Who am I to place a lower value on something that belongs to someone else just because it doesn’t appear valuable to me? And who am I to think it’s not unusual to see a Kindergartner who runs out of a classroom that she wasn't supposed to be in, clutching a bright red broom, screaming my name over the din of the playground, and seeming to collect classmates on her way to see me as though the broom were a magnet?
Recess had begun relatively serenely. Over the past few weeks, I’d had the pleasure of twin shadows at recess. Seriously, twin five year olds that I had learned so much about in very few words and were as content to stand beside me as I was content to have them there. Some afternoons, we never even exchanged syllables. Amazing, the presence of other human beings—no matter their age-- and their effect on a bent psyche. Anyway, my two little shadows had effloresced into four shadows just days before the incident. Recess began, I ambled onto the asphalt, and they found me. I always gave them their choice of a place to stand, sort of like a pitcher’s mound. One of them wanted to face the monkey bars so we could applaud their friends who had made it from one end to the other without slipping into the bog of woodchips below. The sun was bright and warm as we meandered over and sought refuge in the shade of a tree shedding its bright yellow blossoms on our heads like raindrops in the afternoon breeze.
Usually, I have an apple and I’d learned to bring extra apple slices to share with my side-kicks. Listening to their laughter and bits of conversation over the clamor of the other forty-four students, I felt whatever heaviness inside of me growing lighter. It was simple to be five years old and yet they were discussing the complications of their lives. Spongebob was no longer on when they wanted to see it, Kevin was too busy these days chasing other girls, and when one of them was little she remembered ‘when the days were really small’. They nodded and chuckled. Brought a smile to my face as I ate my apple and drank my Diet Coke that they were already having issues. Should I have told them to wait until they’d reached second grade before thinking the sky was falling? Nah, why spit in their cornflakes? Life was good in the ten minutes that we’d been there: there were no tattling tongues, no complaints that someone wasn't sharing the swings, no time-outs given to ornery little hands throwing wood chips at each other like they were splashing in a swimming pool. I should have asked myself what was wrong with this picture. But I didn’t want my cornflakes spoiled either.
I had just eaten the last of my apple when Melanie approached with a red broom that she was holding like a jousting sword, pounding the grass of the playground with her Converse high-tops, drops of sweat trickling down her face, and trying to yell louder than the magnetic posse behind her. Moments like that are always comical at first. And then you find out--it’s real.
Apparently, Christopher's necklace had escaped the confines of his neck, found itself in his hand, and had been lobbed innocently onto the roof. When the attempts of his friends throwing their necklaces into the air to get it down had failed, they went into democratic mode and appointed Melanie as leader number one to run into the classroom and tell the teacher that she needed the red broom for something. Step one accomplished. Step two was to convince the teacher on the playground (that would be me) that what they needed was deserving of the Curious George like circus to commence in the next few minutes. But they knew that I was the teacher who had already given several warnings in the weeks prior when similar incidents of throwing precious belongings into the air had occurred. Hoping maybe said teacher wouldn’t bring out the stone tablet where she had etched the many other playground rules and their consequences, this one falling under the category of if precious belongings land innocently on the roof, the victim and perpetrator were shit out of luck.
So, I calmly retorted that if his necklace was on the roof, it would stay on the roof. Like one of those movie moments where you hear a needle skim across the grooves of a record and all grows quiet before hell breaks loose. Yeah, that's when things got ugly. Christopher's chin started to tremble. He gave me a cross-eyed glare over the blue rim of his steamed-up glasses. Then he announced through a bit of a stammer that basically my answer wasn't acceptable, and he'd just go find someone cooler than me. That was when I knew why Melanie had been appointed the leader: she added that her teacher had said to tell me to get it down, and she pushed the broom handle into my hand.
Now, had I glanced over to see Isaac escaping the rioting crowd to run to the office without asking, I wouldn't have rolled my eyes and hidden a grin to ask where exactly this necklace was. Maybe I misunderstood and it was dangling over the ledge waiting for the helpful grasp of a red broom handle to ease it back into its owner's hand and around his little neck where it should have stayed to begin with. Just as I ambled over with Melanie's posse all explaining at once in which direction to go, Isaac ran into the crowd and announced not to worry and that all was well because he had told the manager and she was bringing her ladder.
Okay, wait. The manager? Of a school? There wasn't enough time to consider that he had left the safety of the playground without my permission, and by doing so had gone to the office with his rescue plan and convinced the office staff to get on their walkie-talkies to alert the custodian of this emergent necklace plight. I blinked several times while I let his syllables process in my once-relaxed brain before realizing what he was saying. Surely the custodian would think it commodious to bring her heavy ladder before coming to evaluate the situation first, right? When he pointed behind me and yelled out that she was there, my stomach suddenly wanted to reject that apple from earlier and I begged my brain not to show me a long orange ladder over her shoulder. I turned around to see, not just the school custodian, but another adult to help her carry—yep, the very ladder I didn't want to see. I directed the cheering lollypop guild crowd to stay put while I spoke to her.
The power of words is curious. Survival of the fittest. Even at five years old if you can band together to connive, I mean convince several working adults to pay attention to what’s important to you by merely using your vocal chords, there’s nothing in life that’s going to hold you back. It wasn’t a house on fire, a capsized cruise ship, or a flat tire on the Mars Rover; it was a trinket on a red string. The cause wasn’t Mother Nature or drug or alcohol related, nor was it because even on a distant planet far far away, there is evidently still foreign object debris that can bring down a gazillion dollar machine roaming on the surface. Nope, this was a simple, ‘mybad’.
It has a way of knocking you upside the head to think that adults have gone to school for a minimum of thirteen years and yet some of us still don’t know how to use our words to get something done. Maybe we need to go back to Kindergarten. Irony is cruel.