Not everything is as it seems: Life as First Graders

Not everything is as it seems: Life as First Graders

Hello all!

For my fellow Canadians, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are all having a great weekend. I had to run back to the office quickly today but other than that, I am enjoying the time off! Today, we will be going back in time and see the Red man as a first grader. We are going back in the late 1970’s when nuns were teaching the children. We will be talking about the Red man’s first experience seeing a nun and how things are perceived at the tender age of 6. I will be adding my own two cents here and there as I worked with kids for many years and have my own experiences. Stay tuned because as you will see not everything is as it seems. Let’s look at life as a first grader 🙂

There were all the kids and then there was Lenny

I was a little man in a big world of intrigue and wonder. In the school yard, each and every kid is shrouded in some type of mystery.  They seemed to all fit into a category or another. Fat funny kids, skinny quiet ones, ugly kids, pretty kids and the weird quiet kid, aka Lenny. The kid with orange toquethe orange toque that he never took off. The little awkward kid who never said one word to anyone even if he was taunted or teased. If Lenny was anything, he was a master at avoiding confrontation. He would just walk to some quiet unoccupied piece of the playground where he would almost be gone and forgotten except for the fact that his orange hunting toque was like a beacon in the night.

“Here I am, pick on me” it said. Kids can be cruel and we were cruel. In children, the anxiety associated with the development of social skills can be quite high especially when you have no real social skills to begin with. Children can be cowards, they will take their frustration out on the perceived inferior being and Lenny was the chosen one. He was the one even the weakest child could pick on. He would not defend himself but stuck out like a sore thumb.

School in the 1970’s and the nuns

I do not know how school is today but in the late 1970’s, we had to sing the national anthem first thing in the morning and religion class was mandatory (having worked for a catholic school district, I can tell you this is still happening in some school districts in Canada). So after the morning bell rang we would stand for the national anthem. We would then sit and attendance would be taken. Lenny was so attached to his toque that he never took it off even during the national anthem. The weird quiet kid never took off his toque so he was the butt of the jokes.

When you are a child, time has no real reference point. It is all new and exciting and is hard to comprehend when looking back. A day seems like a month and a month seems like a lifetime (having assessed kids for years I can attest to that! They need to be given reference points otherwise they seem to think everything will last forever. Literally). So I am not sure how long into Grade 1 we were when we got a new nun for religion class. When I walked into the class, an ominous figure sat at our teacher’s desk: a nun in a nun’s cloak, head covering and all. This was my first experience with a nun so I did not know what to expect. If there was ever an intriguing mystery, a nun sure was one of them. If there was a real life superhero capable of extraordinary things, she was it. I thought this nun had some real power, she could send me to hell!

Sisters of St-Francis in 1886

But I was a good kid and that is the truth (I can see him being good, full of wonder for the world). I was afraid to be anything but good, the fear of God was instilled deep inside of me. Indeed, as I have said in the past, I was raised by my grandmother and my aunts. Although I am an Indian, religion was present in my household. My aunt Lulu, well one of my many aunts, would tuck me in bed at night. But Lulu was the one who got in depth about “Hell the place where bad people would go if they were bad. This place where you burn forever and ever and the Devil, this evil monster pokes me with a fork stick”. There was this prayer that scared the shit out of me. “Now I lay me down to sleep, pray the Lord my soul to keep and if I die before I wake, pray my soul to take” (what an awful prayer for a child!). So before bed, we would say a few Our fathers, a few Hail Marys and at last I would lay down to sleep. So when I saw this woman with this cloak in my classroom, I was especially aware of my behavior.

Fort Albany residential school

Fort Albany residential school

The prayer and Lenny

So here we are in Grade 1, when the bell rang and all the little rug rats filed in. When the bell rang a second time signaling the start of class, the chuckling and giggling had already began (kids are funny little fuckers, they will giggle and laugh just to giggle and laugh). The nun was a weird sight for us kids and we all knew she was getting none. Wow, I just realized that I knew what “getting some” was all about at such a young age! So the nun gets out of her chair and makes her way to the front and center of the classroom. “Okay children be quiet for a second. I want you to stand and bow your head for the Lord’s Prayer.” The classroom went eerily quiet as soon as she spoke. We were children, we would steal, lie and cheat but in the face of authority we would do our best to appear angelic (yep). As I stood there with my head bowed, I peeked child prayingaround to see who was looking at Lenny. We all wanted to see what his head looked like. We knew there was no chance of him getting away with wearing his toque during our Father’s prayer.

“Hey you in the back of the classroom, you with the orange toque”, the classroom came to life with chuckles and giggles. The conspiratorial looks increased, everyone was aware that the great revelation was here: we would know what Lenny looked like. Rumor had it that he was bald, some even said that his head was possibly full of scars. All the while Lenny stood quietly with his head down looking at the floor. “Hey you with the orange toque, take your toque off for the Lord’s prayer”. The nun’s voice rose a few octaves higher as the classroom began to chuckle and giggle louder. “Hey you with the orange toque” but before she could even finish, a floodgate of emotions shook Lenny’s body. A grotesque sounding noise came pouring out of Lenny’s mouth as he ran toward the door. The entire class erupted in a rumble of laughter until “Shut up” the nun roared. The classroom went nununcomfortably quiet as the nun walked out the classroom door doing her best to find the wounded animal. As she came back a while later, we resumed our prayer.

 

 

And then we learned the truth about Lenny…

We stood there arms at our sides, eyes closed doing our best to stay composed. And then two weeks later (in kid’s time), a message came over the intercom. “We are sad to announce that our school has lost one of its students. Lenny has passed away”. It was a strange and almost divine punishment. We were being punished for teasing Lenny. We were told that Lenny had died of leukemia, his radiation treatment had made him loose his hair. Hence the orange toque… I then began to question the power that the nun supposedly had. She was supposed to be a good person, God’s servant, who was better or greater than the rest of us. She looked more human than ever and not a very good human at that.

You see, as kids, adults are supposed to know everything and they were supposed to tell us what we needed to know. I know we would have treated Lenny better if we knew he was going to die. I know we would have had, I would have made sure of it. When we looked in each others’ eyes, we could see the shame and the guilt we all felt. I began to question religion at this point in my life. It did not make too much sense to me. I felt guilty and wrong for the way Lenny was treated. His last day at school was his worst day in this world. Children will steal, lie and cheat. They will yell, scream and holler but deep down they are innocent and perfect in their imperfection. They are honest and that is the truth about humanity (you can always count on a kid to tell it like it is).

first grade classroom

So where do we go now?

I hope you see inside the mind of a child when you read this stuff. I hope you see me as first grader and how I was seeing the world. And remember this: those little people are just like you. Offend them now and they will offend you later. Lie to them now and they will never grow up and be a liar like you. I ended up failing Grade 1 as our house burned down. And later on in life, I ended up being best friend with Lenny’s brother. The truth is that I still feel guilty for the way we all treated Lenny. The only thing he ever said to us was that scream he let out as he ran out the room. Please say a prayer for little Lenny and all the little bastards who were in that classroom as I bet half of them might remember little Lenny.

Hi it is me, Emily now. Some of you might not know this but I used to be a school psychologist. And the Red man’s story reminded me of this little girl in kindergarten I used to know. A little little girl who was full of life and joy. She was so happy to be in school, to make new friends. She was also a little bit shy but had a few friends. Then I got a phone call from the school principal. The little girl’s parents wanted to meet with her and I. Because not everything is as it seems. You see, their daughter had an inoperable brain tumor. She would not survive it. All at the tender age of 5. You want to hear the twist? Both her parents were doctors, one of them a surgeon. Yet they could not save her. They could only know each and every difficult step she was going to go through in the next months, steps they relayed in a meeting I had with them. So we tried to make the little’s girl last days comfortable and fun. She attended school when she could, kids would help her get around and do her daily activities. And I get the Red man’s point that kids can tease and be cruel but kids are also very intuitive and sensitive. And caring. As the little girl passed away during the Christmas break, a memorial was put up in her classroom. Kids drew cards for her and they stuck them all over the board. So she would never have to miss a day of class.

kindergarten classroom

Does anyone remember their first grade? Do you remember the kids who were with you? Did you have a Lenny in your classroom? Did this story touch you? Comment below and I will respond.

All my Relations

26 thoughts on “Not everything is as it seems: Life as First Graders

  1. Rawl

    I do remember the first grade. I also remember our Lenny. Her name was Diana. She was in a house fire and had burns over about 70% of her body. People would tease her and poke fun of her skin and how she looked. I would say nothing and stay away from her because I didn’t understand what happened to her. I never found out how the house caught on fire, why she couldn’t get out or if she lost any family members. All I know is her name was Diana and she was badly burned on her body.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thanks for sharing Rawl. It seems like Diana was very much so your Lenny. What a horrible thing to go through at such a young age. Kids, when they do not understand something either shy away from it or go prodding, but not always in a nice way unfortunately.

      Reply
  2. Chris

    There’s not much I remember of those early years but there was a girl who use to wait at the same bus stop as some of the other kids. She was quiet and unassuming. Never made a fuss about anything. Her mother though we never knew her personally was old looking with scraggly hair and a toothless mouth.
    At that time there use to be a television program called ‘Dirty Sally’. I can’t remember exactly what it was about but it had to do with some old lady in the country side who was old and decrepit.
    Every time we were at the bus stop and we saw this girl’s mother some would sing the tune to Dirty Sally even while her daughter was waiting there at the same time.
    She never showed it but it must of hurt to hear her mother being made fun of in this way.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Chris
      I am not familiar with the tv show Dirty Sally but I can imagine that that Sally did not look too good. Unfortunately many kids are made fun of because of their parents. As though they have anything to do with their parents’ behavior or appearance. But kids tease without necessarily understand the effect it has unfortunately. Thanks for sharing your story

      Reply
  3. Ron

    I’m not remembering my youth in detail but your story opened one. My youth was full of excitement everyday something new to explore and I did it with my best friend Emiel with whom I spent time on a daily base. Now I remember that after an afternoon in spring I left him for dinner. The next day he wasn’t there so as usual so I went to his house to pick him up and when I arrived, his place wasn’t the happy place it usually is. I met his father, he told me that Emiel drowned in the ditch were I had left him for dinner.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      wow Ron that is quite the story. To lose a friend at such a young age. The concept of death is very different at age 5-6. Kids do not fully understand what happens when someone passes away. But they do understand that it means they do not have that friend to play with.

      Reply
  4. Johnathan Tarter

    This is a very entertaining and insightful piece of content! I remember my first grade very well and it was a very fun and interesting time for me! I mostly remember all the fun I had with my friends there and how we would always swing on the swing set at recess everyday! I had a couple of really good friends that I am still friends with today! Lots of good memories! 🙂

    Reply
  5. Sammy

    Hi Emily, i think there is this Lenny in everyone school life. this is very interesting story. i think there was this Lenny in my first grade too. Gone were those days of worry free and just playing around in school. This article had me reminiscing about my first grade school life. thank your for such great post.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thanks for visiting Sammy.
      I think that yes we all have a version of Lenny. I hope you had a good time reminiscing about your first grade experience 🙂

      Reply
  6. Yvonne

    Hi Emily, I don’t really remember my first grade but I have seen instances of bullying in my school before. I recall a girl who was just sitting down while another girl kept swinging her foot in her face! I was around 8 or 9 at that time and it was my first time that I saw someoneo being bullied. I knew it was wrong but I didn’t know how to stop it. I wish that I had spoken up for her but we learn as we grow.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Yvonne
      unfortunately bullying is still present today and more awareness needs to be present for kids to know what to do. I work in a rough environment and it has made me tougher and more outspoken about injustices taking place. I have learned to defend others and speak up when something is not right. But as kids, it is more difficult to do so without fearing repercussions.

      Reply
  7. Christian

    Our Lenny was a boy named Eric. Fortunately he did not suffer the same fate as Lenny did but I still remember making fun of him and it still haunts me to this day. I’ve seen Eric and made contact with him. When I brought up how we treated him he seemed indifferent, but I’m sure he wrestled with it as a kid. I remember the looks on his face when we were making fun of him. And it was all over his family being the “poor people” of the town. They did not have much money. They drove an old, beat up car. Their house seemed unkempt, but we found out later that was because they did not have the money to make repairs.

    I wish I could go back and treat Eric better. He did not deserve my chastisement or bullying.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thanks for sharing your story Christian!
      I can recognize a boy like your Eric at my school too. It was not in first grade but later on but he was teased for being dirty and poor. What a stupid thing to do….But we were kids.

      Reply
  8. Lynne

    Hi Emily, this story really touched me. Kids can be so cruel sometimes. My older sister was best friends with a “Lenny” and the children picked on her endlessly. They even started bullying my sister too for being friends with her. There was even one incident when I got hit because of my association with her.
    Incredibly senseless.
    My sister and I are still friends with her to this day and she is a well adjusted happy adult, thankfully!

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      wow Lynne, thanks for sharing your story! Kids can be very cruel sometimes that is true. I am sorry you and your sister got one end of it. But happy to hear that everyone is now well adjusted 🙂

      Reply
  9. Peter

    What a powerful story Emily. Kids can be so cruel that’s for sure. I was always so shy and never really got involved in school. I have no good memories of any of my public school days. Scared and frightened all the time. Got beat up a lot. Took up running and became very fast so I could get away. Quit at 16 and never went back. Learned on my own and upgrading. Never could stand the public school system. I can only imagine what you girls went through. It’s criminal! What a shame on the human race to treat others this way. So happy you’re doing well.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thanks Peter!
      so sorry to hear about your experiences in school. I have worked in the public system as a psychologist and resources are so limited. And they should not be. Because kids need the help and support. I am glad you found your own way of doing things and that it worked for you 🙂

      Reply
  10. Carolyn

    I remember 1st. If we had a sick child in class, I do not remember. I was never mean to any kids that had health problems of any kind. My own daughter, now 25, had leukemia before she was 3. She lost her hair twice, had a stroke, and went thru radiation therapy. She was teased by our neighbors & acted out. We soon told her to tell other kids if they didn’t like her bald head, then stop looking!! She defended herself a few times, I never punished her for it, instead, we talked about it. And if kids lingered around to see if she got into trouble, we went inside instead.
    Yes….She is 25 years old & had another cancer scare recently, but she is healthy and alive. She knows what it’s like to be teased & I can proudly say that she will ALWAYS DEFEND those who don’t feel strong enough to defend themselves.
    Sad story, too many times kids don’t understand, and I wish parents took the time to teach them about compassion, empathy, and respect.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thank you so much for sharing your story Carolyn!
      My thoughts and prayers are with your daughter. That is a lot to go through. So happy she is healthy and okay. And good for you for teaching her to defend herself. Parents should take that time with their kids no doubt about that.

      Reply
  11. Ryan Low

    I had a Lenny in school. But she was a girl and we all thought that she was the ugliest girl in the school. She was constantly made fun off.

    She didn’t had the same end as Lenny though.

    Reply
  12. Brad

    Hi Emily,

    Such a sad story, but told with a reflective sense of humour.
    I think every school has kids that get picked on more than others, and when I remember the times when I joined in the crowd, I think ‘Jeez, what a pack of assholes we were!’ Unfortunately I was not brave enough to stand up for the weaker ones, but no-one else did either. Which goes to show that we really were a pack of assholes I guess. Or just stupid kids.

    But at least when you went home in those days you could get away from it all. Unfortunately today the poor kids seem to have no escape, with the proliferation of social media. Same problems, just different times. I don’t know whether it is worse now, or if it just seems that way with the constant media barrage of information and sensationalist reporting.

    I still think the best way is to simply talk to your kids and teach them how to stay safe. Even if they seem to be ignoring you, some of it still sinks in I believe.

    I love reading your great stories Emily.

    Brad

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thanks Brad!
      I absolutely agree. With the cyber age, kids cannot get away from it all as easily. And cyber bullying is sometimes even worse! It is constant and can just follow a person around. And yes I think back then, we did not know better. No one stood up for those being picked on. I can honestly say that now as an adult I do stand up. I work with a very vulnerable population and I stand up for them and strangers all the time.

      Reply
  13. Kristie

    I hate when other kids pick on others. Even when they did not know the reason, they just knew he was different. It is such a sad story. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Kristie!
      The kids did know something was different for sure. But they chose to go another way about it another way. And that was not okay. I am pretty sure they would react differently now.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*