleep in the wendy house underneath the clothes for dressing up, I was more often than not found on the cricket pitch behind the school – which was not allowed. I know why I went there. The grass around the cricket pitch was a little longer than our school field and the daisies had longer stalks. The longer the stalks the more chance I had of being able to make a decent daisy chain.
Then there was the wetting myself issue. It happened twice that I can remember. It happens to a lot of children doesn’t it. But it was the way it happened to me that seems memorable. Both times it was a fear thing. One time a very upset teacher (I have no idea why she was upset that morning) was marching everyone through the school and she turned around and said to me to stand still and not to leave that spot until she returned. Now, she just happened to have parked me right next to the large container containing sand and toys – so I occasionally let my fingers play with the sand. But out of obedient fear….I did not move from that spot. I have no idea why she left me there for so long (I think it was the other children that were in trouble), but by the time she came back to find me in the same spot, I was standing in a yellow puddle. She asked why I had not gone to the toilet and all I could do was repeat her words to me. Off to the headmaster’s secretary for some replacement underwear from the “lost and found” box.
The second time I remember it happening, I was in Mrs Russell’s class. She could blow the whistle so loudly and sometimes when she was cross her voice would screech and it made me think of that whistle. Well one day, lots of children kept asking to go to use the toilet. Her patience wore thin and she said that the next child to ask to go to the toilet would be in trouble. A few minutes later…I was sitting working at my table and another little girl pointed at me and the yellow puddle under my chair. When the teacher asked why I had not asked if I could go to the toilet all I could do was to repeat her words. Off to the headmaster’s secretary for some replacement underwear from the “lost and found” box.
Aaaaah schooooooool!!!! Life at school became a bit more interesting when I was asked to leave the rest of my class one morning each week and join the children in their last year of primary school who had weekly swimming lessons. My sisters and I were part of our town swimming club so the headmaster wanted to see whether I could keep up with the children three years older than me. Sure enough they entered me, in my first year of juniors (Year 3) into a couple of the races in the county swimming gala. I was swimming for the school competitively with the Year 6 kids. Our school won so many races in the county swimming gala and I remember winning mine. The headmaster was delighted with me. We had a number of awards on display in the school lobby after that swimming gala. Ours was a small school, so it seemed quite a victory that we had won so much.
During the six-week school holiday I had been allowed to borrow a book from the school library. It was Heidi. The headmaster had told me that I must be sure not to lose it, I must bring it back at the end of the holidays or else I would not be allowed to borrow a book again. Can you imagine how devastated I was when my Dad broke the news one morning….our school (which by now I had grown to love) had been burnt down by three boys? Two were fourteen years of age and the other had just finished year 6 – he must have been eleven. I still remember his name, but not the other two boys. So for the next three years, while they were re-building our school (which I never had a chance to be at but my younger sisters did) we were picked up by double-decker buses and taken to a high school on the other side of town where they had some spare classrooms. They were well known for their brilliant sports facilities, especially the huge cross-country track they had. It was a center of lots of sporting tournaments. Later, when my parents had managed to get me into a school for clever clogs in a neighbouring town – we often came back here to play sports competitions. It was always nice to be back at a school that was so familiar to us.
Well….I am getting rather boring now….I think there is a definite limit to how much you can cope with another person reminiscing hey!!! But I would love to know what you can remember of schooling life.