I was being sent back to the bathroom for the third time while the rest of the class was on the monkey bars outside.
"Still not clean," said my teacher pointedly. She held up the can of paint brushes and her eyes bore through me. "Go back. You can't go outside until you're finished."
I trudged back to memorize that blue and gray marble floor, to feel the cold of the room, with tears dripping down my cheeks. I felt like no kindergartner should ever feel, in the simplest of words, Stupid.
When I finally finished the process and the paint brushes passed muster, I was allowed on the playground with the other children.
"There's something wrong with her," I heard one teacher say to the other, "She plays with an imaginary rope, for goodness sake!"
A few days later, students were being taken out of the class individually for IQ testing. Although none of the other kindergarteners seemed to know what was going on, I had an idea: That same teacher, the one who had been singling me out all year, sent me to be tested first. The significance struck me right away. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
My mother would later disclose to me that I had scored quite high on my IQ testing. However, the teachers insisted that there was something wrong with me and eventually, I was diagnosed, by the same psychologist who conducted the testing, with "a learning disability." What that actual disability entailed was never made known to me, but I continued to feel singled out for my daydreaming.
I went through most of elementary school with feelings of insecurity about my intellect. It took a trip to Israel during the summer preceding fourth grade to make me realize that I was in fact somewhat "smart." It was a word we students threw around so much to describe those who were favored by the teachers, those who raised their hands the most during class, and those who appeared to be perfect as we felt like outsiders looking in. I had come back to my Jewish day school from that vacation in Israel feeling confident in my Hebrew studies. Words flowed off my tongue with the inflections, intonation and accent of a Jerusalem native. If I could master a foreign language so easily, I could handle other obstacles. If I could master a language, I was not stupid.
I began writing (English) poetry that year and realized that this too was something I could do well. Then I started to compose essays in my free time and short stories. I even wrote a "book" with a science fiction premise during junior high. I entered an essay contest for Scholastic and although I did not win, I was the "class winner". I later came in second in the seventh grade class spelling bee (and if it were not for the boy who declared the entire time -- loudly -- that I would not win, I may have actually come in first).
Although I remained in the lowest academic track from first through eighth grade (the elementary school that I was in was one entity that continued through eighth grade), I landed in a higher track in high school and maintained a 94 average throughout. By the time I attended college, academic success was not my concern, but the "damage" to my ego was. I was a grown woman with a kindergartner living inside who had never left! Be it my social interactions, boys, or my oral presentation for Psychopathology, I could not look stupid.
Perfection became my focus. One day, at the age of 18, I decided I had to get help for what I thought of as "my unofficial OCD." Although I did not go to an authentic therapist, I sought out a friend who was training to be a psychologist -- albeit at the undergraduate level. I thought I would initially open up to her about my latest crush and how he hadn't noticed me, or how my parents weren't thrilled with the length of my skirts, but I ended up bawling about kindergarten. When I was done and thoroughly embarrassed, I turned to her and said "I need to get over this already!"
For a little over a year, that friend would initiate discussions with me via phone, much like therapy sessions minus the couch, and eventually I told her it was time to drop kindergarten like a bad habit. I had finally confronted the past, I felt better, and most importantly, I was now ready to own up to the adult who I was.
Today, I feel confident -- mainly; I am a mother, a wife, a career woman and I manage to balance those varying roles. My experiences have made me into the thoughtful person that I am today. The kindergartner has left this building, probably for the monkey bars or to run around the recess field. Occasionally though, she checks in with the paint brushes, ensuring that each one is clean, and knowing that regardless, she won't stay in for very long.