I was almost six, super excited when my baby sister was born. Although I loved playing with dolls, now I’d have a real live doll to hug and kiss, who could hug and kiss me back. Knowing how our mother could be violent, I watched my sister like a hawk, making sure she was safe from harm and had plenty of hugs from me since our mother wasn’t affectionate.
When my sister was about five months old, we moved to a garden apartment. We lived on the first floor. Upstairs was a young couple who quickly became friends with my parents. The husband adored my sister—me, not so much. Maybe it was because of the diaper incident.
In 1966, I’d been teaching dance and movement for adults and teens at a local YMCA, but needed a summer job. I was hired to teach a Head Start class of 15 children ages four to six although I’d never taught young children before. They came from a housing project close to the school where the program was being held. I was given a room that housed a kindergarten during the school year, but was told the only equipment I could use were the blocks. I protested that the children needed to paint and was reluctantly given permission to use the easels as well as a bit of program money to buy paints and clay.
On the first day of class, after setting up the easels and paint, fifteen boys and girls, accompanied by an aide, ran into my classroom laughing, crying, pushing, shoving, screaming, although a few hung back looking frightened. I had no idea how children were assigned to teachers, if my kids were more given to acting out than others; what I did know was that the turmoil had to stop. Immediately.
In 1971 I was one of 12 teachers invited to participate in a five-day international conference on child drama in Northern England. The convenor, Sir Peter S., an upper-class Brit, and I soon clashed. I couldn’t stand his misogyny and racism. Although I tried to be discreet in my responses to him, on the second day, I lost my cool when he started using derogatory terms for minorities. The interchange between us became so heated he said, “If you mind the way I teach so much, you take the group,” and left the room.
More than a little shocked, I took the challenge, and began leading a creative drama session. At home I worked with minority kids in a poor neighborhood. Instead of Sir Peter’s “airy-fairy” drama that my kids would have mocked for all they were worth, I led the group using a prompt about street gangs meeting. The group was so engrossed that no one saw Sir Peter return. He strode into the midst of the group, interrupted what we were doing, and resumed his teaching.
Life tales from a woman different living in The City Different.