I try to conjure days of yore, the days before my work and family and turning 47 consumed my own “so-called life” life. I yearn for my younger days as an elementary student- waiting for the last days of school; counting down with large, crossed out numbers on the side blackboard. These numbers greeted us daily. When the number came to show 10 days of school left, we instinctively slipped into nautical time keeping mode. (A period from noon of one day to noon of the next, used in reckoning time aboard ship.)
The realization that the end is nigh is directly related to the “switch out” of our school uniforms. Spring uniform policy dictated that our long sleeved, stiff, white oxfords be exchanged for the short sleeved stiff, white oxfords. Dark, stiff tartan skirts were tossed into space to be frantically searched for in the fall and replaced by lighter colored stiff skirts. Lighter sneakers or shoes were now permitted. No more ankle destroying penny loafers to slip on down the carpeted school stairs with!
The space between May and June is a tricky one to fill for both students and educators. I attended the same school with the same kids from 1st to 8th grade. We knew exactly how to fill that space- whether it be “Heads down, thumbs up!”, or nerf ball games that required us to stay seated in our chairs, or maybe a little paper-football tourney?
How about that amazing thing called outdoor recess. Once those recesses hit 4 days in a row without pouring rain we knew we were in it to win it.
Outdoor recess is when we realized that the saddle shoes STILL weren’t scuffed enough to provide a gal any traction. Traction for games such as Rounders or Run-Across or, God forbid, Red Rover-the violent game that would cause chaotic response from current day teachers. Recess is when we watched the gym teacher lazily perched on the side wall with a whistle and a bag of Fritos (so unfair!) , chatting with another teacher who was grading literally a 2 foot pile of assignments, as we ran carefree and often policed our own fun.
The best part about that playground was that it was an empty church parking lot.
When it wasn’t filled with cars, it was absolute nirvana. BOYS CHASE GIRLS! Someone always screeched and yelled and ran. Everyone immediately scattered to find their own gender to make a plan. The goal is to bring the other team members to “jail” situated at the base of the ancient, ginormous tree at the corner of the asphalt. Watch out for someone beaming golf-ball-sized acorns at ya!
We had Playground Mothers- I found myself stranded 4 feet in the air on top of the metal bars of “The Spider”. Our antique and enormous hand bell rang to signal the end of recess. As everyone bolted towards the doors to be allowed back in the schooo, I remember tentatively yelping out , “Mother?” “Mom?” I can’t remember now if we were told to just call them Mom or what, but eventually one would see me and haphazardly lift me down and I was really embarrassed every time.
I watched with jealousy as other girls and boys who were clearly more gymnastically inclined spinning- spinning- spinning with one leg wrapped around the bar, arms hooked, never stopping. I cringed and was almost sick when another student flew off the swings on the “jump-off” swing game and broke his leg. I remember one unfortunate 1st grade event in which a school mate peed on the swing seat and wouldn’t move until a Playground Mother swooped in to save the day.
I remember warning others to BACK IT UP!!!! WAYYY UP!!!! when the athletic stars of our class were up to kick during kick ball. We knew everyone’s kick style. We knew the “faker” – one that acted as though that ball was gonna soar over the building onto Frederick Avenue and instead stopped the ball with the foot and ran like hell for first base.
We knew which girls had the hardest shoes and the fastest, strongest legs and the boys who were tough and the those who would never ever actually connect with the ball throughout the game-those whose legs seemed to whiff right over that incoming ball. Awkward. There’s one in every class.
We had water fountain lines and no-buttsies. We had a bell ringer and dark heavy oak classroom windows that opened out for a view of the playground. No screens. We only had to navigate two levels, two hallways and two sets of heavy wooden swinging doors. We knew where the school vacuum and cleaning supplies were located-underneath the great big giant stairs in front of the teeny tiney principal’s lair. It was like Narnia! We had warm chocolate milk boxes. The kind that were so difficult to open properly and you usually ended up stabbing the box repeatedly with a pencil to get to that salmonella.
We knew on Wednesday we had confession. In that church on those freezing, ass-numbing-pews some of us would carefully paw through the hymnals stuffed into those tilted shelves. Some would stare straight ahead at Jesus on the cross in a hypnotic type state waiting for their turn. Others would utilize this time warp by cleaning out their noses or flicking the person’s shoulders in front of them. Still one would continually lightly paw the hair of those seated in front and act completely offended and annoyed when blamed for the intrusions.
Most would wait, their limbic system on high alert, destroying nail beds while waiting for their turn. Just coming up with sins to confess when you are in 5th grade was an emotional and confusing battle.
We would finally be ensconced in the cool, darkened confessional and confess things like, “I told my Dad I turned the TV off when I really didn’t” “I ate the rest of the ice cream and blamed it on my brother”.
I dutifully counted off my penance prayers on my fingers while watching the rest of the class enter and exit the booth in which our sins would be cleansed. Our biggest scandal was having the priest snoring on the other side of the mysterious grate.
I could use that confessional now…
So the countdown to last day of school continues. My sons didn’t have the opportunity to bond with classmates for 2 years due to the pandemic. I hope for that to change so they can gather memories such as mine from their first years in school.
It may be with masks on our faces greeting our teachers or saying goodbye to my sons’ classmates this year that makes this countdown all the more amazing. This is a countdown that I’ll never forget. Get out the paper footballs.
As I write, it’s officially 30 days until summer vacation. Let the countdown begin!