Molyneaux’s Problem

By Kate Krautkramer

“Horses!” The kid who finally said something lived on a cattle ranch, a lot of my students did. Of all the fabulous things we’d seen at the circus, horses had to be the most familiar. Still, I gave a thumbs up to the boy who had offered the idea after a painfully long think time. I wrote horses on one of the lines reaching out from a circle I’d drawn with my big marker on the page on the easel.

“So, friends, what about the horses?” I leaned forward toward the children sitting crisscross applesauce on the round rug before me. Spring rainbows and flowers of construction paper brightened our bulletin boards, but the kids looked wilted. I glanced at our big calendar. We’d started circle time, like every day, by saying the day and date, everyone together, “Today is Friday, April 25th, 1986.” I was beginning to think we should start over, do some jumping jacks, and try to wake ourselves up. This year is my fifteenth time around in kindergarten; at the front of the class, I was feeling exasperated by my teacher skills falling so flat. But I folded my hands in my lap and counted to ten silently, not losing eye contact. “Think!” I pointed to my head. “Make a picture in your mind. What about the horses?”

“The horses were strong,” Anah Fitzhugh said. “Their coats were glistening and shiny. Their muscular legs carried them around the ring as they galloped with the elegant ladies standing and flipping on their backs.”

Every event, every feeling, every lesson learned, this year is amplified by constant narration on my part, necessary because one student, Anah Fitzhugh, is blind. Long before she came to my class, Anah learned to listen carefully, to ask questions and to repeat information with unnerving acuity. Like many people her age, she is curious, demanding, and a born participant. Not seeing the dimensions of a circle of classmates, she will fearlessly sit herself among them, then somehow know to smile while adjusting herself off of the shoulder or crossed leg of a kid she just squashed.

Although Anah has developed an outstanding vocabulary, the commentary about the horses was, of course, in my words. But I added a line to the writing web, coming off the word horses. On that line I wrote strong. “What else did we experience at the circus?” I’ve learned for Anah’s sake, to say “experience” in place of “see” when I remember. I flipped my hand around in the air, hoping the children would remember the trapeze artists.

Before we went, I had delighted myself and my students by pulling, intact, from my own elementary school memory “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.” I guided the class in imagining what it would be like to fly and swing and flip, and I led them in hand motions as I sang and the children echoed, phrase by phrase.

He flies through the air with the greatest of ease,

The daring young man on the flying trapeze.

His actions are graceful; all the girls he does please.

And my love he has purloined away.

This group of children is always ready to sing, their little voices blaring out, unselfconscious. I taught them the meaning of the big word, “purloined,” after which we had great fun together saying sentences like, “I was going to say that too, but Melissa purloined my idea,” and “Jack purloined my cookie at lunch!” But none of the children brought up the trapeze for our writing lesson.

Besides the trapeze and the horses there had been exotic animals at the circus, and jugglers and balls, cotton candy and music, and the terrifying, narrow ladder reaching into the rooftop¾everything we hoped to see, so many details that any of them could have brought up. The sighted children were mesmerized; some covered their eyes, afraid to see if the tightrope walkers would fall or if the lion tamer would be eaten alive. All the while, I held Anah’s hand and told her everything that was happening.

This is rural Colorado, in a county out of which most of my students had never travelled until the previous day’s long bus ride. Now we were back in our classroom on a snoozy, post-fieldtrip Friday. Sitting together in our circle, I searched the faces of the children. Near the end of every school year I always know who is confident, who is shy, who needs a cheese stick in the morning because she has not had breakfast, and who can add two plus three but not yet do the more cognitively demanding task of subtracting three minus two. This group of kindergarteners is no different, and at this late point in the year we’ve had the particular intimacy of being together for many hours of learning and discovery. We’ve become a close group, each person with strengths and roles. As they sat at circle not volunteering but also not defiant, I reflected on the imminent end of our time together, a tender, annual sadness which makes, for me, the coming of summer loom bittersweet.

This year I was lucky to get a remarkable class, including Anah, enthusiastic learners, energetic, engaged and generally joyful. Not so perfect that they are boring. Like all five-year-olds, this group came to me with troubles, academic and social, on their sleeves, but, usually these kids spark one another’s imaginations and ask meaningful questions. They have become industrious and inquisitive in their play and through the year generous and broad in the thinking it’s my job to guide. So, I had aimed to gift them with a life experience some would not otherwise have had. I wanted them to enjoy one day free from expectations, to be awed and dazzled and to have complete, giddy fun. Seeing there was a Thursday matinee, I fabricated plausible learning objectives for the principal, put aside thoughts of vomit on the bus, and submitted the field trip request, determined to take my class to Denver to see the circus.

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Photo credit: Image by Céline Martin from Pixabay