Author of Middle Grade novels about friendship, family, and figuring out where you fit in.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Boy In The Girls' Bathroom (Re-Post)

I'm going through old blog posts from the archives and have decided to re-post a few. Here is one from 2010:

A few weeks ago, I subbed for an elementary school art teacher who had a kindergarten class at the end of the day. For those of you who teach or sub, you probably know that kindergarten can be adorable and fun... but they can also be exhausting and difficult.

I had one boy in particular who made my day a bit challenging. We'll call him David. My initial impression of David was that he was a sweet little five-year-old, eager to please. He handed me a folded piece of paper that read, "I Love You." Awww, right? Until the girl next to him started to cry, because he had ripped off the corner of her paper to use for the note!

(Off topic story real quick: That wasn't the only note I got from a kindergarten student that day. Another boy gave me one that said, "You are a nice teacher. I live near Giant." Priceless!)

So, I kept an eye on David, who was still a sweet kid, but just had a knack for getting in trouble. He asked me if he could go to the bathroom, so I let him go. A few minutes later, he returned to the classroom, doing that I-have-to-go-potty dance.

"What happened? You didn't go to the bathroom?" I asked.

"There was a spider in the boys' room!" David cried. "Can you kill it for me?"

"I can't, David. I have to stay here and teach the rest of the class. I can try to find someone to take care of it for you..."

Then he pointed to one of his friends. "Can I take him with me to the bathroom? Maybe I won't be scared."

I gave him permission to bring his (male) friend to the bathroom with him. They came back to the classroom minutes later, neither of them doing a potty dance. Good sign. But when a little girl tapped me on the arm and said, "David and [his friend] went to the bathroom in the girls' room," things did not look good for David.

Because, just in time, another staff member happened to walk in. When I told her the situation, she was fuming. She pulled David aside and gave him a strict and memorable lecture.

"Don't you ever, ever, EVER, go into a girls' bathroom again! Not even for the littlest reason! A girl should never go into a boys' bathroom, so you should never go into theirs! Ever!"

Did I mention she said "ever"?

I let my writer hat creep onto my head for a moment, and I wished that David was one of my characters. I would take this situation in his early childhood and burn it into his memory. I imagined David as a high schooler in gym class, playing basketball with his classmates when the ball bounces out of the gym and into an adjacent room. The girls' room.

"Go get it, David," someone says. "No one's looking."

But he remembers kindergarten too well. Don't you EVER.

That's the thing about working with kids. I often wonder how much of what they're experiencing now is going to stay with them years down the road. And when I build my characters, I also take a glimpse into their childhoods to see what significant moments have affected them. It might not be as silly as going into the opposite bathroom, but then again, we as adults do remember the strangest things!

Any thoughts on specific childhood memories, either in your own life or (if you're a writer) in your characters'? Writers, have you given any thought to your adult characters' childhood?
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