Nursery School: Singing in the Rain


Photo by George Hodan. This child isn’t me, but it captures how I felt during rainy Corvallis winters.

The Willamette Valley is wet. That’s what I remember most about the winters when we lived in Corvallis, Oregon, between 1959 and 1961. As I am writing my current work-in-progress, I find it easy to write about winters on homesteads near Oregon City—I just think of my preschool days. Wet. Dark. Depressing. It isn’t a heavy rain, but it seems almost constant.

I attended preschool at Oregon State University, where my father was a graduate student. As a four-year-old, I didn’t know the particulars of how the school was organized. I didn’t realize until much later in life that the teachers were students learning about early childhood education and that my preschool (it may have been called a nursery school—I just thought of it as “school”) was a laboratory for these students.

This preschool was my first school experience—my first organized activity of any type. Before that, I had only had my little brother to play with, or an occasional neighbor or friend who visited.

When I got to my last school experience—law school—I discovered that one of my law school classmates had also gone to the OSU preschool about the same time I did. We might have been classmates then, too, although neither of us remembered the other.

I enjoyed preschool. When I started there, my brother was too young to go, so it was something I got to do by myself, because I was a big girl. Later, he went to the school also, but he went on different days and was in a class for younger children. That meant we developed different friends, and we each got some alone time with Mommy.

The preschool curriculum was typical. I learned all the usual songs and dances. I remember Ring around the Rosie, the Hokey Pokey, and Farmer in the Dell. I also remember quiet time, even though we were only there for two or three hours each day—we were supposed to rest, and I think we could look at books.

And every day we had a period of time for outside play. Even when it rained, which was often.

Some days none of the kids wanted to go outside. If all the children agreed, the teachers didn’t have to take us outside. But because outside play was part of the curriculum, if someone wanted to go out, the teachers had to accommodate us.

I have always hated the rain. I was born in the desert of Richland, Washington. That dry climate is still my preference, despite my early years in Oregon and my now 35-plus years in the Midwest. I’d really rather not go outside in the rain.

But one day at preschool, I wanted to be ornery. It was raining hard, and it was cold. Nevertheless, I insisted on going outside. I knew I had the power to make it happen. Maybe I just wanted to follow the rules. I can still be a stickler for rules, but only when I want to be. Now, I also ignore rules I think are stupid. And the rule that kids had to go outside, even in the rain, was really a stupid rule.

None of the other kids wanted to go outside. Sometimes the teachers made everyone go out, but this day, the teachers let the rest of the children stay inside. I and one teacher (a young man) went outside by ourselves. (Think of how unlikely an event that would be today—a teacher is not permitted to be alone with a student, if it can be prevented.)

I bundled up in my coat and mittens, and we went out. I rode a tricycle and I talked to the teacher. It was really a miserable experience being outside in the rain without anyone else to play with. I lasted about fifteen minutes before I agreed to go back inside.

But I had saved face and made my point. Even at four years old, I could make my case and stick to it. Even if I wasn’t very nice about it.

When have you been ornery?

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  1. Believe it or not, I truly don’t remember being ornery as a young child. Either I wasn’t smart enough to be that way or I just don’t have any memory of it. But I did do something “wrong” when I was a little bit older, maybe 6 or 7. I had an aunt who was only 9 years older than I. She was the baby of my mom’s family and was spoiled and had a great life, I thought. All kinds of friends, her own room, and lots of fun things to do. She was careless and always laughing and joking around. I would often play at her vanity and one day I discovered a horde of loose change in her drawer. It was all pennies and I figured she wouldn’t care if I collected them and took them home. So I pocketed the pennies with no compunction whatsoever, believing she would never even notice they were gone. (I still think this today). Anyway, on the way home in the backseat of our family car I pulled them out and began counting them in my lap. My Mom noticed this and asked where I’d gotten the change. I told her it was from Aunt Ida’s vanity. Well, she had a fit. Said this was stealing and I must return them and tell my aunt what I had done. I was horrified, because I didn’t see a thing wrong with taking something from someone who had everything. I was miserable after that and had to wait until we went to Grandma’s house again to return the pennies. Just as I expected, when I finally did, my aunt had no problem with it and laughed about it. To this day I think my mom was unfair, but in fact she probably taught me a powerful lesson about stealing and dishonesty.

  2. As a child of five years old, I was most drawn to the aisle of pencils, pens, and paper (foreshadowing). I daringly grabbed a pencil but was overcome with guilt by the time I made it to the registers, began sobbing, and turned myself in.

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