The Injustices of the Kindergarten Experience.
It's the last day of summer and tomorrow my daughter will start kindergarten. It seems like only yesterday that she was still learning to walk so it's a little shocking to my poor time-lapsed brain that 5 years have passed since she was born and I don't even remember changing my underpants let alone the whole "Oh shit, here comes school" thing.
Kindergarten aka "Primary 1" to the Scots reading this is really the point where your memory actually starts to kick in and you start retaining stuff. She will see and do stuff this year that she will remember for the rest of her life, at least that was the way it was for me.
Primary 1 for me was when I learned that sometimes the world can be very unfair and that justice is definitely subjective to the whims of a probably half-drunk mad catholic teacher.
It all started in the playground where my friend Paul Clark started a "pile-on". This is where a kid grabs another kid that they either do not like, or just enjoy bullying, and wrestles them to the ground. At which point a third kid will scream "pile-on" and everybody will jump on top of the two kids on the ground.
It's a stupid thing to do really as the bully is quite often just as badly crushed as the original target and the amount of bodies with flailing legs and arms will easily take out some of those already loose baby-teeth.
Anyway so Paul starts a pile-on and I'm having nothing to do with it but this girl Patricia Rafferty comes barging into me and I fall into the pile of bodies somewhere in the middle. Some kids are screaming, more kids are laughing and I am just trying to wriggle free as I wanted nothing to do with this.
Unfortunately, just as I wriggle free and stand up, Mrs MacDonald the Primary 1 teacher comes running out the classroom screaming blue bloody murder at us. She knows the drill, the bodies towards the bottom of the pile are the perpetrators and the person on the very bottom is the victim.
I figure I am going to be alright as I see her wade into the bodies and start pulling people out. She grabs Paul Clark by the ear and pulls him to his feet, then to my horror, she starts making a beeline for me and grabs me by the ear too before dragging us both to the headmasters office.
I protest: "Miss, Miss, I didnae have anyhing to dae wae it! Ah was only standing by and I goat knocked intae the pile".
"Likely story McGrath. I saw you climbing out from under the pile of bodies" she said.
I realized then that if I had just waited it out I would have been in the anonymous group of arms and limbs and I would not have been singled out. Instead I had scampered out and caught her attention.
"I wisnae Miss, honest ah wisnae!".
She dragged us both by the ear down the long corridor towards the headmasters office and made us sit outside on these two big leather chairs while she went inside and spoke to Mr Budis, the long suffering head master.
Directly opposite the headmasters office was the staff room where the teachers took their break and where my Mum, a teacher of the Primary 5 class, was sitting. I prayed to Jesus, the Pope and all the "black babies" I'd ever given money to help me now. If my Mum came out the staff room while I was sitting there I was dead for sure.
Paul was sitting alongside me sniffing and crying and saying "Ah dinnae want to go in there, he's goannie belt us" and I was sitting sniffing and crying and saying "Ah wantae git in there before ma mam comes out the staff room and kills me dead right where I'm sitting".
In the end we both didn't get our wishes. Just as Mr Budis opened his door and beckoned us in, the staff room door opened and my Mum walked out from a gigantic cloud of cigarette smoke just to see the back of me going into the office.
She said "Just a minute" and turned me round to check it was me, then she said "I'll talk to you later" in that tone of voice that really means "You're dead!". At that point I knew anything Mr Budis did was going to be easy to deal with compared to what waited at home.
Mr Budis said "Come in boys and stand against the wall".
We walked inside and stood where we were told. Mrs MacDonald stood in the back of the room giving us the evil eye. She was obviously enjoying herself.
"Put your hands out, one on top of the other" he said, then he reached into the drawer of his desk and pulled out his leather strap.
"Waaaaah!" Paul cried and started shaking before anything had even happened. I didn't cry because I was now getting furious. I hadn't had anything to do with the pile-on, nothing at all, I knew this was a serious injustice.
"HANDS OUT IN FRONT OF YOU!" Mr Budis shouted. We meekly put our hands out in front.
Mr Budis swung the strap at Paul first and Paul's self-preservation instinct made him pull his hands back so the strap missed entirely. "HANDS OUT NOW!" Budis screamed and brought the strap down a second time, this time it made contact with Paul's hand and he screamed in pain.
"OKAY, YOUR TURN" he said to me. I stood there fuming but kept my hands out. He brought the strap down and it stung like mad but I was so angry at the injustice I managed to suppress my yelp and only my eyes teared up.
This went on 5 more times and almost every time Paul pulled his hand away whilst I just stood there and took it. I managed to get through all "Six of the belt" without crying and I felt good at not having given them the satisfaction.
It definitely hurt physically but it hurt much much more mentally. For the first time I learned that justice is not always fair and the good guy does not always win. A pretty depressing thing to find out when you are 5 years old.
My anger lasted for the rest of the day and I guess I was still angry when my Mum finished teaching and came to take me home. She asked me what had happened and I told her the whole story, the CORRECT version, and that I'd had nothing to do with the pile-on. There must have been something about my tone of voice because to my amazement she believed me and marched me back into school where she confronted Mrs MacDonald over her version of events. I was left to sit outside the classroom and I could hear them arguing inside, two colleagues arguing not just Mother to Teacher. After 10 minutes Mrs MacDonald came outside and apoligized to me. She said she had talked to Paul Clark and he'd told her I had nothing to do with it. I knew she hadn't, she'd only been talking to my Mum and Mum had straightened her out.
I went home in the car that night with mixed emotions. I was completely baffled and annoyed and upset that things do not always work out the same way they do at the end of children's comics with the good guy winning, but at the same time I was very proud of myself for not crying when I was getting belted and even more proud of my Mum for sticking up for me.
She was a good lady. Thanks Mum.
* As a post-script to this, it just came back to me that I was at my Mum's funeral and an old lady came up to me in the Church. She said "You must be David" and I said "Yes" but I had no idea who she was. She said "I'm Mrs MacDonald, I was your Primary 1 teacher".
Fucking. hell, the old bat must have making sure Mum was actually dead.