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I Almost Got Expelled from Preschool

I threw a chair at the teacher, and I don't really regret it.

By Lissa BayPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
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I Almost Got Expelled from Preschool
Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

The year was 1987, I was four years old, and I’d just become public enemy #1 in Mrs. Williams’s class at Penn Wynne Pre-K.

Why? Because I threw a chair at the teacher. And I did not regret it.

I remember holding the chair up over my head. It was a child-sized and light, easy to lift. Mrs. Williams did that thing adults do to kids, where she held perfectly still except one pointed finger and warned me through gritted teeth DO NOT THROW THAT CHAIR. The severity of the consequences I’d face if I let it fly were not in doubt.

I threw it anyway.

The next thing I remember, I was whisked off to the principal’s office, to wait there until my mother came to pick me up. Once she arrived, the principal said I caused so much trouble, they had good reason to expel me from their private preschool. But my mother had an ace up her sleeve: my sister.

My sister Rachel was in third grade, and she was a star pupil. She raised zero hell for the teachers and her peers liked her. She raised the testing average for their school. Mom told the principal that if she had to take me to a different school, she’d place Rachel in that same school. The principal relented.

At home, I ruminated over why I’d thrown that chair. I did it because Mrs. Williams said I walked like a duck.

I’m pigeon-toed, and I had not realized there was anything different about how I walked from all the other kids. You can’t see yourself walking, and mirror reflections are tricky things. It’s like when you first hear a recording of your own voice, and you refuse to believe that’s how you really sound. If the mirror doesn’t reflect how you picture yourself in motion, it’s easy to doubt your judgment. Surely your awkward gait appears perfectly normal to everyone else.

I didn’t fit in at preschool. Due to my December birthday, I was younger than the other kids. My parents had debated keeping me back a year so I’d be one of the oldest instead of the youngest in my grade, but they decided against it because I was an advanced learner. Plus, I wanted to be in the same grade with my best friend down the street, Stacy, whose last name I no longer remember. Which goes to show you how poorly kids weigh the factors that go into important decisions.

It was a grave mistake. I should have been kept back another year because, socially, I was always behind. The kids in preschool teased me, especially the boys, whose physical harassment in the form of pushing, pinching, and stealing toys from my hands was persistent.

Honestly, I’m unsure now if Mrs. Williams even meant to make fun of me when she said I walked like a duck. As an adult, I recognize that it’s possible she simply informed me I was pigeon-toed, so I asked her what that meant, and she said that my feet point inward instead of out and it made me look like a duck.

Actually, reading that back, it still sounds mean. I’m as sure as I can be of anything from age four that she definitely said it. And, right or wrong, I interpreted it as mocking. So did the other kids. They immediately began pointing their own feet inward and quacking at me. So I grabbed a chair and held it aloft.

What I felt at that moment was impotent rage. I wanted an adult to be on my side. I wanted protection, assistance. When all I got from the teacher was an even more powerful bully than my usual ones, no amount of warnings or rigid index fingers would have convinced me to lay that chair back on the linoleum.

She was the enemy. I would not follow her instructions anymore.

No one was physically harmed in the chair incident. But my trust in authority died that day. You know that Stanley Milgrim obedience-to-authority experiment where almost everyone electrocuted a stranger to unconsciousness because a doctor in a coat told them to keep going? I swear I’d have been the lone exception. As soon as I heard one “Oww!” I’d have been like, “Know what? I’m outty. Screw you and your lab coat.”

I don’t know if it’s for the best or not. One time, my father told me that he almost wishes I’d joined a cult for a while, so that I would have learned to submit to authority. Instead, I’ve lived a life where I’ve stayed completely true to my own authority. As long as I’ve had a boss I respected, I’ve done fine in workplaces, but to be honest, I’ve also quit a lot of jobs.

For the past 8 years, I’ve work with children as a professional babysitter/nanny. Babysitting gives me the opportunity to provide for children what I rarely received in my own childhood: an interested ear, personalized attention, and protection from cruelty. I want to help carve out, in their mind’s landscape, a foundation of safety and trust.

It hobbled my emotional growth to have endured bullying so young. I missed out on building early social skills and adopted defensive posturing that did not ultimately serve me well. I used to get into actual physical fights. The chair incident was not exactly off brand for me for the next 12 years.

Attitudes were different in the 80’s. People thought nothing of commenting on how a child looks. Now, that’s rightfully regarded as, at best, a good way to instill self-consciousness and low self-esteem into a kid and, at worst, hella creepy. I hope that teachers these days wouldn’t join with the kids in teasing, but I don’t know for sure. With so many of us coming off our own messed up childhoods, the only adult I can guarantee will watch out for the humanity of every child in my care is me.

Babysitting is cathartic. Spending time with children and infants reminds me that people are born good, then the world messes us up with mostly unintentional mistreatment. Kids are also all born unique. Sometimes a parent or teacher simply isn’t equipped for a child who is a little different.

The problem with having blind spots is that we’re blind to them. There’s no preventing every misstep in parenting, teaching, or caretaking. I don’t blame Mrs. Williams for her mistakes, nor do I blame my parents. Most people are trying their best. Active malice toward children, thankfully, is rare. My parents truly did the best they could with the tools their own messed-up childhoods supplied to them.

Suppose my mother had allowed me to get expelled from Penn Wynne. Suppose my parents had found a way to keep me home the rest of the year, then sent me to a new preschool the following year, where I’d have been one of the oldest in the class. Suppose my mother had said, “I don’t want you to have a teacher who teases you, I want you to have a teacher who protects you from teasing.” Maybe I’d be a different, better person today.

Or maybe I’d have joined a cult. Who knows.

Childhood
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About the Creator

Lissa Bay

Lissa is a writer and nanny who lives in Oakland, California. She enjoys books, books, playing Disney songs on ukulele for kiddos, books, and hanging out with her deeply world-weary dog, Willow. And, oh yeah, also—get this: books.

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