My brother opened the back door, yelled “Bye mom”. I followed. As he walked the half block towards school, I followed three steps behind. Other kids were walking in the same direction, some road by on bikes. A bus drove by.
When we arrived at the building, my brother pointed. “In there.” I had never been anywhere without my brother and must have asked if he was coming in. He pointed and said, “No, I go over there.” I paused, looked at him with large brown eyes. You mean he wasn’t coming in with me? I was on my own? He was entering second grade and I was starting my first day of kindergarten.
I walked slowly, hesitatingly into the open door. It was a big room, everything looked clean, freshly washed, ready. My eyes danced around the room taking in the rows of desks, the polished floor, a row of strange symbols taped above the chalk board.
Teacher smiled and greeted each new face as it came through the door. Who were all these kids? I didn’t know any of them. Some kids were loud, noisy. I stood quietly, shyly, not wanting to be noticed.
I found myself seated in a desk. Teacher stood in front of the room. She must have been nice. I don’t remember ever thinking she was mean or scary. Teacher started talking. I was preoccupied with looking around at everyone, observing, watching, my stomach didn’t feel right. Teacher told us her name. I remember thinking it was an odd name.
At supper that evening the family sat around the round kitchen table. My feet swung back and forth under my chair. I would guess we had hotdogs and baked beans. Mom or was it dad asked me how school was. I said it was ok. “And what is your teacher’s name?”
“Alligator,” I said proudly.
Both my brothers laughed. “Her name isn’t alligator. Stupid.”
“Yes it is,” I insisted. “That’s what she said.”
My dad looked at my mom quizzically. “Delamater,” she stated quietly.
“See,” I said righteously. “Alligator.”
I think we all have experienced instances where what we heard is not what is claimed to have been said. I’ve even had arguments about it. One day a friend of mine barked at me, “You aren’t listening.” I attested that I was listening and even summarized what he had just said. He glared at me and stated, “You may have heard, but you weren’t listening.”
His retort left an impression and several weeks later, I finally understood what he meant.
The sounds he had emitted had reverberated against my ear drums and triggered recognition in my brain, but I had not really listened to what he said. I had heard his words, but had interpreted them to mean something other that what he meant. I hadn’t paid attention to what he was trying to tell me, what he wanted me to understand. I hadn’t really listened. It was an important lesson for me.