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The Playground- a boy's first grade love gone

In kindergarten, everything was new, exciting but also a bit scary. My dad or mom had to drive me to school in the car. In Ohio kindergarten, kids had to take naps and even go home earlier than everyone else. It drove me crazy being treated like a little boy. Why come to school and take a nap? However, there was one cool thing about nap time and that was that my mat was next to Karen Cook’s. When the lights were out, she and I would pretend to be napping and look at each other and whisper. A time or two we touched hands. It was a pretty special time, I suppose.

In the blink of an eye, I was in first grade and now. Mrs. Dickson, my first grade teacher was older, sandy, long, blonde hair and a bit of a gruff voice. But her smile was super nice and it was obvious she cared about us kids. I walked with other kids to school for the first few weeks but then decided to ride my bike. I could stay home longer watching morning TV and then get to race off and jump curbs, zip through dirt and grass and skid my tire. It also helped me really wake up. If I pedaled fast and cut through three yards, I could make it to school in seven minutes. The morning race on my bike was a highlight to my days in first grade. Lunchtime was something I looked forward to. At the beginning of the week, we would get out our five pink lunch tickets and when it was time, I would get them out and carefully tear one off. Standing in line was fun and the gym cafeteria was always loud and hopping with lots of laughter and talking. I would gaze out and see who all was there and especially who was sitting with who. I could feel my heart beat out of my chest when a friend would wave and I would wave back. Just before getting your plastic tray was the milk cooler. Sometimes dad would give me a dime for an extra chocolate milk. That would make me feel pretty special and guys who had extra milks also looked pretty cool. The most fun of the day usually happened on the playground. Yes, counting the minutes for recess time was like waiting for the start to the Indy 500. During the last ten minutes before recess, I would watch the huge clock and the second hand go round and round. I would pretend I was paying attention to Ms. Dickson and only got caught daydreaming a time or two. It was a beautiful, fall, cool day in October. We were off to the races out to the playground. As we bolted around the corner of the building, the warm sunshine hit me right in the face and that got me even more fired up. All my classmates made a run to take their places at whatever they had been dreaming about during class. Some went straight to four-square, some to the swings, merry-go-round, teeter-totters, the big metal or the candy striped slide, monkey bars, tag or sat on benches to talk with friends. I wasn’t sure where to go. I didn’t usually have a plan. I always waited to see where everyone else landed. I stood there on the sidewalk watching and Karen called my name. “Scotty!” She was on one end of a teeter-totter by herself. “Come over here.” I ran with excitement, my name being called out as though I was a winner of a grand prize. She had on a beautiful, yellow sun-dress with ruffles and slightly curvy blond hair, sparkling blue eyes and the most beautiful smile. She was in a different class now, but she had been a special friend to me with all those private talks during kindergarten nap-times. I thought she had forgotten me but clearly not. It was like we hadn’t missed a day apart. We went up and down. She would push off hard and then not at all. I was gentle and careful not to do anything that would hurt her. We talked and laughed and in a flash she hopped off and said, “Come on, let’s go to the merry-go-round.” And we did. Curtis Hall was huge for his age and spun and spun us. We jumped off and we kept spinning. Then Karen said, “I’m going to chase you!” So run I did. I ran all over. I ran just hard enough to keep the chase close, but a few times she almost caught me. Then she said loudly, “Now, you chase me.” And I did. It was fun and we laughed and laughed while we ran. Then she suddenly stopped running at the end of the big swings. It took a minute to recover our breathing as she pitched her blond hair to and fro. I hung on to one metal leg of the swings and she held the one across from me. Looking right at me with those bright blue eyes, she said in a soft voice, “I want to tell you a secret.” 'Wow', I thought. We stepped gently toward each other. We got closer and closer. This was so exciting. She pulled her hair to one side to get real close to me so she could whisper in my ear. Her golden hair brushed the left side of my face. Then she got even closer and the skin of her soft cheek was against mine and I could hear her breathe in my ear. My heart was pounding. I took it all in and braced myself in this special moment. Then she spoke in a soft, clear whisper, “You’re ugly.” and ran off giggling. I couldn’t move and a moment later the bell rang. I was quiet and confused the rest of the day. I rode my bike home to an empty house. I didn’t feel like going out to play with my friends so I sat on the living room couch and looked out the window watching the squirrels. My parents finally got home from work at the same time and walked in to see me on the couch. “What’s wrong Scotty?” I was silent and then tears welled up as the words came out. “I’m ugly!” Mom came to me and said, “Oh no, you’re not. Who told you this?” “Kids at school.” I said. I stood there crying harder until my dad picked me up and put me on his shoulder. They both told me that it wasn’t true. It felt a little better and I wanted to believe them.

Through Story Exploration:

Having four kids and living in a cruel world of hurtful words, I have mentioned this story in passing several times here and there. I have also chuckled as though it was no big deal and yet it really was. I couldn't believe me, a grown man, forty years of age, sharing this story in a group of men and women. I have explored a couple, what I thought were 'more' intense harmful stories and I was shocked at how deeply this story actually affected me. As we explored this, some of the lies became clear:

  • I am a fool for thinking I was special

  • The way I look is what keeps me from fitting in

  • Everyone else knew that I was ugly but no one was telling me

  • It is safer to be alone

The Truth: There were other girl relationship through middle school and it always ended in heartache or the girl moving away. By the summer before High School, I decided to go by 'Scott'. I made a conscious decision to leave Scotty behind. One of the key things to this story was that, by definition, a 'secret' is something that many people know. I thought Karen was the messenger for what everyone else wasn't telling me. Without anyone to really talk through it all, the greatest lie of all I came to believe while sitting on the couch was that I would never have a special friend and my desire was foolish. I brought a picture from first grade to my group. The truth is, I was an amazing, handsome boy full of life. When the rest of the Story Group saw my picture, they all lit up and smiled. It was then I knew the truth. This was a huge step in me going back for Scotty and returning to have fun on the playground with my friends.

INSIGHT: There are 43 muscles that allow your face to function and move. Nothing else in the human body is like this where 32 of those muscles are directly connected to your emotion command center within your brain called the amygdala. A person can/will express dozens of emotions through their face involuntarily every day. The amygdala also works very closely with the hippocampus, which is the fight or flight system that is extremely critical to keep you from danger and has a secondary function of recording memory. In short, emotions are expressed most clearly through our faces. So when physical or verbal harm comes against our face, it is more intensely 'recorded' in our brain. Lasting shame can come from physical harm to the face like slapping, hitting, spitting or verbal harm such as words from others that shame your face, your ugly, buck teeth, freckly face, big nose, chubby cheeks, elephant ears, pimple xyz etc. Growing beards, makeup, looking down or away are often ways to hide shame from stories like the one here. This is also why the opposite is true. When a person says, you have a great smile, beautiful eyes, I love your laugh, you're handsome etc, it has a far bigger impact than if someone commented on your shoes.


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