At the progressive Miquon School, Janet understood what ducks were, but had no idea what a little sister was supposed to be.

by Janet Gilmore

A duck pond! My class was going to visit a duck pond! My own little nursery school class!

The week-long build-up was almost too much. We’re going to a duck pond! We’re going to a duck pond! We’re going in four days! I’m going to see ducks! Three days! We’re going in two days! We’re going tomorrow! Quack, quack! I’m going to talk to ducks! Ducks! Ducks! Ducks! Today! Miquon is taking me to a duck pond today! I’m going to meet ducks!

“You’d better dress warmly; it’s cold out,” my mother said on The Day. She put on my wool coat and mittens.

It was cold, but I barely noticed.

Spastic with excitement, I could hardly contain myself on the ride.

“I’m on the Duck Bus, the Duck Bus, the Duck Bus, I’m on the Duck Bus, right now!” I sang to myself.

The Miquon School was a progressive elementary school not too far from my house. Lots of school days were spent outdoors in dirt and mud, learning about nature.

I was only three. Of course I had no idea whether my parents were progressive or non-progressive. They were just regular parents. Someone must have told them about Miquon. I think they sent me there simply to get me out of the house for a while because they had a baby.

I understood what ducks were but had no idea what a little sister was supposed to be. But none of that mattered. I was going to see a duck pond!

The pond was a rough circle, outlined with rocks. There was not a duck in sight. Hey, I was promised ducks, and ducks were what I wanted. Lots of ducks, all quacking my name. But there were none.

With righteous little girl indignation, I jumped from rock to rock around the edge of that stupid pond, round and around until I lost my balance and fell in.

Suddenly I was standing at the bottom of the duck pond, in my woolen coat and mittens, all by myself. I didn’t really know what to do. I had never been in cold water at the bottom of a duck pond before, and I had rarely been alone. And three-year-old time was not like real time. I didn’t know how long I’d be underwater. Could be a minute, could be the rest of my life.

This was a new situation.

“Hmm, I’m standing at the bottom of a duck pond. Maybe all the ducks are down here.”

The dirt under my shoes was soft and squishy. I couldn’t see anything but murky water and couldn’t hear anything. Goodbye, familiar life. My new life was going to be at the bottom of a duck pond. “I better do duck stuff if I’m going to live here,” I thought.

I stood underwater, getting kind of bored. Arms pulled me out of the water at the very moment I was trying to grow webbed feet by willing them into existence.

Out it the air again, I was very wet and very cold. Next thing I remember, I was back in my classroom, with no clothes on, wrapped in a blanket. You never know about things; something cool should happen because I was in a blanket without any clothes on in school.

And in fact, something wonderful did happen. The classroom door opened, and my MOM walked in! What a great day! After all, I was only three. I had never been separated from my mother before nursery school. I liked school, but I loved being with my mom more than anything.

I never saw my mother during school hours, and I always wondered what she did when I wasn’t around. Now I knew. She hung around the house with an extra set of dry clothes in a brown paper bag, in case she had to bring them to school to her darling dripping daughter.

I adored seeing my mom in unexpected situations. I figured my dry clothes included a “get out of jail free” pass, and mom would take me home early. But she didn’t.

She left my dry clothing with the teachers and went home without me. I had to sit through the afternoon lesson about ducks, take the bus home like everybody else and do duck homework. The day that had started so promisingly at the bottom of a duck pond ended up like an ordinary school day.

My school year progressed progressively until the following spring at Miquon, when I fell into a patch of stinging nettles. Mom did not show up this time. My teacher put lots of Calomel lotion on my burning hands and sent me home miserable. Stinging nettles — ouch! — they sure named them right! And no Mom. Phooey!

For some reason, the following school year my parents removed me from progressive education that included woods, fields and a stream, ducks and turtles, and sent me to Samuel W. Pennypacker Public Elementary school in Philadelphia. A school with a concrete playground.

I still hadn’t seen a live duck, and I still had a little sister who couldn’t fly, quack or do anything very interesting.

It wasn’t fair.