My memory is divided in four parts. There are the basics, of course. I remember my teachers' names. What my house looked like. The name of the kid who got in trouble with me that one time. But for the most part, "kindergarten" brings to mind very specific images, each one bleeding into the next, like the plot of a gritty drama, complete with a supporting cast and a neat little ending.Opening sequence. Theme song starts. Camera zooms in a two-story home in Detroit's inner city. A young mother steps out onto her front porch as school buses drive by with other people's children. She takes the steps and peers under the porch. She seems satisfied with what she doesn't see. "Okay, Pauline," she calls out. Get your backpack and come on out. Your abuelo is waiting to take you to school now." As the station wagon pulls away from the curb, a rat pokes its head out from under the front porch. The camera fades to black.
Next scene. It's play time. The girl is sitting across the floor from a boy named Gordon. They have a round basket of plastic animal toys (I am remembering a giraffe) and are pushing it between them. (For reasons that escape me now, my five-year-old self finds this hilarious.) A fellow student is almost tripped by the sliding basket after repeated warnings to stop pushing it across their room. Punishment is heads down during snack time. No cookies and juice for either one. She has to go to pee. The girl does her best to look at the clock without lifting her head. She can't tell time yet, but knows the big and little hands are far away from Mrs. Watroba saying the can go home. The girl doesn't want to pee her pants so she raises her hand, making sure to keep her head down. Mrs. Watroba hands her the hall pass and selects her only friend, Claudia, as her bathroom partner. Neither one of them feels lucky. Commercial break. Camera zooms in on the view from beneath the locked bathroom stall. Shoes the size of grown men are seen running by. Then another pair. Two little girls are standing on either side of the toilet seat, holding on to one another, trying not to whimper too loudly because they know (they think) that the boys are just trying to scare them for fun. They needn't worry. The sound of the 8th graders laughing and taunting the girls while banging on the doors drowns out any other. Next scene: The young mother is vacuuming up shards of glass from the bedroom carpet while her husband examines a hole in the window, next to the top bunk. The girl knows her daddy is mad. She hears words like, "lucky" and "BB gun" and suddenly there are boxes packed and Tias and Tios filling their cars with their things. She doesn't understand that they are moving or why. Only that she wasn't able to convince her parents that she needed red Mary Janes like Missy down the block in time to show Missy that she had a pair, too. Cut scene. Fade to commercial break. New scene. Final segment. The girl is wrapped around her mother's leg at kindergarten drop off. There are tears. To ease the transition, Mrs. Drapeau offers the girl the job of passing out the cookies. It's supposed to be the job of whichever student brought the cookies in that day. But there are tears for the rest of the school year, even when the walk to school was filled with laughter. The girl learns to read. Her little bladder is thankful for a dedicated kindergarten bathroom. She passes out the cookies every morning. Next scene: The young mother opens the front door to her little suburban house and three girls, ages 6, 4, and 2, spill out onto the front lawn in their bathing suits. They are laughing and screaming as they take turns running through the sprinkler. Their mother sits on the front porch, a glass of lemonade in one hand and the other holding a phone to her ear. "We're settling in," she says into the phone. "Yeah, the girls are doing fine." The camera fades to black. The theme song plays as the credits begin to roll.