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The other morning, Miles and I were heading for a street he inexplicably likes to walk on and ended up going past the elementary school just as the kids were arriving. They were shouting, happy, eager, and full of energy, at least to my eye. How nice. When I was a child, I absolutely hated school. From the very first day of kindergarten to the very last day of high school I longed to be anywhere else, preferably at home. I was a very shy child, adored my mother, and kept myself quite busy in our cozy home with my own projects. I had six siblings for company, including two younger sisters to play with. Who needed all those strange children and frightening adults?

To make things worse, for kindergarten I went to a public school where none of my siblings were. No familiar face could be seen even from afar in the entire building. No allies, no big sister or brother to rely on. Terrifying! They had all moved on to the Catholic school, where I would go the next year. Great. Two brand new places in a row without my mother. Aiyiyi!

I somehow believed that my kindergarten teacher was a man disguised as a woman and that made her seem both cunning and frightening. I was too afraid of her to ask to go to the bathroom, so one day I peed my pants while we were all sitting in a circle on the floor. And then I was scolded for not asking. Some mornings I tried hiding behind the couch when it was time to walk to school with a neighbor girl (stranger), but that didn’t work.

From kindergarten it somehow got worse. First grade, Catholic school, crabby, horrifying nuns, a rule of silence while doing practically anything, including lining up to get coats and lunch boxes. I whispered to a tall boy to take down the lunch box I could not reach and Sister John Something-Or-Other pounced on me. “NO TALKING!” she boomed. I was made to stay after school and write “I must obey” ten times, the worst of that being that I did not know how to spell “obey.” I later had the thought that only the meanest nuns were assigned teaching positions in elementary schools. It sure seemed that way.

But perhaps I’m being unfair. The absolute worst teacher I had at All Souls was a lay teacher. Mrs. Schmidt, my fourth grade teacher, was pure evil. She was cruel to a boy in our class who had flunked the previous year, frequently making him cry and then ridiculing him for his “crocodile tears.” He was made to sit with his back to the class right up against the blackboard, where he really couldn’t see much of anything and undoubtedly didn’t learn much. I often wonder what became of him.

Believe it or not, she also filled our heads with horrifying images of things the Nazis had done to children and terrified us by saying we would have to die for our religion if the Communists took over. This was 1961. Cold War. The school basement was designated a fallout shelter. I had nightmares about all of it and diarrhea that whole school year. There is a special place in hell (if you believe in hell and I don’t) for people like Mrs. Schmidt.

A now retired handmade card, “Free! Free!”
My all girls Catholic high school was not my cup of tea, either. I was still shy and quiet, went basically unnoticed, and achieved underachiever status while opting to just endure those four years until my release. On the last day of school, I rolled my eyes at the girls who cried and burned my uniform in our backyard barbecue grill. I had zero interest in going on to college and no one suggested it, either.So when my boys went off to elementary school you cannot imagine how relieved and thrilled I was when they actually liked it! And my piano students all seem to like school, too. (I always ask.) That warms my heart, as well. Even the photos on Facebook of my old school make it seem as if the kids are happy there. I’m glad for all of them. I want all kids everywhere to be happy. Isn’t that their job, really? I think so. Mine was a part-time job. I was happy at home.
If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. And if you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”
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