This is the time of year that graduations take center stage just before Memorial Day Weekend mattress & appliance sales.
Graduations are also what help Hallmark bridge the 28-day chasm between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. And graduation is not just a monumental life marker for high school and college students. Middle schools, elementary schools, and even kindergartens have graduation ceremonies.
We didn’t have a middle school graduation ceremony, but I think some kind of recognition of survival was warranted. Middle school was Lord of the Flies meets Alice in Wonderland meets Groundhog Day.
I liked elementary school. Elementary school was slightly scary, but also funny and weird. The first number I ever recall memorizing was 107. That was my school bus number in the first grade. I was led to believe that getting on the wrong bus would lead to me getting dropped off in a strange neighborhood far from Rushland Drive and my house at the bottom of the hill. In fact, until just recently I believed that most disheveled homeless adults you encounter are in that condition because they boarded the wrong bus in elementary school and never made it back home.
There were numerous contradictions in elementary school. At recess we were allowed to play on playground equipment that has now been deemed too dangerous for today’s school children. We climbed on monkey bars, went head-first down a 5-story steel slide, and jumped on & off the merry-go-round death wheel. When it was too cold or wet to go outside, we went to the gym and played dodgeball where we misjudged hard throws and took shots in the stomach, chest, and head.
While we risked concussions and being maimed for life at recess, during arts and crafts we were given pairs of those small safety scissors with rounded ends, scissors that were so dull they could barely cut a single piece of colored construction paper.
Pencils, a compass, and bogus naps
On the other hand, we were all writing with wooden #2 pencils, pencils sharpened to a deadly point. Prison inmates are not allowed to have a wooden pencil but I had a zippered case full of them. A finely sharpened pencil is a tiny spear that you can also write the alphabet with.
And keeping my pencil sharp was always important to me (foreshadowing a future writer). The first time I remember getting in trouble with a teacher was in 3rd grade when I went up to the pencil sharpener attached to the wall, and it occurred to me that the small dome and handle resembled the reeling mechanism of a fishing rod. So, I put my pencil in the slot and then started winding the handle frantically, lurching my head & shoulders back and forth, while shouting, “I think I’ve got a big one!” (foreshadowing a future comic) The class roared. The teacher did too, but in a different way.
Even more dangerous than the classic pencil was the lethal weapon known as a compass. I’m not talking about a pocket compass used for navigation. You wouldn’t dare put a school compass in your shirt pocket unless you wanted to risk a punctured lung. In order to draw circles some genius thought young, careless, rowdy children needed an ice pick with a golf pencil attached to it.
Something else that made no sense to me was the designated nap time in the first grade. I’m fairly certain that yoga was invented by some kid who said, “I certainly can’t sleep on this mat. There’s got to be another use for it.”
With hindsight and insight
As I look back, now I understand that the rest period was not designed to make the children doze off. It wasn’t even really for the kids. It was for the teachers — a momentary break from the noise and chaos that only two dozen 6-year-olds in a confined space can really achieve. The 30-minute oasis gave our teachers a private moment to open their desk drawer and choose between the tiny bottles of Excedrin, Scotch, or Valium.
I don’t know what elementary school is like now. It’s been many years since I walked the halls of South Fork Elementary, when I feared the mythical electric paddle that Principal Brown reportedly used for discipline, and when I hoped that Tanya Hawkins would eventually check “YES” on the girlfriend request forms I kept sending her.
But I’m sure teaching elementary school is even harder now than it was in the ’60s. And being a first- or fifth-grade student is probably more academically and socially challenging than it was back when I was a kid. So maybe the completion of elementary school is indeed an achievement worthy of a celebration. But if I ever have to actually attend an elementary school graduation, I’m bringing a mat so I can take a nap.
Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read Presson’s previous columns go to www.franklinhomepage.com/?s=ramon+presson.