[Kids playing marbles]
The Primary Years:
The primary years are years of discovery. Years where a child discovers who they were designed to be, years where a child discovers social skills and mental skills that set them up for the future, and years were a child begins to understand that they are in the world in opposed to being the world themselves. Following this prologue are collections of my own discoveries and memories of my primary school years. The stories themselves hold on to principles that I hope one would discover and learn from, as well as relate to adult life.
One particular event that always fascinated me when I was at school was the day we changed topics. The event was rare, once every quarter. Most of the children didn’t care when we changed topics. In fact, some of the children were completely oblivious to the fact that we actually had changed topics; like Jordan Streamer who would still wistfully work on his creation from previous topics, like overdue paintings or out-of-date paper maché Easter bunnies. But not me. I knew exactly when the topics changed. For me, changing topics brought such a sense of awe and wonder. A topic would be introduced that you would know nothing about, and it was fascinating to think that by the end of the term, you’ll know everything about it.
At the beginning of one particular term, we began the new topic of the film ‘Grease.’ I remember walking into the classroom one Monday morning and seeing a freshly pinned up poster of Sandy in the arms of Danny at the back of the classroom. One could not help but feel excited; I knew this topic was going to be good. It was certainly bound to be better than our previous topic on ‘hot air balloons’ which proved to be disastrous. The teachers got each student to make a hot air balloon out of paper, plastic and glue, in which the best balloon was put to the test. We children gathered around in a circle on the tar-sealed courtyard to watch the winning balloon fly so high that it became invisible, or ‘invisdible’ as some of the children said. The teachers used a red candle in the shape of a teddy bear, with the wick sticking out of his head. The balloon was then tied to the bear, his head was lit, and the balloon lifted high into the air. The children gasped and sat amazed as the balloon became smaller to the eye. Yet although the balloon became smaller, the flame became bigger. The balloon, now a fireball, and its pilot, now a headless bear, plummeted to the ground. The children ran to safety inside the classroom and the teachers stomped on poor Mr Bear and his destroyed aircraft, until him and the balloon became nothing but ashes and a singed stain on the courtyard. Although the flight didn’t quite go to plan, it was still a most enjoyable event.
Once the new topic had begun, we were ready to prepare for the children’s topic item that was to be performed in front of the parents at the end of the term. The plan was for the class to sing ‘Summer Lovin’’ and this required two special children to play the roles of Danny and Sandy. The teachers held auditions where the children would sing, one by one, in front of them; there was no acting involved for this item. I myself auditioned for the role of Danny, but was beaten by Aaron Dao who looked ‘most like Danny’ with his spiky, black hair. Danielle Wenzlick won the teachers over with her blonde hair and adorable smile, and was chosen to play the role of Sandy. The rest of us remained as the chorus. Mrs Heffernan worked with us on the choreography, which consisted of sways and finger clicks during the introduction of the song and the choruses. One would think it simple to teach children to sway and click, not only in time, but also to sway the correct way; however some children just didn’t have the rhythm in them.
By the time of the performance at the end of the term, the topic had sunken deep into the children. Lara Elgar would spend her playtimes swinging around a metal pole singing ‘Hopelessly Devoted’ and some of the boys would sit in the giant rubber tyre in the playground and pretend it was ‘Grease Lightnin’’ racing down the Anaheim Canals. The day came where we performed our item in front of the parents. Danny and Sandy sung the verses ‘to each other,’ as the teachers directed, and we children in the chorus sung our hearts out during the choruses, snapping our fingers and swaying side to side to the beat of the song. This was the first topic we had studied where we as children felt we were the topic. One would find it rather difficult to imagine oneself as a hot air balloon or an Easter bunny, but we looked up to Danny and Sandy. The girls saw Sandy as the beautiful girl they dreamed to be and us boys saw Danny as the ‘cool guy who gets the girl at the end.’ When studying Grease, we didn’t just study it, we felt we were it.
Play-time and Lunch-time were times that were always cherished by children. They were times when imagination would be unleashed and where children could enter vast worlds of action and adventure; including speed car races round the tar-sealed court and life ‘n death western showdowns on the field (of course, instead of the use of toy guns, children would use bent sticks to resemble guns). My best friend Andrew and I swapped and changed between adventures every day. However, for us, there was nothing like a ‘leaf race’ down the drain after a wet day. After watching the America’s Cup on T.V, all the children were deep in the craze. They would have leaf races or play ‘shipwreck’ on the playground where the children would have to jump from ship to ship without touching the bark. Sometimes a child would fall into the bark and the captain would have to dive in and rescue the child from the depths of the ocean. But Andrew and I were more interested in leaf races because there was competition.
Our leaf races were held in the drain-line next to the playground, the one which Andrew called ‘the best arena.’ We would roam around the tall, green and red pohutukawa trees at the beginning of play-time looking for the right leaves to use. The leaves on the ground were the best because they were old and withered, meaning their bodies were curled up making the perfect boat shape. We would sit down on the side of the racing track and carefully examine each leaf, deciphering which leaf would be the best to use first. While examining, Andrew would delve into a great spiel about the autumn wind being ‘on our side.’ Andrew was smart for his age. He wasn’t very good at Maths or English, but he knew lots of general knowledge. Some of the adults said he was gifted. At age 9, after his parents came home with a board game from a business self-help seminar, Andrew learnt what ‘passive income’ meant and we ran around all the different teachers during play-time and asked them ‘do you earn passive income?’ The teachers had no idea what to say; not so much due to the fact that it could be considered a rather personal question, but more so due to the shock that a child would know what passive income was. However, once we had chosen our leaves, we counted down, and released our boats into the rippling river.
Andrew and I were best friends and would always stick together. Even though there were times when we would become frustrated with each other and un-invite each other to our birthday parties, quarrels were always resolved. It seems that we didn’t just ‘stick together’ for the fun of it, but more so, we had to stick together in order to overcome the bigger issues; like war. One time, a boy named Whetu threatened to fight Andrew. They wound each other up until Whetu said ‘How ‘bout a fight then?’
‘Tomorrow lunchtime, war will begin’ Andrew replied.Whetu was a mean boy. He enjoyed bullying because it made him feel superior. I was never keen to fight but I knew that I had to stick up for Andrew. Andrew recruited the other children to be on our side while Whetu recruited his gang. I remember spying on Whetu and his gang during that lunchtime. We hid behind the white classroom and peered around the corner, being careful not to be seen, watching Whetu and everything he did in order to find his weak spots. Andrew always took ‘war’ very seriously. One simple battle, when fought correctly, could prove to be the complete turning point of events. If we successfully won the war, perhaps Whetu would no longer have the courage to pick on the other children. If we lost the war, who knows what would have happened.
‘We need to plan every step’ Andrew would say. ‘We can’t afford to lose this war.’We had success when recruiting the other children, as for a lot of children didn’t like Whetu. Also because Andrew used catchy lead lines to reel the children in, like:
‘Me and Whetu are having a war tomorrow. If you want to be a hero, join my side.’The children quickly became very excited.
Andrew and I planned the ambush during class. We drew a map of the playground and field and decided who should go where. Andrew already had it planned in his head.
‘If we put Jackson under the left tree at the back of the field and Ryan under the right tree, they should cover some good ground at the start.’Andrew also worked out the moves he would use and were most effective, like the “catapult kick” and the “tiger scratch.” We were ready for action.
‘Zac is small so he can go under the platform (also known as the ‘dynamite’ ship)’
‘And you and I will fight him face on and lead the charge.’
Lunchtime came and the children got into their positions. Andrew had called a meeting with all the soldiers during playtime and showed them the signal to listen out for; the sound of a Tui’s call (performed by Andrew himself), which would signify the launch into attack. Jackson and Ryan ran to their trees, Zac hid under the platform, and Andrew and I were hidden, ready to jump out at Whetu and fight him face on. Whetu and his gang arrived and the children remained still until they heard the great sound of the Tui’s call. Andrew galloped towards Whetu and I ran behind him. Andrew swiped Whetu with his long fingernails and continued to gallop towards the trees where Jackson and Ryan were. All four of us then ran towards Whetu and the other members of his army and barged into them. At this point, Andrew made the double Tui call which meant everybody was to join in. Majority of the children were too afraid to fight and came out of the hideouts just to watch the mighty war, but the few that were brave enough joined in the scrap. As they tried their best moves on Whetu and the group, they continued to run rather than staying in one spot, as Andrew had planned. The children circled Whetu’s gang like eagles waiting patiently for the right time to swoop in for the kill, and by halfway through lunchtime after many strikes, Whetu and the boys mouthed some words and fled for the rugby fields out back.
Although victory was ours, the ‘war’ itself didn’t seem to have any effect on Whetu or his gang. Whetu continued to bully and everything really went back to normal. I suppose that is what I love about primary school life. One can experience the realities of the real world through imagination, and need not to bear the ultimate consequences. It is as if the adventure had a definitive end. It became a blur in the past that one found too easy to overlook when enjoying the new adventures that lay ahead.
The fear of being alone is a fear that often revolves in the mind of a child when at school. One would wish to hide in the bushes if they didn’t have any friends to share wild and imaginative adventures with. I myself was found at the other end of the spectrum. Although I didn’t have many friends, my close acquaintances were all I needed to conjure up adventures that one small slot called ‘lunch-time’ could not possibly contain. The reason why I associate myself with the ‘other end of the spectrum’ is due to the fact that I often shunned those who didn’t have friends. A child named Richard once arrived in our class after freshly moving to New Zealand from England. My teacher, Mrs Farrent, asked the class if there was anyone who would ‘invite Richard to play with them during morning break.’ For some strange reason, I raised my hand, a gesture I was clearly not willing to follow through with action. Come morning break, my friends reminded me of the offer I had made:
‘So is Richard going to play with us?’ one asked.In my mind, making an offer or promise without sincerity was the same as not making the promise at all; they cancelled each other out. So during that morning break, we left Richard to find his own friends. Pride took the best of my character during those few early years. I felt for poor Richard having to embark the beginning of his journey alone. However to me at the time, the acceptance of a foreign friendship at the cost of losing respect and my own friends was a price I was not willing to pay.
I simply replied ‘oh no he’s not. When I put my hand up, I didn’t mean it.’
One student that was often left alone was Anastasia Browning. Not only was Anastasia inherently different from most of the children who had friends, she was radically different from those who didn’t have friends. Most children who didn’t have friends would either desperately tag along with different groups, or sit in the shade, long-faced and miserable that no one was willing to sit with them. But not Anastasia. Anastasia, with her pink, cotton jumper, long, purple cotton pants, and long blonde hair tied together with a pink, elastic ‘scrunchie,’ would fill her lunchtimes skipping merrily around the schoolyard. It was as if she actually liked to be alone and have no friends. She wasn’t interested in any company except her own. She would skip and skip and skip with her eyes fixed on the ground. She would then stop to pick wild flowers from the trees and share enchanted stories to the audience of one, then would continue to skip some more. Most of the children didn’t like Anastasia and I was certainly one of them. It wasn’t right that one should enjoy everyday life without friends when another spends so long building friendships in order to receive happiness (and I certainly fell into the ‘another’ category). Andrew and I noticed her love for picking flowers, and thought we’d give her a ‘specially picked’ flower from ourselves. We picked a large flower that was rotten, withered and dead, hid behind the bush it came from, and when she skipped past the bush, we jumped out and Andrew exclaimed,
‘Hi Anastasia! This is for you!’ resulting in Anastasia to scream and run the other way.
I was never quite sure why the other children didn’t like Anastasia, or even why I didn’t like her. It wasn’t as if she was a smarmy, know-it-all who boasted in the fact that she was friend-less. Neither was it as if she felt she was better than everybody else, not giving the slightest acceptance to what the children thought of her because she was far more mature than them. In fact, I would say that her behaviour had no relation to the other children whatsoever. She would still skip, pick wild flowers and tell enchanted stories if there were no children in sight for a thousand miles. Perhaps I was envious at someone who seemed to enjoy life so easily. For us other children, we strived and journeyed through the next fad or the next set of friends in order to receive ultimate contentment. Whereas, Anastasia learned very early on to be content with whatever she had, even if she had no friends.
The month of August was always a wet and windy month. Adventures would be interrupted with the three distinct rings of the bell, known as the ‘rain bell.’ The rain bell beckoned the children into the warmth of the classroom when the rain began to fall. Children who were scattered all across the school would gather together and enter into their respected classrooms. They were ordered to sit down, talk quietly, draw pictures or finish off any work that needed to be done. Most children didn’t mind the rain. Children would often attempt to lure teachers into believing the rain had calmed down or ‘is going to stop soon’ in order to be released back into freedom. The teachers wouldn’t play. I remember sitting next to the window, peering out into the empty sports field. The field was inhabited only by a large, lone cone which symbolized the absolute forbiddance of any children onto the field. To my amazement, I saw two boys run onto the field in the pouring rain, and kick a soccer ball into the cone as if its power was useless. They danced and splashed, then ran away from the booming voice of the deputy principal, Mrs Cooper (who was rumoured to have traded her wedding ring for a Maori Tiki necklace). One ought to have commended those boys. For every child that saw the commotion and liberation, it was as if not only freedom, but power had come unto us. The taste of the dream of a children’s regime where the distinct bells meant that one had a choice whether to enter the classroom or to remain in the freedom of the rain. Yet, in an adult world, each child knew deeply that this wasn’t possible.
Although August remained rather miserable, we children could hardly wait for the coming month of September. September not only meant the birth of a new season in the natural realm, but it also meant the re-birth of a season in the social realm; a season known as ‘marble season.’ Marble season was where the craze of marbles peaked significantly during the year. The craze was so powerful that teachers felt the need to condense it into one season, in order to keep it under control. On the first of September, school principal Mr Fountain would officially commence the season at the school assembly, much to the children’s delight. Children were then able to venture onto the fields with marbles of all sorts of types and colours. There were Cat’s-eyes to Frosty’s, Cleary’s to Candy’s, Spacey’s to Swirly’s, practically every type of marble you could think of. The game itself only had a few rules. The chief objective was to hit the other player’s marble with your own marble. When marbles landed a hand-span apart from each other, players were to perform ‘eye-drops’ in order to determine who the winner was. Before the game commences, one must determine whether the game is ‘friendly,’ where there is no risk involved, or ‘keepsies,’ where the player who wins the game, is allowed to keep both the marbles. Children often despised those who only played friendly games. What was the point of the game if there is no risk involved?
One could never forget the ultimate marble showdown between Joshua Laws and Simon Sabin. The two boys were initially best friends, practically inseparable, until one day Joshua lost his hat during lunchtime. He left it outside the library on the wooden bleachers. When he realized he had forgotten his hat, he returned to where he had left it, but it was too late; the beloved hat was gone. What broke their friendship was when Simon arrived at school the next day wearing the exact same hat that Joshua had lost. Simon claimed the hat to have been bought freshly by his grandmother, whereas Joshua claimed Simon to be a dirty thief. Simon attempted to prove his innocence by showing Joshua his name, written in a permanent vivid, printed on the back of the hat. Joshua wouldn’t budge. The two weren’t inclined to solve this issue by a ‘war,’ so they both agreed to solve it through a three-round death game of marbles. The game was, of course, ‘keepsies’ and the stakes were high. Not only did the player who won gain ten marbles of their choice, they got the hat thrown in too.
The game commenced near the end of the season. The amount of games that were being played was on the decline, but children quickly became re-interested when they heard of the ‘Great Hat Battle.’ Advertising for the event was rather remarkable. Children had made posters and flyers and were handing them out to every kid they could see. On the day of the event, during playtime, tens of children gathered on the front field to watch the battle, and the boys arrived with their marbles ready to play. The boys battled it out and the games were standard. After several eye-drops, the end result was Joshua becoming the winner. Simon reluctantly gave over his ten most precious marbles and even more reluctantly, the infamous hat. The real clincher of the event that was to be remembered was not so much Joshua gaining the hat, but the fact that Joshua sealed his victory by putting one of Simon’s marble’s in his mouth and swallowing it. Oh how the children gasped and stood with their mouths wide open! No one had ever seen such a significant gesture that would go down in history. However, Joshua certainly felt silly when our teacher, Mrs Lindsey, found his hat underneath one of the bleachers. He was forced to apologise to Simon and return the hat and marbles (well, nine of the marbles) and the two of them eventually became best friends again.
What astounds me most about the primary school years lies chiefly in one predominant feature: its principles. Not only are there clear-cut principles that lie within the adventures, wars, topics and abandonments, but they are incredibly relevant. It is as if primary school life is a world of its own, in miniature form. I suppose a story that speaks to me the most is the story of Anastasia Browning. As I mentioned before, I was envious at someone who was able to enjoy life so easily, and I’m sure we can all think of someone who fits the same category. Yet, rather than live in umbrage of these people, perhaps we ought to learn from them, to be content with what we have, instead of striving for what we don’t have, or even need. I suppose another principle can be found in the relationship of Simon and Joshua. Although there was a mighty quarrel between them, the quarrel was easily resolved, without resentment. As a child, quarrels are formed easily, resolved just as easily, and then forgotten quickly. As an adult, quarrels are formed easily, can be difficult, nearly impossible to resolve, and if they are resolved, may never be forgotten. Surely it ought not to be like this. I’m not for one suggesting that we are to become children, or that I have all the answers. I’m simply offering the idea that perhaps we can learn from such principles. We live in a world where the imagination of dreams and aspirations tend to be shattered with reality and negativity. Yet, in a primary school, there is no such thing as imagination, only a comprehensible reality where a child can do practically anything they dream of.
1. An ‘eye-drop’ was where the player stood over the opposition’s marble, and dropped their marble from eye level. If the marble made contact with the opposition’s marble, the one who performed the eye-drop became the winner.