I remember my first day of kindergarten clearly. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. I had fresh supplies, including all new crayons (as the youngest of 4, I’d never seen them with a point before). I wore a dark blue jumper and matching gold-and-blue striped socks, which in retrospect made me look like a pig-tailed honey bee.
I remember we were late and mom couldn’t find a spot to park so instead of walking me in, she had to drop me near the front door. This was OK because I’d been in the room before, on kindergarten round-up day, so I knew where to go and what my teacher looked like.
I thought I was all set.
The last bell was ringing as I skipped down the hall, so the entire class was already sitting in the reading circle. The teacher, Mrs. Simmons, motioned me to join them.
She had created a tree full of smiley faces and each one had our names on them. She pinned them on each child, bright and happy, so she could remember our names that first week. Since everyone else had already been seated, there were only 2 names left on the tree.
Mrs. Simmons said, “And you must be Jane!”
I nodded, accepted my pin, and sat down quickly.
At this point, I need to point out – and I cannot emphasize this enough – my name is not Jane. It’s Kimberly, or Kim back then. I didn’t correct her because, well, she was the teacher and it seemed like only a really wicked little girl would go around correcting her teacher on the first sentence she ever said in my entire scholastic career!
So I was Jane.
I was Jane for an entire week. The real Jane apparently had moved out of town before the school year started, because she never showed up. And poor little “Kim” was marked absent all week, her unused name badge still hanging on the tree.
I loved kindergarten and enjoyed almost every minute of it. I loved my teacher and she eventually came to like me, though for that first week I don’t think she could tell whether I was a troublemaker or irretrievably stupid.
“No, Jane, your cubbyhole is the one that has your name on it. You’ve put your things in the wrong spot again.”
I vividly remember one time she asked a question and I raised my hand to answer it. She looked at me, smiled, and said, “Yes, Jane?” And I kept my hand in the air, smiling. She nodded at me again. “Yes, Jane?” I kept looking at her, with a creeping sensation that I was doing something wrong. What was it? Oh, yeah. I looked down at my name badge to confirm. Jane, right. Then I answered the question. I think I got the answer right, but I still remember the frozen smile on her face.
The only thing that kept me from living my entire life under an alias was that I was late leaving one day. I had a hard time coloring within the lines, so she made me try again with a fresh sheet of paper as everyone else was getting ready to leave. I turned in my drawing in a rush, then ran out the door and in doing so I forgot to hang up my name badge on the tree.
Losing the badge was no big deal. I’m confident that at that point, Mrs. Simmons had said “Jane … Jane … Jane!” often enough that I was one kid she wasn’t likely to forget.
But the result was that I wore the name badge home and my mother saw it.
“Why on earth are you wearing a smiley face that says Jane on it?”
I told her school had different rules and the teacher wanted me to be Jane there. It seemed a reasonable request. It’s possible I thought all the other kids were going by new names, too. (In my heart, I always wanted to be recruited as a 5-year-old secret agent for an international spy ring.)
Mom told me I needed to go in the next day and tell her my name was Kim. That still felt rude to me, so I wasn’t keen on the idea. Plus, I had gotten over the hurdle of remembering the name so I figured it would be smooth sailing from there on.
I’ve never been certain whether Mom sent in a note or if Mrs. Simmons really figured it out the way she claimed to, but the next morning she held me in from recess. She sat down next to me (in one of those tiny kindergarten stools) and patted me on the shoulder. She looked very upset and I was mortified that in my first week I’d gotten in trouble enough to be held back from recess, something she’d threatened us with only if we were very, very bad.
“Jane, is your name really Jane?”
I stared at her, a deer in headlights, with absolutely no clue what the right answer was supposed to be.
She said – and these words have played out in my head so many times over the years that I can assure you this is word for word – “From the way you keep writing the name Kim at the top of your homework, I’m wondering if your name is really Kim.”
Darn it! My house of cards had been undone from the very first time I picked up a crayon!
I had to fess up. My cheeks were burning, especially when she asked, “But why didn’t you say anything when I called you the wrong name?”
She looked like she was about to cry, too, and gave me a long hug. I learned much later that this had been her first week as a teacher and I think the ordeal had shaken her confidence. She and I never spoke of it again. In fact, she never explained to any of the other kids why my name changed. I guess the whole school thing was so new to all of us that we hadn’t gotten around to learning each others’ names yet, anyway.
Dear, sweet teacher, I’ll forgive you if you forgive me, all these decades later. At least I’ve got a story to tell.
Last week, I was signing papers to refinance my house. One page asked me to list every alias I had ever gone by. So help me God, it crossed my mind to write Jane.