Here There Be Dragons

I work in a kindergarten. My official job title is "literacy tutor," but I am equally as involved in nose-wiping, shoe-tying, jacket zipping, and general chastisement as I am in literacy. There are twenty-one kids in my class, adorable moppets of five years old who are clearly a different species. Kindergarteners they are not just littler people. They have their own ways of thinking and their own ways of acting, both of which bear no relation to how an adult thinks and behaves. Working in a kindergarten classroom is like being on an anthropological expedition.


For example: 5-year-olds do not have the same concept of personal space as regular people. The teacher will tell them to make a circle on the rug, and after five minutes, when the dust settles, there will be 19 kids sitting squished in a line against the wall, some of them in actual physical pain from the cramped position they are sitting in, one kid sitting two yards away from the line, and another kid who is sitting behind the bookshelves. If, after the muffled sobs of the most contorted child get too much to bear, you tell them to spread out, 19 pairs of eyes look at you in bewilderment. "Why?"


Five year olds can't walk. It's a scientific fact. For kindergarteners, the most natural form of locomotion is full-out gallop. It doesn't matter how far they are going or where they are: they can't help themselves. The dictum of "no running in the halls" is anathama to everything in their being. Poor kids, they try to obey. You can see it as they walk down the hall, brows knitted in intense concentration: "Don't run ... don't run ... don't ... run ... don't .... RUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUN." In a supreme case of the spirit being willing, but the flesh being weak, they will listen very attentively and nod solemnly as you tell them "and remember, NO RUNNING!" And they will be going at top speed before the words have died in the air.


They have different rules than we do, too. "Jen, play tag with us!" they say, 19 little round faces staring up at me in joyful anticipation. I agree, warily, and before I know it, the children are gone, scattered like a flock of birds at a gunshot. I look around. Where the hell did they go? The playground isn't that big! And then, BAM! Four little hands slam into my backside. "TAG!" they screech, and then they scatter again. This is how the rest of the game will be played. I will attempt to locate the children, who apparently have disappeared into an alternate galaxy, and every 30 seconds or so, someone will run directly into my butt (which is at direct shoulder-level for your average kindergartener) and shriek, "TAG!" They must get a kick out of it, watching from Dimension X as I whirl around and shake my fist to the empty air. "I know I'm it, okay?! It's MY TURN to tag YOU!" We keep this up until their teacher calls for them to come inside, they emerge from the thin air and race inside, leaving me out of breath and sore in their wake.


This particular observation probably has less to do with kindergarteners being a different species than with me being a debt-ridden grad student, but I think the tooth fairy has gotten out of control. Kids in kindergarten lose teeth at the rate that normal people shed skin cells. There is virtually no one in my class whose smile doesn't look as lopsided and uneven as a jack o' lanterns, and one of the children is missing all four of his front teeth, giving him a strong resemblance to Eddie Munster. The other week one of the kids, Bernardo, lost one of his teeth, his fourth or fifth tooth to fall out. And the the tooth fairy left him five bucks. FIVE BUCKS?! Is that the going rate for a tooth these days? When I was losing teeth, a mere 15 years ago, I would get a quarter. (That's in Canadian funds, too). Perhaps my math is wrong, but isn't that TWENTY TIMES less than Bernado got? I could buy a gum ball from the machine at Mister Grocer with my haul; Bernardo bought his favorite lunch (egg on a roll, Hawaiian Punch) at the deli for a week.

Maybe I'm just sore because the tooth fairy who visits kids in Hell's Kitchen isn't the same stern taskmaster who visited Scarborough, Ontario. Not only was my tooth fairy stingy, but she was ornery, too. One time I awoke and reached under my pillow to find my shiny new quarter, but instead withdrew a note that said, "Dear Jenny: Your room was too messy for me to find my way. Please clean it up so I can take your tooth tomorrow! Love, the Tooth Fairy." I was saddened, but you better believe I cleaned my room. And for a quarter, I remind you.

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