My pathetic childhood attempt to fight for what's right
Sometimes a memory hits me in the face like a wet fish flying through the air.
It doesn’t make any sense, but there it is.
I heard a song recently— “Jackie Wilson Said” by Van Morrison — and it brought forth a memory of my mother playing that song it while driving me and my sister to a daycare that we attended.
This daycare happened to be housed at a great bastion of physical fitness and youth recreational sports: the Young Men’s Christian Association — or, as it is more commonly known, the YMCA or “the Y.”
I texted my mother about this memory, and she texted back,
“I’m sorry you had to go there. It was a bad place.”
The YMCA? A bad place?
You might be wondering where I am going with this. For you, the YMCA might be A-OK.
It might be the place that dreams are made of — recreational sports, sloppy left-handed layups, physical fitness for the whole family kind-of- dreams.
For me, it was all of that.
But there was also a darker side to the YMCA.
I was in fifth grade. My family had just moved to a new town in upstate New York, which meant that I needed to go to a new daycare in the morning so that my parents, who were teachers, could get to their schools with time to prepare for their day’s classes.
This would have been all fine and dandy, except for the fact that, at this particular YMCA, the women who ran it hated children — or at least that is what I thought.
I wanted to have fun. I wanted to be a kid. I wanted to go into that gymnasium room that they had that had a pit full of plastic balls, the one that we only ever got to go into once!
I mean, why have a room with a gigantic ball pit if no one ever gets to use it?
It was a shame.
The women who worked at the Y did not want to interact with us, the children. I noticed that these women only wanted to chitchat with each other and drink copious amounts of coffee.
This must have really stuck out to me, because what I am about to tell you involves this coffee and these women. And as it turns out, I ended up making a major transgression at the ripe old age of 10.
I was so miserable at “the Y,” this daycare abode, that I began to write a letter. This letter was only intended to be for my eyes only, a silent, internal cry for help.
In this letter, I described the atrocities committed at the YMCA daycare.
I talked about how I did not feel loved, about how these women ignored us children. I talked about how they did not want to talk to us or play with us. I highlighted the fact that they never, ever let us go into the ball pit room-of-fun.
This was not right, and I needed to get my thoughts on paper.
I made a special point to note that the only thing that these women seemed to want to do was to drink coffee.
I should add, I also wrote that they tied us up and locked us away. That may have been a tiny fib on my part.
Something must have seemed amiss as I feverishly penned my letter because, surprisingly enough, the daycare workers acknowledged my existence and came over to see what I was doing.
To my horror, they grabbed the note I was scribbling from my tiny, trembling hands and began to read it.
They were not pleased. My life was over.
What happened next mortified me. Instead of giving me a stern talking-to about the ins and outs of using my time in a productive manner, these women felt the need to take me to a separate room and call my mother at work.
This was not good.
I knew calling one’s parent at work was akin to throwing a bowl of Cheerios right in your parent’s face. It was bad, and I would never survive this fateful moment.
The YMCA worker dialed the phone and waited with a grimace until my mother got on the phone.
Maybe she won’t answer. Maybe she will be too busy at work. I can explain everything when I get home.
My mother answered.
I don’t think I knew the word at the time, but I can say now that the tone this worker used while talking to my mother was condescending. She slowly explained what I had done and belabored the point over and over.
Then, as my heart pounded out of my chest, she turned to me with a sly grin and handed me the phone.
With trembling voice and quivering hands, I told my mother what I had done.
I felt like I was going to hyperventilate.
After relating my sad, sad tale, I sat in my tiny chair and waited. And waited. And waited.
Then, through the tinny entrails of the phone came my mother’s voice. And not only was she not mad — she was laughing. Guffawing, really. She gave me the obligatory talk about doing the right thing and behaving myself, but she was not angry.
And for that, I was relieved.
My mother was not going to murder me after all.
I got back to the daycare area, a boy redeemed.
And I guess it was a sign of things to come.
I am now an adult — I think — and I still have that fighting spirit. I still try to stand up for what I believe is right. I’m getting better at looking at situations with a critical — an deciding for myself what to do next.
Life is too short to stay silent in the face of injustice, whether it is striving for social or racial justice, standing up for the dignity of people who battle mental health issues— or in the case of my fifth-grade self, correcting the gross injustice of never getting to play in a pit filled with cheap, plastic balls.