Forgiveness and Scrambled Eggs

Childhood... full of uncomfortable, awkward moments.

Childhood… full of uncomfortable, awkward moments.

Miles run Wednesday: 10

Near-maimings by a golf cart while on 10-mile run: 1

Miles to be run today: 4.5

I had a great childhood.

This is not a popular thing to say if publishers are, say, wanting to publish a memoir about someone’s years addicted to heroin or how someone’s parents drove them out into a field to be raised by wild dogs.

When I hear my peers talking about whether kids benefit from staying at home or being in daycare, I can speak about both: I had a stay-at-home mom for a while, a part-time stay-at-home mom, went to daycare for a few years and spent time as a latchkey kid. All pretty good, all things considered.

During the daycare years, I spent time at four different daycares; five if you count the hippy-dippy one I enjoyed for one week while we were living in an apartment just after a big move.

There is enough material for several posts about My Time in Daycare. For today, let me tell you all about the week-long, hippy-dippy one.

We had just moved to Atlanta, and we were living in some kind of new job-subsidized apartment until our house was ready. The apartment seemed cool to me, but my mom said that roaches the size of Rottweilers came out at night after my sister and I were already asleep.

While my mom and dad were working, or whatever they did during the day, my sister and I went to this daycare inside a large house in Buckhead.

There were lots of old-growth trees shading the house, and the lighting inside left a lot to be desired.

The kitchen took up the entire center of the house: a large, open, galley-style kitchen staffed with good-natured counselors who had big dreams of teaching 9-year-olds to cook long before the Food Network was even a gleam in a hungry executive’s eye. We got to help cook scrambled eggs and toast, and we were treated like short adults.

The outside area of the house was blessedly shady, unlike most daycare playgrounds of the era. July in Atlanta is not known for being cool. There was a chain-link fence around the small perimeter and swings and climbing equipment. The ground throughout was reminiscent of the Dust Bowl.

As a rising fourth-grader, I was one of the big kids, and a few of the older kids made friends with me right away. We hung out near the playground equipment, but we were too old and jaded to actually climb on it.

We also went on roller-skating field trips and took a turn at bowling.

Everyone was perfectly nice to me.

But I had a secret weakness. One that made my mom shake her head in agony.

I forgot to ask people their names.

Then, months later, it was too late to ask. It was horribly embarrassing, and every time, I would coach myself: remember to ask their names. But in this peaceful, commune-style setting, the scrambled eggs had thrown me off my game.

And one tall kid who had been kind to me… well, I wasn’t sure if it was even a boy or a girl. He/she had short hair, either a Dorothy Hamill cut or a boy bowl cut. Which was it? It tortured me in bed at night while the roaches were having their way with my mom and dad.

You would think that hearing the other kids call his/her name on the playground would be a good clue. But here was the problem:

It was either Jane or Jame(s). Which actually sound incredibly similar in kid parlance.

I had two more days of daycare before we moved out to The Burbs. It was time to find out, once and for all.

We were standing out on the cement patio, the dusty red clay swirling around us. Kelly, a girl who was clearly a girl and who I had trusted to be my friend for lo, these three days, was right there. And Jane/James was turned away.

So I leaned over and whispered to Kelly, “Is the name Jane or James?”

Kelly leaned back and looked me over, then grinned.

“Jane! Jane! Anne thinks you’re a boy!”

Awkward.

Jane turned around, and I studied her face as she studied mine.

I felt sorry for her, that she would be stuck here with Fair Weather Friend Kelly, who obviously didn’t have Girl Jane’s best interests at heart.

Poor Jane, embarrassed by the newcomer (me), unprotected by her so-called friend, and still, as far as I could tell, devoid of any gender identity.

We eyed each other carefully. “You thought I was a boy?” she said.

“No!” I choked out. “I couldn’t understand what people were calling you. Some girls have boy names; I don’t know!”

Jane turned out to be a forgiving sort. “Yeah, it’s Jane. Now let’s go make some lunch.”

I breathed out.

And I made a pact with myself to learn the names of every kid at my new daycare, a place unlikely to serve up forgiveness along with scrambled eggs.

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