I think of my mother still in the process of surviving breast cancer, still in the process of surviving abuse, still in the process of surviving her tragic and beautiful life. I think of her holding my hand and walking me, her youngest child, to my kindergarten classroom. I think of her walking me to that classroom and letting me go.
I remember that first day. Standing outside with other mothers and children, waiting for our teacher. My sisters had all had the same kindergarten teacher but she had retired and now I was to have someone new. I believed that we did not know what to expect.
My mother was friends with the school secretary as she volunteered in the school library. I’m sure she must have known who the new teacher was. Known something about her. And I was her fourth child, fourth girl. The last. She must have been ready for some time to breathe, my mother. Still, her childhood had been traumatic and she liked to keep us close by when we were small to make sure we were okay. Within her there must have been a small tumor of worry.
Soon, the door swung open and we were allowed in. We found our cubby holes and put away our sweaters and jackets. The room which had not so long ago belonged to other children, soon became our room.
The new teacher was tall and young and interesting and just back from teaching Inuit children in the Northwest Territories. She had short hair, like a nun. She liked to laugh. She and my mother became friends over time and she visited with us at the cottage we rented at the lake. I have a photo of her sitting in a lawn chair, drinking a beer, laughing.
What I remember was her kindness. Her gentle manner. I remember the photos she showed us of the children she had taught. We began to see how their lives might differ from ours in our comfortable suburb.
I remember a red-haired girl named Berget. I remember when the boy I had a crush on shat himself in French class because the French teacher would not let him be excused. I remember playing dress up and taking rest time. I remember tracing our bodies on long sheets of paper and then coloring them in. I remember painting with fat brushes and listening to stories. I remember the young priest coming to our classroom with his guitar and singing songs with us. I remember when my big sister won a blue, spherical transistor radio at assembly for selling the most chocolate bars. I wanted to stand up and shout, “That’s my sister!” To be known and connected to her, the winner.
Sometimes there were movies and book fairs. But I had no best friend then and I cried when we went on our first field trip via bus. My mother was not coming with us and I was scared. I felt myself ripping away from her as I sat on the bus waiting to leave. She came up on the bus to give me a hug and then, again, she let me go. Soon I stopped crying. And when I came home, my mother was there and I was still her child. Nothing had changed even though everything had.