Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Starting First Grade

on October 25, 2013
Only part of the Rue St Ferdinand on Google Earth that still looks like it did in 1960, minus the tall buildings in the back.

Only part of the Rue St Ferdinand on Google Earth that still looks like it did in 1960, minus the tall buildings in the back.

Since I had started Maternelle at two, by the time I turned five, I graduated to First Grade — Onzieme (=eleventh level; the French system starts the other way round). The teacher did not want me in her class, but I did not know this yet.

The “big” school was the Ecole St Ferdinand, and was segregated. That is, the girls and boys were in different schools and different yards. The bathrooms were located in the yard. The first time I tried using them and opened one door, the stench and mess scared me. I quickly closed the door again. Every morning, I made sure to use the toilet before going to school so I would not have to do so there.

Well, one day, I was late getting ready and my mother hurried me along. I did not have time to go to the bathroom. I had never told my mother about the bathroom problem. So, to avoid being late to school, I decided I would just hold my urine in that day.

I guess only a five-year-old thinks she can hold her bladder closed for an entire day of school if she is already bursting at the seams at 8 am. Sure enough, by the time the first break came, I rushed to the yard, determined to overcome my disgust. I opened the door of every stall, and retreated fast. No way. I just could not. I returned to class in a worse state.

While sitting at my desk, I discovered that if I pushed my feet onto their balls, and gently shook each leg, then the pressure in my bladder would be slightly relieved. Thus, I was able to get through another hour. Then we had to take our classwork, and go to the teacher’s desk to have it checked. In those days, the teacher’s desk was placed on a stage with a couple of steps leading up to it. I suppose it was because there were usually over 30 students in a class, and this elevated position allowed the teacher a better view of the children. So here I am on this perch of wooden boards, still trying to shake my legs. The teacher thundered, “Who is shaking my desk?” I stopped immediately. By the time I got back to my place, I was desperate.

I then thought of a great solution. If I let out just… a little tiny bit of pee, just a tiny bit, enough to be caught by my underwear but not too much, then I would surely feel better. Do not laugh. I was just five, and thinking I was really clever. So, here I went, and leaked a wee bit of urine out. You can guess the result. The dam gates were broken. The entire reservoir emptied itself out, pushing all in its way. Waves and waves gushing along…

The seat was made of wooden slats with space between them. The girl across the aisle saw this yellow rain and her mouth opened into a big round hole, and her eyes widened and her eyebrows raised way up high, and so did her hand. It slowly rose up in the air, on its way to inform the teacher. I was wishing the earth could swallow me up, I was so embarrassed. I pitifully put a finger on my lips, begging the classmate to not tell. Please, please, do not raise your hand…!!! No use. The dreaded finger reached as high as it could in the air and waved around, and the girl shouted as loud as could be, “Mistress, mistress!”

The “maitresse” walked over to me, and swept the disaster with a disgusted look. “That is precisely why I did not want such a young child in here…!!!” she said, supposedly to herself, but obviously for my benefit. She sent a student to get Madame Mireille,who took me to the maternelle closet where a variety of used underwear and other pieces of clothing were kept.

When I got home, I tried to hide the shameful episode from my mother. But all it took was for her to notice that I was wearing some unknown piece of undergarment. Mothers! They know everything and have eyes on the back of their heads. Mine especially. Later in life, I became very sure that we had some kind of telepathic line of communication. She always knew everything about me, and often said, “All you have to do is move your butt and I know what kind of fart you will expel.”



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