I was asked to observe a kindergartner, Duncan, a slight, pale boy with a great shock of gleaming brown hair falling over his face in a triangle, like a rock star or a Parisian runway model. There were concerns on the part of the mother and also the Kindergarten teacher that he might have atypical development and behavioral problems, possibly anxiety.
This is all school psycho-babble for the fact that he had acted out in nursery school. His parents, both quite young, had decided to break up and he started murmuring to himself and shoving other kids.
I was really a novice at this. I had worked in a large, suburban high school for twenty years and when I left I felt as if I was only beginning to understand how teenagers view time and life. I wasn’t making a spectacularly better job of understanding it yet myself, and I’d had a lot more practice.
I didn’t want to go in the first week, I wanted to let Duncan settle down a bit but apparently his behavior was so ‘outside the box’ that other parents worried about him.
I went in on Wednesday, the third day of school. All the little guys were seated on the carpet, all facing front. Duncan was also on the carpet but he was facing backwards and trying to engage another boy with his plastic dinosaur which the teacher immediately confiscated, reprimanded him and turned him around.
I watched for a little while longer as the kids ran through their Montessori inspired routines and while it is true that Duncan’s drum was definitely more along the Ornette Coleman than the John Coltrane side of things, he was humming along with the others in his own sort of way. He was also really humming. He was leaning against the back of a little girl who, if she noticed it, didn’t seem to mind.
I pulled my focus away from him to watch the others. It was almost snack time and the kids were getting jiggly, the entire little world was in sway. Duncan was flat out talking to himself, the kid next to him was muttering aloud, scratching his butt and putting his ‘A sound’ blocks pretty much wherever there was room on the oilskin grid and they were all, including Duncan, having a great old time.
I had forgotten how much little kids, like puppies, like to be in physical touch with each other. Not only in close distance, in actual touch. They bounce against each other’s bodies gently, like buoys on a crisp white yacht when the sea is calm and all the caplets are tinged with gold. They’re odd little things with their preternaturally graceful hand gestures and panoply of weird tics that would be considered significant in a group of adults trying to behave themselves in public.
When you stare at them too long, as I had just done, they seemed entirely too fine and beautiful to be baby human beings, they look more likely to become dragonflies or pandas or a host of animals that I think are more fun. They exhibited a kind of anarchic brotherhood among them as if they really did remember the secret language they had come in singing but recognized that school, of all places, wasn’t the best place to break it out and instead hovered in proximity to each other as if they were only just realizing the meaning of living in a separate body after having been so infinitely connected to another not even six years before.
I watched them as they washed their hands, grabbed their wraps and got in line with a ritualized choreography that every one of them had already mastered in a few short days. I winced inwardly thinking about how much rehearsal that had required. Duncan was late getting in line and was still talking with a friend, but he was in line.
When I left I realized that I wasn’t worried about him in school, I was just saddened that, like everybody else, he would be soon corralled and initiated into years of waiting quietly, standing in line, facing front, putting the right blocks into the right holes and how, somewhere along the way, his willingness to rub tummies with a classmate just cuz would leave him forever without him even knowing that it had gone.