POST 3: Up, Up and Away
I have this one hazy memory of being woken up early in the morning to a bright, sunny summer day. It was the morning of my fifth birthday. I remember both of my parents telling me, "There's a surprise outside. Go see!" In my memory, I drift outside to our backyard. The sunlight is casting this deliciously warm and happy glow on the grass and trees. I look to the side of our yard. Could it be? It is! The toy any child would love to have. A swing set! A real swing set. Just for me, they said. Happy birthday!
I was giddy. Overjoyed. Enthralled. This was the world's most fantastic swing set. It was huge. It was perfect! It had a slide, two swings, and a glider. My very own playground! I ran to the swing set, climbed up the ladder and down the slide over and over again with this huge smile plastered on my face. I lived on that swing set for the remainder of the summer suspended in this temporary childhood world of flying and gliding to my heart's content. You know the feeling.
In reality it was a crappy swing set. One of those metal ones with the flimsy legs that pop up when you swing so you feel like the whole swing set is going to tip over. It was a hideous yellow with brown stripes. It would eventually become too little for me. It would eventually rust and become unusable for anyone. Of course none of this mattered. It was MY swing set and it was remarkable. Better than any swing set had been before or ever would be! And for two people who could not afford a pot to pee in (it's an expression) this was an extravagant purchase. In the years to come when the walls of our little trailer threatened to suffocate and emotions ran so high things became too intolerable, there was something truly freeing and cathartic about going in the backyard and swinging as high as those swing set legs would let me and imagining with every swing that I could just drift past the clouds and into the heavens.
As the summer of 1987 ended, I prepared for kindergarten. Until this time my only experience with a classroom was Sunday school. I never went to childcare or preschool and I looked forward to kindergarten with great anxiety and curiosity. What will we do all day? What will the other kids be like? Will I like it? I vividly remember my first day of kindergarten even down to my backpack. It was a rectangular backpack that opened in the front with two little twisty closures, much like a tiny messenger bag. It was blue with red piping, and on the front it was embroidered with bright yellow "ABC." It was beautiful.
My teacher Mrs. Johnson showed me to my cubby and I put my things in it being sure to keep my backpack with me and took my seat at a small round table. Around the table were four other kindergartners, equally curious about this new concept of school. I tossed my backpack on the table. One of the boys at the table took one look at my little bag and said, "What are you? A lawyer?" I beamed. It was a compliment. I had made a good choice for a backpack. I looked smart and ready to work. Excellent.
Kindergarten itself turned out to be fantastic. Learning. Playing. Eating deee-licious cafeteria food. I really thought that. New crayons. Learning to use scissors. Recess. It was a dream come true. I would thrive in school. I just knew it. But while school was a nice addition to my little developing life, things at home were undergoing a radical change.