ABC's by Ying Wu
“Gemma’s doing running club.” Jackie beams. “So is Lindsey,” I respond. It’s Saturday. We’re standing in the hallway of the François Ballet Academy as our daughters practice arm positions. Kindergarten started last week.
Gemma and Lindsey were best friends throughout preschool. They rode tandem magic carpets in our living rooms. They fed pet unicorns daffodil sandwiches under the sycamores. They whinnied, chirped, fluttered, roared, picked all the pink geraniums in Jackie’s yard, endured coconut oil lice treatments together in the bathtub, ate M & M’s half melted onto a bus stop bench.
Lately, though, the girls have seen each other a lot less. Jackie elected to send Gemma to a private language immersion school on the other side of town. “She has both reading and math homework every night. Twenty minutes of each. Plus she has science lab worksheets on Thursdays. Does Lindsey have homework?”
“Of course.” This is a lie. We won’t start having homework until second grade. I change the subject. “Did you know our school has a garden program? I just signed up to volunteer.”
“Oh so do we – and I’m on the planning committee for the Fall Festival and we’re gonna organize a box top drive.” I tap on the glass to remind Lindsey to stop picking her nose. Jackie muses about the poor quality of Gemma’s handwriting and confesses to spending $70 on Lakeshore Learning penmanship products. “It’s a whole different ballgame,” she declares. I notice she’s fidgeting with her zipper pull. Then I realize I’m twisting my hair.
When Jackie ducks into the bathroom, I fish out my cell phone and search online for age appropriate literacy and STEM workbooks. School seemed so immense – and important – when I started kindergarten. You had to stand in line and raise your hand and ask to go to the bathroom. We had our own pencils and desks with hinged tops and compartments inside. We had special paper for writing, and there was a special way for making each letter. Sometimes you started at the top line; sometimes, at the bottom.
All the letters of the alphabet were displayed on the wall. Whenever we finished with one, Mrs. Selthan moved it to the knowledge tree on the opposite wall. According to the schedule, P followed D and M. Then we’d do K, then T. After kindergarten, we’d move upstairs to Mrs. Bell’s first grade class. Then second grade. Then down the hall to third. After letters, we’d work on words. Someday we’d read the books in the big kid section of the library. I remember how long the rows of titles seemed. And from the picture windows at the end, you could see across the school yard, beyond the oak trees and the low rolling green of the park across the street to the chalk colored high rises anchored on the hills in the distance. There were places in the world filled with sand, or ice, or shallow water. Caterpillars became butterflies. At one time, there were dinosaurs. From upside down on the monkey bars, you could feel the sky on the bottom of your eyes. Thoughts were always floating through my mind. They fluttered up like bits of paper on the wind and whirled and sailed – even as I sat there practicing lower case j’s – three rows of ten, with hooks to the left and dots on top. And the sharp point of my pencil, and the straight, parallel lines across the paper, and Mrs. Selthan’s gentle voice filled me with soaring faith. I felt certain someday I’d find how all the pieces fit together.
Ying Wu is a poetry editor of Writers Resist and the Kids! San Diego Poetry Annual. More examples of her work can be found online at poetryandartsd.com, poetrypacific.blogspot.com, shj.kysoflash.com, and writersresist.com, as well as in the material world at the San Diego Airport (arts.san.org/portfolio-item/before). She leads research on insight, problem solving, and aesthetic experience as a project scientist at UC San Diego and lives with her husband and daughter on a sailboat in the San Diego Bay.