Some of my greatest childhood memories are of Kindergarten. I loved singing Jeremiah was a Bullfrog (Joy to the World), watching those Disney films, and rolling out those colored mats at nap time. It is interesting to me that I don’t remember a single conversation I had with anyone yesterday but I remember the most diminutive things from Kindergarten class, like getting a good look up little Susie’s dress at nap time. I was five…I had no clue what I was looking at, but since her yellow mat was right behind my green one, I got an eyeful of her pink underwear just about every day. It was one of those things that, at that age, you really don’t want to see and you don’t even know why you are looking, but you keep looking anyway.
The Christmas party that year was our first in school. Everyone brought a gift to exchange and while I don’t quite remember what I brought, I do recall that at some point I decided to just give it to the teacher. I asked my Mother about the teachers gift and she said that the teacher does not get one. There was apparently nothing in the Kindergarten Class Christmas Party Gift Exchange Instructions we were sent home with that covered that part and I thought, even then, how sad it must be for her to watch everyone else getting a gift and have to sit there with nothing. Suffice it to say that my teacher was on the receiving end of something nice for a boy that cost three dollars or less from little Kenny for Christmas (this will be one of the few times you will ever see me refer to myself by that name). It was not because I had any particular fondness for her or because I thought she was pretty, though I have to admit that, in hindsight, she was a very pretty lady. Even in Kindergarten, I was a diplomat and a strategic thinker, so I just thought maybe it would be a nice thing to do that I might benefit from in the future. Besides, I preferred to give it to the teacher instead of that little freckle faced twit that I didn’t like or that little kid over in the corner that kept sticking his tongue out at me.
As a kindergartner, I don’t think it is possible to be vindictive nor do I think you really have a real concept of love or affection, at least not in the way we see it as we grow older. Growing up in my house, vindictiveness was something you got plenty of, but love and affection…not so much, and I had not learned to recognize the latter. So when the teacher grabbed me like a rag doll and planted a wet one between my cheek and the corner of my lip, I thought the next thing coming was a butt whipping! She left a big red lipstick mark on me that I did not even know was there, and no one bothered to tell me about until I got home. My Mother saw it and started with the twenty questions interrogation routine, as though I was some sort of child gigolo wooing the lunchroom ladies or something. Forty years later and that teacher would have been plastered on the news, trending on Twitter and facing hard time.
Turns out the whipping came after all. That afternoon at home it hit me…fever, sore throat and a general feeling of hammered poo. The doctor said that I had the mumps. Toss in a little pneumonia and an ear infection and I would say that butt whipping was an understatement. Though I was very sick, the standing joke at home and told to countless friends, family and strangers for years and years was the horrible gift I got at the Kindergarten class Christmas party. I can still hear them, even in my teens…. “Tell them Ken! Tell them about the Christmas gift you got from your Kindergarten teacher!” It was embarrassing and for years I was extremely bitter about it. Needless to say, that year was not one of my better memories of Kindergarten and from that year on, I did not give any of my teachers as much as a smile for Christmas.