Before you ever reach your grown-up, rule-following, upstanding citizen of a self, you begin with an original self. On the receiving end, an original self can deliver one hot mess. As if I needed more proof, I had a moment with one such self, Damien, last Tuesday.
Damien sported a flat-side haircut, and more space than teeth in his mouth with remaining teeth capped in silver. He had two deep brown eyes that swam in their sockets. Once he looked up at me and declared I am one crazy boy.
A month ago, I went into his classroom during free choice time. Kids could draw, play with blocks, and dress up. Damien popped out – tah-dah- from the shoe cubby wearing a wedding veil, a hoop skirt, and earrings made of scotch tape and red construction paper. How you like these earrings Principal? They nice, don’t you think?
Nice, I said. Nice.
On Tuesday, when I heard his way-too-happy tee-hee-hee, I stepped into the hall to see him pop through the door of his kindergarten classroom, kick off his orange-and-scrunge shoes, drop his jeans and his polka dot drawers, and run naked down the blue-tile floor that extended from the south end of the hall to the north. Away went his two brown buns bouncing, fast, and disappearing down the school’s back steps. I snatched pants, shorts, and shoes and began the pursuit.
Picture Damien. Then step back to think about how we build schools. Rows of concrete boxes tethered to the sides of long, shiny-slick hallways. Hallways are also boxes, albeit long and narrow. Whether stacked or stretched long ways, these cubes still have just a few cut-outs that that allow their human cargo outward and onward toward any available light. The laughter of children echoes within them, gets caught, falls to the floor, and dims. I do not know how we chose to make schools this way. Maybe we will change our ways.
If a boy gets caught here, he can sometimes make it out. He has to figure out patience, how to say yes when he wants to say no, how to sweet-smile, and how to sit still.
I caught up with him, holding naked court on the playground for a ring of fourth grade girls and boys. He got to be in the center of creation for that glorious, wide open moment. One of the yard supervisors, Ms. Agnus, snagged him by the arm and pulled his pants back on his squiggly body. I could see how this moment worked her nerves as she buttoned his jeans and tugged his red-cloth belt a notch too tight.
Now was when he would start his lesson – the one about staying indoors, being a good boy, a quiet boy who knows to keep pants on and his eyes down. As Ms. Agnus took him upstairs, I heard her saying, you should have thought about that, little boy, before you took off down that hall.
So, ask yourself what happens when a boy escapes? When he gets out without knowing how to run, where to go, where to get help? We don’t yet have that answer and are still doing the research Damien.
For now, lay low.