Big Trouble at Nursery School
by Deborah Heller
I started nursery school at the age of two and a half. Every day my mother would pick me up from school, probably at around four or four-thirty, after her own full day of teaching in Manhattan. The school was named the Sunnyside Progressive School, primarily, I assume, as a description of the then current ideal of “progressive education,” but possibly also as a nod to the dominant politics of the families that sent their children there. The parents sometimes referred to it as the “Sunnyside Aggressive School,” suggesting the teachers’ and school administrators’ general confusion – or, perhaps better, cluelessness – about how to deal with unbridled childhood impulse.
Early in my nursery school years I bonded with my friend Joyce, who lived right next door to the school and with whom I occasionally “got into trouble.” One day we decided to sneak out of school and go for a walk on neighboring streets. Our walk was so interesting that we returned to the school late, after my mother had already arrived – no doubt to the teacher’s embarrassed admission that she didn’t know where I was. It was raining by the time we returned. Standing on the bench to make myself tall enough for my mother to button up my coat easily, I called attention to my shrewd foresight: “It’s good that we remembered to put our boots on.”
“There was nothing good about it!” she angrily replied.
Another time, Joyce (who was taller than I) pulled a fire alarm in a box on the street. My mother was with us but wasn’t fast enough to stop her. My mother subsequently narrated the story, expressing her mortification at having had to wait patiently for the firemen, who then angrily reprimanded her for not having been able to control her children. (“They bawled me out” were her words.)
After some misbehavior Joyce and I committed at school, we were both sent the following day to help with the distribution of cookies and juice to the two-year-olds. To my subsequent resentment, Joyce, who was large for her age and so generally assumed to be the instigator, was assigned a second day of cookie and juice duty, whereas I was returned to my regular class after only one day of such “punishment.”
Excerpted from The Goose Girl, the Rabbi and the New York Teachers: a Family Memoir (Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2013).
Deborah Heller is a retired professor of Humanities at York University, Toronto. She is co-editor of Jewish Presences in English Literature and the author of Literary Sisterhoods: Imagining Women Writers; Daughters and Mothers in Alice Munro's Later Stories; and The Goose Girl, The Rabbi and the New York Teachers: a Family Memoir.