Kindergarten classrooms are all too deceptive.
I’ve come to know this through the years of staring at cute, block-headed illustrations of kids. Cartoony characters that are displayed like votive icons in a church from every corner of classroom’s walls. With abnormal foot-long smiles, solid pencil-drawn curves for lips, posing in scenarios to model some suggested behavior for appropriate classroom protocol (and smiling while doing so), these cute little illustrations disguise the assimilation process in a way that rewires brains to prefer the smell of sharpened pencils than the smell of their mother’s hair or the feel of workbook pager than of a child’s favorite blanket.
And today, the school tried to pull that same shit on me, too.It was a Friday and full moon, I should have known some chaos would ensue. At my old school, Wednesdays would begin the crescendo of chaos: appropriately, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday became recognized by the acronym, WTF. My substitute assignment was to be an assistant in a kindergarten classroom. I was to be a buddy for some child by the name, Madden. I smirked, knowing all too well of this misleading use of language like, buddy, hides some harsher realness that only young ears can hear.
Madden’s classroom was its usual state of calamity at the beginning of the day. Children poured into a classroom with the snotty hands and food drool-stained faces. Such miracles children are. Their gleeful squealing compensates for all the absent seats in the classroom. When asked to find their seat on the floor, they cried and protested. These kindergarten kids were aware that their worlds are being molded. In resistance, students prepared a sleuth of questions every morning to expose as many secrets as possible of their oppressive torturers and postpone their learning. It comes off benign and stupid, but why else would children ask an adult about how many pokemon I’ve collected, if the teacher is my mommie, or girlfriend. Clearly the block-headed votive illustrations strung about the classroom are useless.
I met Madden. Indeed, there he was, wonderfully eruptious and violently energetic, carrying his body like top heavy flubber that collapses to the floor to stop rather than simply slowing down, and refrains from verbally articulating any of his thoughts or sentiments as words cannot keep up to speed with his manic agility. Madden reminded me of every kid I worked with back at my old school (consequently, I felt right in a familiar, happy place; because while some teachers aspire for classrooms of full, neatly organized shelves of Clorox wipes, unworn books, and sharpened pencils, I aspire for maddening on the playground, mustard packet explosives in the lunch room, and improperly spelled writing in the bathroom). I didn’t so much as introduce myself to Madden as much as Madden ran into me without saying his name. With her not-so-surprised eyebrows, the lead teacher indicated to me that he is Madden. I didn’t introduce myself, instead I’ve met his challenge with a curious game of his own antics and I ran into him. For a second, he was stunned and his face grows this foot-long pencil-drawn-like smile (he has learned from the block-headed illustrations), but quickly recoils into this own distractions and splits elsewhere in the sea of classroom frenzy. It’s only 8:15 in the morning.
The concern for me about easily distracted children is how volatile they become in a classroom with so much, well, stuff. Really, the concern should be how must shit there is in a classroom, but educators can’t do away with their ways, their space. Consequently, every classroom has children like Madden, overloaded by the amount of visual stimulation, running frantically, as if in a half-feral state of desperation, down the school hall. Eventually they come back into the classroom, but nothing has changed in their wildly demented state, only a moment of exhaustion.
Madden did fine about the day, in his own way, until the class was at lunch, which he, for reason of a volumous episode, was not participating in. I was sitting with Madden, outside of the cafeteria, holding onto his body to calm him down. He continued to squirm, squeal, groan and rattle. Eventually, he stopped writhing in my arms; he was mouse in shock–I could feel his heart beat racing, his eyes remained open, and his body was motionless. This must be his stand-by mode: some under-active space of consciousness which I’ve seen in so many kids before. I wondered then if that is what disassociation looks like in third-person (when the soul of the body so badly wants to reject life). I’d like to make a comedic position on cafeteria food exciting this child to a episode of revolt, but no, his chocolate milk was just like it always is: cold, stale, possibly not from an actual cow.
As I held Madden’s body captive in a compassionate cradle made by my arms and a head that leaned in, I could smell beer on him–kid’s only five--I shook in shock. His head cocked to meet my eyes at my moment of shock. Head turned like an owl, eyes alert yet looking pathetic. He didn’t stare long. It was as if he had something to say that he couldn’t articulate with his limited vocabulary, but Madden didn’t talk much anyway, instead spoke with his eyes. In that short moment, as his head turned to meet me, I could read his eyes, exhausted and in misery, saying, “kid,”you have no idea how bad it can get.” His eyes drifted off as his body went limp. Heart beat slowed to a mute feel. No longer was he a mouse in shock, but a child collapsing under the defeat of his immense exhaustion.
Who knows what this child has to run from every single day? Maybe he believes he has too keep running otherwise his demons will catch up to him. I could tell he’d been fighting to get out since the day he was born. I can tell that there wasn’t a child in him. I felt that there was this aged individual, imprisoned in some karmic lesson, placed back in the body of a child as if sent to recognize the lessons he or she failed to address in the past life. That body was a cage to whatever defiant being churned in this child.
My attention wasn’t fixed long. As I felt Madden’s heart beat coming to a steady calm, I noticed my own pulse erupt again as two young men were screaming at each other down the hall. From their bodies came profanities like swords, drawn to defend their right of title and property. From the way they boldly defied the orderly quiet of a florescent school hallway, the way their voices cracked the locks to open every door, they must have not just been fighting over petty matters. Surely, not, but these young men, two paces apart, challenged each other on the basis of every petty foundational facet–their nuts and washers, their cracks on the ground, the color of their paint.
In their spat, the two of them turned to quickly catch me watching. I, at the end of the hall, Madden still collapsed in my hands, was turning in my own head about what lesson there was in all of these maddening events? Their pause was nothing more than a quarter-rest before they turned to resume their savage pulling on one another. But in that moment where the two met my eyes, the right one to my left eye and the left one to my right eye, I witnessed two young men yearning to emerge like butterflies, but getting caught up in their shelling, afraid to leave what keeps them secure. Of course you two are angry, I thought, but it’s time to shed skin. It’s time to leave that body.
Young men can grow up to be wonderful people, but young men can also become stuck in their crystallis, too. Those emerging butterflies don’t really die in there, nor do they suffocate; only, as they dissolve into this mystic matter, they become shapeless and unsure inside their shell: never quite understanding themselves, who they are, against the world, and greet the world only with the parts of themselves that are kept hard and tough: their skin, their hands, their cock, their words.
Of course you two are angry, I thought to myself again. Because if those shells were to break or crack now, all those soft parts, the parts of ourselves that are still uncertain, would leak or pour out onto the floor, and you two would end motionless in a world that will continue to move on. I wanted to tell them that the thing about the crystallis is that it is motionless and static. But without knowing beyond ourselves, the world that moves, or the wide open air and meadows in which to realize some sense of ourselves, these young men must think the world truly is as dark as it seems to them . Three young men, I thought, trapped in their bodies.