Born Free

I remember preschool, because I loved it.

Loved, loved, loved it.

Loved everything about it.

The easel. The snacks. Cubbies. Circle time. Story time. Songs. What’s not to love?

It was a Montessori school, so we had a lot of freedom. We could choose what we wanted to do, when, and with whom. I loved the freedom, but, the thing I Ioved most, was my teachers. Two Sri Lankan women with beautiful saris, and musical bangles that played softly on their brown wrists, as they assisted us. Mother magicians, fairy godmothers. I spent a fair bit of time painting at the easel, or following on the heels of the Mother Merlins. Adults, and easels were easy compared to other kids. Peers meant politics.

Even at the age of 3 or 4, there were alphas, and not so alphas. I wasn’t an alpha, but I remember wanting to compete with them, put them in their place, have an alpha moment, particularly the boys. There was one kid; Johnny What’s-his-name, Tommy Know-it-all. You know the one. I wanted to impress him, as in, impress upon him that he wasn’t all that, as if bettering him would make him look up to me.

An explorer by nature, I could often be found rummaging through the house; mine, my grandmother’s, yours, if you let me. I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to know what was inside of drawers, behind closet doors. One weekend, I found something in my father’s study that I’d never seen before. It was a rectangular metal box, that with the press of a small button, opened just enough to expose a pair of built in binoculars. A treasure inside a treasure, the ultimate find. They were old fashioned opera glasses, but I didn’t know that. I decided I would take them to school, for show and tell. I’d impress all the kids, including Tommy. I’d get my alpha moment.

I snuck the opera glasses out of the house, and got them to school. As we were getting ready for show and tell, all the kids were hanging around in the cubbies.Tommy Know-it-all was showing everyone a cool he had, something boyish and powerful. All the kids were gathered around him. I jumped it. “Hey look what I’ve got!” I said. I held up the shiny object. The kids were immediately fascinated. No one had ever seen anything like it. Neither had I. “What is it?” someone said. I looked up at their faces, their eyes fixed on the opera glasses, and I pressed the button, opening and exposing the hidden binoculars. “Those are just binoculars!” Johnny said. “No they’re not,” I countered, trying to stand my ground. “It’s also a radio!” Wow. What was I thinking? I know what I was thinking. I had to up the ante. Everyone was excited. They left Tommy, and swarmed around me. It was 1970, 71, at the latest. A portable radio was a big deal. I remember my granny had one she’d listen to baseball games on, but no kid carried a radio around, no 3 year old, anyway.

So, the kids are around me, oohing and aahing at my “radio”, but Johnny Know-it-all is not having it. “That’s not a radio!” he says. Damn it. “Yes, it is!” I retort. “Prove it!” he jeers. I’ve got the crowd. I don’t want to lose them, but Tommy has me cornered. It’s put up or shut up time. I’m screwed, but I’m a fighter. I turn my head to one side, and out of the corner of my mouth, the corner that’s “hidden”, I start singing, in amateur ventriloquist fashion, “Born free…As free as the wind blows…As free as the grass grows…” I lose the crowd, with every note, until no one is left, except one kid, too little to know any better. I did my best, but I did not best, Johnny Know-it-all.

My alpha moment may have alluded me, but I was beginning to tap into my creativity.

Like Elsa, the lion cub, raised by beautiful blonde people, then released into the wild, I, too, was as free as the morning tide, and there was no need to hide. Except that side of my mouth where the song from the “radio” was coming out.

Since then, I’ve had some victories, alpha moments, and all of them were due to a spirit of exploration, resourcefulness, and imagination.

All I really need to know, I learned before Kindergarten.

I learned it in preschool.


About honor finnegan

I'm a singer-songwriter, storyteller, and essayist. Also, a special education itinerant pre-k teacher, Heartfulness meditation trainer, and New Yorker.
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One Response to Born Free

  1. I don’t think you get me, G. I didn’t like alphas. I didn’t want to join. I wanted to kick some butt. I wasn’t a Rudolph. No one was ridiculing me, or leaving me out. I chose to do what was more interesting and inspiring to me. Alphas were/are not, for the most part. Thanks for reading.


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