The Most Important Lessons
I recently read an article where the author argued
that ‘the most important lessons in life are learned in
the kindergarten.’ Surprisingly, as an AS/OCD person I
agree with that statement. However, as you will see I
agree for reasons entirely unintended by the author.
Although fifty years have passed I can vividly
remember my first year of school. In the town where I
grew up children who had reached age five began by
attending a half-day program called ‘kindergarten’ for
one year before beginning first grade.
On that first day my mother took me over to the
nearby school and left me in the charge of my new
kindergarten teacher, Miss Raile. I was immediately
overwhelmed. I was used to playing quietly by myself or
at most with one other child, usually my older sister. I
found myself thrown in with twenty-five other children.
To make matters worse I soon found that the teacher,
rather than being my protector, expected me to interact
with those strange creatures!
I tried hard to listen to the teacher and learn the
new rules. In mid-afternoon to my horror the teacher
called a ‘rest break’ and had the children line up, boys
in one line, girls in another. We were led out to the
bathrooms. Once inside the boys’ bathroom my peers
became very noisy and wild as they lined up at the
urinals. I nervously stood to one side. I knew that I
could not do something that private in front of other
boys so I quietly washed my hands. Fortunately, I did
not need to go.
During recess I also stood to one side. I had always
found playground equipment to be scary rather than fun.
Amidst a hundred screaming children the thought of using
swings, slides, monkey bars was unthinkable.
I tried to convey to my mother what I thought of
school, but she would not listen. I was five so I had to
go, end of discussion. That first week the only part of
school I found tolerable was ‘nap time.’ During that
time we pulled out our small nap carpets and lay down to
rest. The teacher turned off the horribly bright
fluorescent lights. Miss Raile urged the children to
rest and to remain as quiet as possible. That I could
The second week my kindergarten teacher humiliated me
by sending me to ‘speech therapy.’ I was deemed to have
‘lazy lip movements’ and to not speak clearly enough to
be understood. The speech teacher was kindly enough but
I hated being ridiculed by the other kids for being
singled out in this way.
A major classroom activity in kindergarten was art,
especially drawing with crayons. My peers loved this
while I definitely did not. I had always been clumsy
with my hands. More important I felt that drawing was
‘stupid’ since I could create much more interesting
images in my head. However, my interests were of no
concern to the teacher so I stumbled my way through
Finally, there was music, a special interest of Miss
Raile. I had no problem listening to music. However,
Miss Raile firmly believed that all the kids should
learn to move with the rhythm of music. Although we were
too young to really dance she expected us to bang
tambourines and skip together in unison while she played
the records. I tried my best and banged away at my
tambourine. However, skipping was another matter. All
the other kids were natural ‘skippers.’ However, I
resisted. I did not openly defy my teacher and I did
make some feeble attempts. However, I had determined
that I was not a ‘skipper.’ Miss Raile was incensed by
my clumsiness and failure to learn.
I will digress at this point and say that I did
indeed eventually learn to ‘skip’ entirely on my own. I
was about nine years old. However, I quickly learned
that at that age ‘skipping’ by boys was considered
‘sissy.’ Oh, well, that is the story of my life!
Getting back to kindergarten, I somehow managed to
survive that year and get promoted to first grade (in my
town children like me who had middle class/educated
parents were never held back). However, that year
certainly taught me some lessons and left a mark that