Umbrellas and Elevens (Not Elevenses)

When I began to go to school, kindergarten was held for six weeks in the summer before your 1st grade year. Because my birthday is in October, I started kindergarten a mere four months before I turned 7.* My dad at that time had just started working for General Mills. They often had contests or promotions and the employees got prizes. One of the promotions was a large, long umbrella. My dad got several of them, and I loved carrying one of them to school (in the middle of summer in Utah. I rarely needed it. I just took it anyway).

My school, Mountain View Elementary, was at the bottom of a big hill. The kindergarten class was on the east side of the building. While kindergarten was in session no other grades attended school. Outside our rooms was a playground with a large slide and swingset. One day I arrived at school and began to play on the slide. (We wore dresses to school, so I had to hold my skirt down while I went down the slide.)

I was soon distracted from this pursuit by a bunch of boys in my class. I don’t remember if they started teasing me or I started teasing them, but pretty soon I was poking them with the pointy tip of my big umbrella. The boys were mad. They ran into the school and told the teacher. I was terrified. I was—I thought—a good girl, and I didn’t want to get in trouble. It seemed an inauspicious beginning to a long educational career. (Of course, I didn’t think about it that way then. I just didn’t like being in trouble.) To avoid any unpleasantries back in the classroom, I left my umbrella outside, hanging on the door handle.

At recess I rushed outside to rescue my umbrella. It had disappeared! I was devastated. I loved my umbrella, and I didn’t want to have to tell my mom and dad what happened. I spent the rest of my short half-day class worrying about my umbrella. As soon as school let out, I went outside. I saw some older boys on a nearby street. They had my umbrella. I don’t remember if I talked to the boys, or my friends or teacher did, but I got my umbrella back. I was so relieved!

About that same time I made a marvelous discovery about numbers. I don’t remember if I was at school or if my mom taught me this wonderful property. I could count quite high, but this particular day I learned that 11 came not after 10 just as some arbitrary next number. Instead 11 was part of a marvelous design. It was starting over again with a “1”. Twenty-one and 22 did the same thing. So did 101. I could count as high as I wanted if I just kept starting over. I still remember this property of numbers clicking in my mind. I still see that day as a bright one, full of light. That day symbolizes me the joy of learning and discovery. It was a precursor of much joy to come.

*I attribute this late start to much of my success in life. As a young school teacher I read a book called School Can Wait, published by BYU Press. It was a report of a meta-study about early school. The book presented many conclusions, but one of the ones I remember most was this one: the later a child is exposed to a peer group, the less likely they are to be influenced by that peer group when they are in their teen years.



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