Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Yardstick

Sister Miriam Anne stoically stood at the front of the classroom.  As I reached down to scratch my shin beneath my burgundy wool knee sock, I was terrified she would notice, then crack her yardstick on her desk, the sound causing my body to release the contents of my bladder to the floor.  I was never good at using my time wisely during recess.  And now I sat wishing I would have used the restroom.

I noticed Sister scratch at the edge of her habit, just above her silver gray eyebrows.  She was hot and uncomfortable, too.

We were not allowed to move in Sister Miriam Anne’s second grade classroom.  I am not talking about getting up out of your seat without permission.  I am talking about sitting like a statue, legs crossed at the ankles, hands folded on top of the desk, eyes forward.

I never understood why she did not open the windows to let air flow through the ancient classroom.  I never understood why she refused to excuse us to use the restroom, even if we appropriately raised our hand and respectfully asked.  Wouldn't those things make it easier to sit still?

I could feel my nylon slip beginning to soak with sweat.  The exposed parts of my legs began sticking to the seat of the desk.

Two rows over, closer to the windows, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a swoop in burgundy plaid. 

Someone was moving.



But the one wearing the uniform, my classmate Amy, was not deterred by the sound.

Amy was fixed to the window, tugging at the handle with every ounce of muscle she had in her tiny arms, disguised so neatly beneath her white blouse.

Sister Miriam Anne strode from her desk toward the window with the yardstick held high in the air.  I allowed my head to turn at the sight.  My eyes followed until she reached an empty desk, nearest to Amy and the window.


Down went the yardstick on Amy’s bottom.

With a crackle, clunk, and whoosh, the window opened.

Amy, without a flinch, and seeming unaffected by the whack to her behind, went back to her desk.

Sister Miriam Ann returned to the front of the room.

As I listened to her explain the reason Christ died for my sins, I silently prayed to Mary:

Please, dearest holy Mother, make my tears invisible.  Make my tears invisible.  Make my tears invisible.

When I got home from school that day, I did not fight my mother on changing out of my uniform.  I hurried up to my room, buried my urine-soaked slip and jumper at the bottom of the hamper and prayed.  Prayed my mom would do the laundry that night.  Prayed no one noticed.  Prayed that the window Amy miraculously lifted would still be open when I got to school in the morning—another hot, late-August morning, at the beginning of my second grade year.

photo credit: lissalou66 via photo pin cc read to be read at


  1. Powerfully-told! Good ol' Catholic school; is fresh air a sin? I must have missed that part of the Bible!

    1. Thanks, Louise. I appreciate your feedback.

  2. I'm so thankful I did not have a nun with a ruler during my time at Catholic school, I can't believe how children used to be treated and what was acceptable. This was really well written, I could feel your discomfort and fear in that class room!

    1. Hi Anna. I am glad you liked the writing. I am also glad that our views on children and corporal punishment in schools has changed. As a child, it was very confusing to understand how certain things were to be considered "bad" moving in one's seat, or wanting some air in a hot classroom.

  3. holy CRAP!!!!
    i always love reading your stuff- always. dang girl.

  4. Wow Kimberly, that was seriously amazing. I've heard Catholic school stories, but none like that. The whole time I was thinking, "Nobody notice, nobody notice" while cheering Amy at the same time.

    You really tell a story well.

  5. I was in Catholic school for first, second, and part of third grade. I have very few memories of that time - I think because so much of what went on was nonsensically painful, like your experience here. So wonderfully told. Thanks.

  6. Kimberly, wow, wow, wow. What stunning writing. And, for the love of...I don't know what...I can't believe that happened. My mom went to a school where they had to go outside to pick their 'switch' and then the teacher would use it on their hands.

    I can feel the air through the open window and your fervent prayers. Seriously great writing.

  7. Oh my goodness. You brought back my own Catholic school-couldn't-hold-it-in-pee-accident. At least my nun was kind enough to bring me paper panties into the restroom and wipe my first grade tears away. Why didn't my parents notice how afraid I was to go to school? Anyway...
    See how good your writing was? I can remember it all like it was yesterday.
    Enjoyed your story. Leslie

  8. Gripping.

    I did not go to Catholic School, but kids in Germany get religious education twice a week in school and in elementary school it's always done by priests.

    I remember having to stand in the corner at the back of the room, standing still, because he could not remember seeing me in church the previous Sunday.

    This post brings back a lot of disturbing memories.

  9. Ohmygoodness, girl!

    What a sad, scary story told so very beautifully in your voice.

    1. Thank you, Galit. Your words mean so much to me.

  10. I've been there. You described the fear so well that I don't think I took a breath through that whole piece.

    The yard stick went across my knuckles. My left hand. I was writing with it. Now...I'm a righty. My daughter is a lefty and I am so glad. :) Wish I still was.


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