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August 24, 2010 / Maleesha Kovnesky

The Speech

My son starts kindergarten this week. 

 One of the unexpected benefits of having kids is that you get to re-experience things like school shopping.   AJ and I went to Target and spent some time reading through the list of school supplies.  We hunted down pink erasers and Elmer’s glue.  AJ begged for a calculator and a protractor.  I explained that we were going to have to bring learning down a few pegs, so could he pick out a box of crayons?  Ah, school shopping was fun.  AJ’s eyes lit up when he talked about what kindergarten would be like, and a flood of memories came back.  Thoughts of things like chalkboards, merry-go-rounds, best friends forever.  Marbles!  Recess!  Games inside when it was too cold for recess!  Paste!

I longed for a fresh plastic-scented Trapper Keeper, the one I had in third grade…it had a tiger on it.  Alas, no Trapper Keepers.  At least we were able to revel in fresh boxes of pencils and stacks of brightly colored notebooks.

  

Speaking of third grade, it wasn’t always roses and Trapper Keepers.  Those of you who have been reading for a while know that third grade was my defining year…the year it all went down.  Now that my little boy is trotting off to elementary school, Third Grade thoughts are what keep me up at night.  I fear for him…what lies in store?  Will he make better decisions than I did?  Will he have friends?  Will he have *a* friend?  These thoughts torment me. 

It’s mostly memories of The Speech.

Mr. W left the room, leaving twenty-five eight year olds alone with construction paper and glue.  “I’ll be right back,” he said, as he headed to the teacher’s lounge.  “Be good.”  A reasonable request.  But Mr. W. was never “right back.”  We may have been eight, but we weren’t morons.  The kids in class started leaving their rickety wooden desks and forming into logical groups of friends.  I was pleased when the love of my life “J” came to sit next to me.

See,”J” and I were tight.  We hung out on the playground every day, the best fifteen minute increments of my life.  He started shunning the girls with jean jackets to hang out with me….ME!  Stuff like that never happened to me…I was a bespectacled nerdlet with a high IQ.  And J…was my friend.  In front of the other kids, too! 

My love for J didn’t stop at the boundaries of Emerson Elementary.  I thought about him all the time.  At home, I scribbled his name in my notebooks and diaries (I wrote in code in my diaries to avoid possible parental snooping).  My heart raced the closer I got to school, knowing that I would see him soon.  I dropped his name constantly to Carli, to see if she would say anything.  I wanted her to ask me questions about him so I would have an excuse to talk about him.  I was in love.

So that day when Mr. W left, and J came to sit next to me, I was in a trancelike state of euphoria.  We started to draw together.  Ahh, romance.

My happiness was short lived.  The jean jacket girls were not pleased that J was spending time with me.  I had sensed this, but I didn’t understand why.  I had never talked to them, and they never talked to me.  They did their best to ignore me, and I was okay with that.  I had my very bestest friend Carli, and now I had J.  What more did I need? 

H, the leader of the jean jacket girls, leaned over to J’s ear.  Her hand was touching his dark hair, and my stomach started to hurt.  She whispered something to him.  He looked at her.  Then he looked at me.  He whispered something back.  Behind them, a group of kids was forming into a cluster in the corner of the room.  She stopped whispering.  “Just get up,” she demanded.  “Stop talking to her.”

J stood up and started following H to the corner of the classroom.  A B Cs in cursive lettering lined the room.  The F was crooked.  I watched in disbelief as J, my brand new friend, followed H.  He stopped to look back.  There was a look in his eyes that one day I would recognize as guilt. 

I had been so focused on drawing with J that I failed to notice that all of the kids except for Carli and I had migrated into an exclusive group on the other side of the room.  There were two of us, and over twenty of them.  Where the hell was Mr. W.?  I wished that he would come back, so everyone would have to go back to their seats. 

Carli came to sit next to me.  As soon as she did, H and another girl jogged over to us.  “Come over here, Carli,” they said.  H grabbed Carli’s shirt and pulled her away.

I grabbed Carli’s other arm.  “You can’t take her,” I said.  Then, in a move that would make Tony Robbins proud, I climbed onto my desk and stood to face my opposition.

 “You can’t have her,” I declared to the room. 

“You can be mean to me all you want.  You can say whatever you want to say.  You can take away everything I have.  But you will never take away Carli.  She is my best friend and that means something!”

All of their beady little eyes were on me now. 

“Best friends stick together,” I said.  “You can take J away but there is nothing….NOTHING…you can do that will break the friendship that Carli and me have!”

I folded my arms, partly to show my stance on the matter…partly because I wanted to protect myself from spitballs.  I was done.  I just gave the third grade a bad-ass speech.  How about THAT.

Carli looked up at me. 

She looked at the twenty-three kids in the corner.

She looked at me.

She looked at the twenty-three kids in the corner. 

Then she ran like hell away from me and into the welcoming arms of the majority.

I can’t actually remember what happened right after that, I probably blocked it out to double heartbreak.  I am certain that I would have happily welcomed death at that moment.  I look back on this Wonder Years-esque event, and laugh.  I bet no one even remembers.  But I sure do. 

Now don’t get me wrong.  I know that children need to have a variety of experiences, both good and bad, on their paths to healthy adulthood.  It’s not in me to be a hovering parent.  I know that there will be days when my kids come home teary-eyed from bullies.  It will be okay. 

I plan to be there to comfort them with corn syrup based foods and PG-13 movies as they tell me how mean their teachers are.  It will be okay. 

If their team loses a game, and they still get a trophy, I am going to be pissed off. 

LEARN FAILURE, KIDS.  It’s going to be a weekly occurrence one day, so best to develop the tools to deal with it early on.

I just hope my children have the brains and social skills to never, ever give a speech to their fellow third graders.

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13 Comments

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  1. Bruce / Aug 31 2010 1:11 pm

    Who the hell responds with Nietzsche quotes? That guy must want us to think he has countless quotes from existential authors bouncing around in his head. We all know he just looked that up online. DOUCHE!

  2. Neil / Aug 31 2010 12:54 pm

    The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. -Nietzsche

  3. Grumpy / Aug 31 2010 2:03 am

    Carli, that little bitch! 😉

    For reasons unknown my best friend did not invite me to her 10th b’day party. She still feels guilty about it till this day.

  4. pikespeakdenise / Aug 28 2010 8:28 am

    I heart Trapper Keepers.

  5. Taoist Biker / Aug 25 2010 11:49 am

    Holy bejeezus, that is a hell of a story. I can absolutely and completely believe every word.

    It is amazing at times just how quickly and thoroughly some children can master the arts of cruelty.

  6. Mary Mimouna / Aug 25 2010 5:46 am

    Wow, as a third-grade teacher for many years, this sounds exactly like the kind of things that go on in third grade every year. There are always some girls who try to control all the other girls and boys. I’m so sorry about this!

    What happened a few years later with this group of girls, and with J?

    Mary in Marrakesh

    • maleesha / Aug 25 2010 6:37 am

      It’s all good now. I never talked to J again, and in high school I think he ended up dropping out. As far as H, we were NEVER friends and we ignored each other at the ten year reunion. The rest of the girls seem to have forgotten though. 🙂 And I eventually forgave Carli but not before drawing all over her favorite calendar.

  7. Allison / Aug 25 2010 3:48 am

    Loved this. I could relate to several parts except the Trapper Keeper (and high IQ). I always wanted one, but my mom insisted on buying the 10-cent paper folders instead.

    • maleesha / Aug 25 2010 6:35 am

      I was indeed lucky to have a Trapper Keeper. Now if only I would have had a jean jacket…

  8. Georgene Cachola / Aug 24 2010 11:36 pm

    Wonderful story, Maleesh. I can just see you doing that. I hope your son has better experiences, but no kid gets out of school without a traumatic event or two.

    My grandson started kindergarten last week. He came home today and told his mom he “was wiped-out”! He said he needed longer naps, and everything moves too fast! He’s thinking of becoming a drop-out I’m afraid.

    • maleesha / Aug 25 2010 6:34 am

      oh no! A kindergarten drop out!!

  9. fawn / Aug 24 2010 11:32 pm

    Really? Was that the lesson of the day? I sure admire that third-grader for all her spunk.

    • maleesha / Aug 25 2010 6:34 am

      There are probably a couple of lessons from this. I didn’t discover the usefulness of spunk until many, many years later.

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