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Don’t bounce the ball on the big black circle!

December 24, 2007

Looking back, there is no question I was an ADD kid before the label came out. I have memories that have stung over the years, and at which I can now merely cringe and even sometimes laugh, that prove one thing: a lot of rules and things people say aren’t worth paying attention to, and it is not disorderly to ignore them.

But a lot of rules and things people say are worth paying attention to, and it is disorderly to ignore them. ADD kids don’t distinguish important from unimportant rules very well; most fortunately, I did by the time I was about 14.

My kindergarten teacher’s name was Mrs. Beatrice Schiller. I can use her name with impunity because she’s almost certainly been dead for more than seven years–probably more than thirty. I remember her name because I remember names, and because for so many years I planned her funeral with fair meticulousness.

She was a nice enough teacher, and I never had any sense that she didn’t like me. In all fairness, there is no way she could have known what to do with a kid like me. And she didn’t.

There were a few kids who, looking back, were most likely ADD, but I think I was the only girl in my classes who was. Somehow girls are not only less likely to be ADD, but are also less likely to get away with anything. Boys are expected to act out; girls are not. Meeting expectations, even negative ones, begets some slack.

The typical educational modus operandi for handling hyper kids in my day was to keep them busy in isolation. We were given projects to complete on our own so we would not be distracted by, or distract, our classmates. So we were, in effect, quarantined, isolated from the Plays Well With Others kids. We were put on the Runs With Scissors track fairly early. Some kids never jump that track.

My attention tends either to be fully engaged or fully absent. I make rapid distinctions between important and unimportant things. I think my focus or non-focus is largely environmentally cued. Church, courtroom when I was practicing law, car, urban street–places like that trigger focus mode. Crowds, stores, and certain activities and learning situations trigger blur mode. Blur mode can remain a matter of indifference, or can escalate to confusion or frustration.

But back to Mrs. Schiller. She was a rule-driven woman. Her rules were easy to learn, and once learned, it seemed efficient not to listen to them every time she recited them. I mean, why listen to Mrs. Schiller when you could listen to the wonderful sound of the rubber ball bouncing on the big black circle circumscribing the hard wooden floor?

“What did I just say?” I hadn’t heard her say anything at all, but knowing her repertoire was small, I guessed.

“Um, not to bounce the ball on the big black circle?” This was a rule when we were standing on the big black circle, precision-organized for departure. Who knows why we had balls in our hands?

“That’s right. And you bounced the ball, didn’t you?” Perry Mason had nothing on Mrs. Schiller as a cross-examiner.

I said nothing. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Literally, because it was untied. Another offense.

“How many times have I said not to bounce the ball on the big black circle?”

No one knew.

“All right, class dismissed.” And out we marched. The hill, the woods, the streets awaited us, and in those places, all the kids were pretty much the same.

The Communist menace made us strong. We could duck under our desks with our cloaks over our heads in no time flat when the civil defense alarm sounded. We could march from the school and turn to face the building during a fire drill. I always thought it was curious that we were specifically told to face the building “to watch the building burn.” We knew it was only a drill, but the thought that maybe the building would burn during one of these drills had to have crossed more minds than mine. We watched, transfixed, not wanting to miss that first spark if our school ever actually ignited.

I don’t know why we were issued balls and ordered not to bounce them. I don’t know what was so great about standing around on a big black circle not bouncing a ball. But I know that discipline is a good thing: perhaps not bouncing a wonderful rubber ball on a big black circle is the fundamental nature of restraint, and Mrs. Schiller knew our self-indulgence had to be broken if America was ever to defeat the Communists.

I think we’d likely have defeated everyone if we’d loosed hordes of running scissor-wielders, but nobody ever asked me.

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5 Comments
  1. December 24, 2007 7:57 pm

    “How many times have I said not to bounce the ball on the big black circle?”

    It’s probably a good thing nobody knew. It just would have made things worse.

    Mrs. Schiller was probably concerned about precedent. What would have happened if hoardes of rubber-ball-equipped children all over the world bounced the ball on the black circle at the same time?

    There are so many things to worry about. That’s why there are rules.

  2. December 25, 2007 6:55 am

    “There are so many things to worry about. That’s why there are rules.” <– A profound insight.

    Lauren, kindred spirits are we. If we had been in the same classroom I’m sure we would have been separated as far as east from west.

  3. December 25, 2007 8:44 am

    That is the cruel folly of the system, PK. The Normative can brook no alliances of the Extraordinary. And then, again, they wonder why we don’t play well with others.

  4. heidi permalink
    December 27, 2007 3:32 pm

    I don’t even play well with myself.

  5. December 27, 2007 4:26 pm

    Yes, that’s the other downside of quarantine.

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