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Saturday, October 5, 2013

October Memoir-And-Backstory-Blog-Challenge - Empathy (Milk of Unkindness)


October Memoir-And-Backstory-Blog-Challenge
created and hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan
http://janeannmclachlan.com/october-memoir-and-backstory-blog-challenge.html






I loved my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Pearl Rosenbloom (last name changed to protect her family although she was far from innocent).  I loved my teacher until that spring morning when she transformed from a revered adminsitrator of order and safety into something else altogether.

It seemed I had waited my entire life for school to begin and I was beyond thrilled when, finally shortly after my fifth birthday it did.  School was everything I imagined and more - my teacher's name in black dark ink on a placard in a paned window of our heavy oaked door was PEARL, my own up-until-that-very-moment reviled name.  The world was rapidly changing and I was caught up in nearly delerious delight.  Mrs. Rosenbloom had a small child's xylophone with keys in primary colors and a small smooth raw wood hammer with which she would strike three keys STOP, LOOK and LISTEN.  We were instructed to do just that, and as the clear notes rang out in the sunshafted early morning light coming in through the high, very high windows, the childish laughter and chatter stilled and we took our seats quietly.  

It was my first "Snack Time." one of the things I had needed to remember earlier that morning was to give Mrs. Rosenbloom, my "milk-money" - I had clutched the coin in my palm so tightly that it was a relief to relinquish it to one of my new classmates who had been almost immediately recruited to be "milk-money-monitor," and now some hour or two later we were obviously to reap the reward as we sat in in our tiny chairs, four to a table and waited as the door opened and a carton of small milk containers was deposited on Mrs. Rosenbloom's desk by the tallest boy that I had ever seen.  In short order, we were called table by table, six in all, I believe, to come up and retrieve our milk - there was a choice of regular or quite unexpectedly "chocolate" - I has never before known that chocolate milk could be had in a container pre-made such as the one sitting before me, including a paper-wrapped straw. Although my feet didn't quite reach the ground without stretching a bit, I was completely relaxed and quite thoroughly happy, School, was simply wonderful.  A place of orderly bliss, no crying baby, no frantic rushing about to get things done.  Order and calm and fairness and peace and kindness to one another.  At least, it was so for another moment. And then Mrs. Rosenbloom called "Amy! - Come here!"  and Amy, a girl in a thin cotton plaid dress, with dark brown oxford shoes and plain white socks.  Amy, with brown hair cut as though a bowl had been placed on her head leaving her straight bangs that fell almost covering her downcast eyes - Amy stood and walked to Mrs. Rosenbloom.  Mrs. Rosenbloom.  Mrs. PEARL Rosenbloom who lifted Amy up onto the very first table nearest the teachers' desk and instructed us all to "look at a girl who was too poor to afford milk money."  And we looked, and as I did, my heart swelled with unshed tears and I wished I could rush up there and pull Amy down from the top of that desk and take her place, because my heart was already pounding as I was sure hers was and my face burned as I could see hers flamed.  The chocolate milk was warmish and tasted vaguely sour, by the time Amy was back in her seat and I took my first sip.  





13 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you felt empathy. What a horrible way to treat a child.

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  2. I'm so glad you felt empathy. What a horrible way to treat a child.

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    1. Yes, it was truly horrible and also horrible that although the "dear Mrs. R" did not ruin my ongoing life-time love of schooling she did compromise the safety and the Edenesque quality that she had originally introduced. I often wonder what happened to "Amy." I do remember her being one of a small "gang" of us in first grade who had notions of forming a small circus built on our individual talents - I was double jointed in my fingers - and Amy, sweet gentle Amy, could crack her delightful perfectly pert little nose in a most alarming way!

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  3. Oh, heavens! Glad you have an empathic heart. She doesn't deserve your anonymity.

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  4. Aw thanks guys -I'm sure "dear" Mrs. R. is long gone - I would hope that she left behind more compassionate children who might randomly be hurt by her coldness. (btw ... she retired the year afte she had my younger brother who had no affinity for "Stop-Look or Listen" ... he was banned from school trips because of his energetic classroom behavior. ... lol ).

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  5. Oh, that is so sad! "Poor" Amy - because of the way she was treated. I hope this event made her stronger in the long run.

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    1. I often think of Amy and have the same wish - I know that witnessing such mistreatment and cruelty to a child shifted my very young self into a protective and pro-active mode - I hope that Amy was stronger in the long run and was able to recognize the ugliness of Mrs. R. as compared against the obvious swelling of support and love she felt from our just begun friendships.

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  6. Oh, Pearl--I'm in tears. I knew children like that, but I don't think I ever witnessed such cruelty. Isn't it interesting how that incident touched and shaped you, even though you probably couldn't have named what you were feeling at the moment? I love the way the piece moves; I could feel something coming, but I wasn't sure what, and then it becomes significant for all of us, not just for you. Beautifully written.

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    1. Awww thank you dear Gerry - yes I do believe those early memories shape us and that as a dear friend described in an early memory of her own the feedback we receive from those who we love (parents grandparents etc) plays a huge role in how children are "taught" - for although some children seem hard-wired for empathy all children need to be taught at the very least the word for their feelings. Thank you again for stopping - your comments touched me deeply .

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  7. This is beautifully written, Pearl - so moving, and you have set it up so we share your horror and empathy for Amy. School used to be pretty rough, from the point of view of many adults thinking children had no feelings. I remember one teacher who was cruel this way, in my fifth grade. there was a boy - not too bright, didn't seem to pay attention, but not a bad kid - she asked him a question he couldn't answer and she got so mad she yanked him up from his chair and shook him fiercely. Only he slipped, and fell, and banged his head against the corner of the desk. Blood poured down his face, from just above his eye. I was terrified, what I would now call trauma, by witnessing it.

    Your memoir is so real, it brought all that back. Whew!

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  8. This was great. It reminded me of a story my mother told me about my aunt, who was a primary school teacher, who took one of her students to the girls' washroom to wash her face. Everyone from then on thought of her as "dirty". Such actions live on forever.

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  9. And we all think of kids as being the bullies.

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  10. How awful! It's amazing how little it takes to affect a child for life (you, Amy, other classmates...).

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