Sunday, June 08, 2008

Setting Boundaries

Earliest memory of personal space and boundaries takes me back to first grade and the teacher's pet, Sandy, nursing an open sore on her knee she most likely sustained from the previous summer. As I recall, we sat next to each other in the back row in those flip-top wooden and metal square desks in Mrs. Johnson's class.

I felt compelled to smack her on the wound as she picked at the scab. She wailed like an injured wildebeest, which brought Mrs. Johnson over to see what was the matter. She sat teary-eyed and snot-nosed, and pointed at me as the culprit. It feels like another lifetime or world, but the classroom is just as fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday.

I've never been troubled by the incident throughout my life, and still can't justify why I lashed out at her. I wasn't a bad child because I knew what would happen if I misbehaved. Call it an early surge of testosterone, or perhaps I was squeamish watching her play with her sore, and all I could do was knock her hand away.

Sandy was a favorite or teacher's pet for the succeeding four years in grade school, culminating in her being crowned the school pageant queen in fourth grade. Backstage at the pageant was my time to cry after not having been crowned king. I promised myself I wouldn't cry, but did so all the same. It was was after that horrible incident that I swore off talent shows and pageants.

My momma first established disciplinary boundaries with Mrs. Johnson after she paddled me and I leapfrogged atop a desk. I couldn't wait until I made it home to tell momma what had transpired in class. (Oh, you're gonna get it!) Momma made her way to class soon thereafter to lay down the law: "You don't hit my child. If he does something wrong, tell his aunt, and I'll take care of him myself." (My aunt still works in the administrative offices at the same elementary.)

Word traveled throughout the teacher's lounge, hallways, and with me each year that under no circumstances was I to be spanked, pinched, or otherwise disciplined. My fifth grade teacher strongly disliked me because of this, and the fact that I'd return from recess, spotless. She didn't know my momma, and the blessing out I'd get if I came home looking and smelling like Pig Pen from Charlie Brown.

She was the most masculine woman I'd ever known, replete with a few curly, errant chest hairs if doubts lingered in the mind. While not invincible, I was untouchable at school. Had she punched me in the chest as she enjoyed doing to the other boys in class, to discipline, fortify resolve, or impart some masculine rite of passage, my momma would've made an appearance. My momma certainly could've taken her back then.

Mrs. Jackson didn't get to beat up on me physically, but she overstepped the invisible boundary with childish mind games and name calling. I caved in once and purposely dirtied myself during kickball,which made her proud when she saw my grass-stained pants. I was a real boy, if only for that day, and not a pampered prince in a glass house with my aunt standing sentry. I realized then that I had to learn to negotiate boundaries away from my momma's watchful and sometimes overprotective presence.

Boundaries are equally comforting and restrictive. I knew just how far I could go in grade school and remain safely inside my imaginary fortified fence. I don't have any regrets from that time in school, but sometimes I wonder if I'd taken more risks if I weren't covered in my momma's shadow. A rubber band that's wound too tight is likely to snap, sending fragments here and yonder.

1 comment:

shauntey said...

Setting "healthy" boundaries is allowing your child to be a child, but of course correcting when the child is out of line (not by the school officials of course)is necessary.

I love that your Mama was over-protective and reading your prose was comical, but I'm sure as a child this was straining for you were caught between being a normal boy (playing dirty) or a model boy (clean and behaved).

Your writing is amusing....