08 Nov Magical Thinking
Do you remember preschool?
The Everett School called it Nursery-Kindergarten in my day. Tucked away on an Upper East Side street, Everett was my secret garden. Behind the door of the archetypal brownstone façade, was a stairway leading down to an inner courtyard playground that became the backdrop to some of my happiest childhood memories. As I turn fifty, I am astonished by the crystalline clarity of images and recollections from early childhood. Those were years of unquestionably magical thinking and boundless creativity.
Most of my memories are sensory in nature. Less romantic than Proust’s Madeleine, I recall scratchy white wool stockings, sticky feet stuffed into baggies slipping around inside red rubber rain-boots. Drawers full of tacky polyester Garanimals shirts and “slacks,” striped in shades of brown and green to match sofas and carpets in homes across 1969’s America. My treasured white terrycloth rest-mat, which was actually a bathmat. Romper-Stompers (google that) and all kinds of toys which are now, most-definitely, banned as dangerous choking hazards. And my rainy-day favorite, walking with my Disney character, see-through plastic bubble umbrella, pulled down low, listening to the patter.
Most astounding is how clearly I remember my nursery school cohorts! There was Lisa who lived in a sumptuously disheveled townhouse a few blocks away from my East 85th Street apartment. Our moms loved chatting while Lisa, my sister and I ran amuck until it was time for Ovaltine and Oreos.
Then, there was Christopher. My very first love. He was blond and wiry with freckles on his nose. He, his little brother, my sister and I would run around the preschool courtyard playing Batman and Robin (of course the younger siblings were always the bad guys). Christopher was Batman and I often assumed the role of damsel in distress. On weekend playdates we constructed elaborate sheet-forts with blankets and chairs toppled over. Tunnels and bunkers with sofa cushions. Curled up like puppies, we would look at picture books, sunlight shining through a red and yellow plaid blanket coloring our faces like stained glass.
There was the day he kissed me on the cheek. I can still feel it.
I ran into Christopher decades later. I don’t know how I recognized him. In his mid-twenties, weather-beaten, hair now tangled and trailing down his back in long, blond dreadlocks, he sat astride a bicycle on Fifth Avenue waiting for the light. I had a sense that the past few decades had not been easy on him. Nevertheless, I quickly introduced myself and he returned my timid smile with a warm hug. I simply can’t remember much more from the exchange, as that was now decades ago, but I often wonder what became of him.
Now, all these years later, I work in a beautiful preschool where I enjoy witnessing wonder and overt possibility in the bright eyes of our students. My two boys attended Montclare. They look back on their time here as the best moments of their still young lives. Although they are now in fifth and seventh grades, we do all we can, my husband and I, to preserve that sense of enchantment and creativity in our lives for our children and ourselves. It isn’t easy, but we find time to play and giggle and stand in the rain under pizza boxes (last weekend).
Our nation will elect a new president tonight, and, fearful of facing this evening alone, we are invited to the home of one of my closets friends, Erika, and her family. Wouldn’t you know, it just so happens that Erika and I met at The Everett School 47 years ago and spent the following twelve years together as classmates at Chapin.
Whatever happens and however the world changes, where there are children, there will always be magic. We are all born with it. Precious and ephemeral. Some of us have the privilege of making it last a lifetime. Or at least, trying.
What do you remember about preschool?
Jenny Bruce has worked at Montclare Children’s School for 12 years and is currently the Director of Communications. A born and raised New Yorker, Jenny is also an award-winning singer/songwriter, UWS mother of two, and has recently returned to school, Teachers College at Columbia, to pursue an MA in Education Technology.