Rude awakening by Carmel Ni Bhroin
Carmel is an Irish New Zealander. Until now her musings about life have been mainly in her head.
I used be a bit embarrassed that I couldn’t really remember anything solid before the age of four. Now I think that may be because nothing of grand note really happened. My sense of that time is of being cocooned – safe, loved, with nothing to fear, freedom to just be.
And so with an absolute trust that all would be fine, I took my father’s hand as we walked through the school gate for the first time. I had just turned four and had no concept of school, having been at home with my gentle mother until that time.
Entering the classroom I sensed the harshness of it all. Rows of wooden desks, each one with its own precise, delineated space around it. Lots of bright, primary colours, probably meant to be exciting but to me just glaring. And rows of small girls in uniform, their hair restrained in navy blue ribbons. Rules existed in this place and I did not know them.
At the top of the classroom stood a very large blackboard and a very short, old, bespectacled nun. She seemed an exotic creature to me, in dusty, black, flapping clothes. Somehow I knew her smiles were feigned.
Later my fellow tiny soldiers and I were lined up along the wall on the corridor and taught to march past our great leader, reverentially bowing our heads to her as we filed along. Even then it struck me as an outrage. What had she done to earn our respect?
As the years passed, the bowing continued and the questioning grew.
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