Penny for Your Thoughts

Mrs. Hutchinson stood in front of three wiggly lines of first graders and shouted, “I am going to drop this penny!”

She stopped, her eyes panned the children and she raised the penny above her head, “If I can’t hear the penny hit the floor, you will all have to stand here for five more minutes!”

The six-year old children ignored the teacher’s threat to cut into their already short fifteen minute morning recess.  Instead, my classmates continued to chatter. Little feet kicked and scuffed in their Buster Brown lace ups, plaid bell bottoms and denim Tough Skins.  They daydreamed about the Bicentennial pageant a few weeks away, pondered what that vat of paste might taste like and debated who was going to get to the wooden merry go round first. Would Wayne fall underneath it again to his near death?

Didn’t these kids want a break from learning about sets and numbers, I thought to myself.  How about some fresh air to repress Mrs. Seminarios coffee and cigarette breath?

“C’mon,” I growled to myself, “I wore pants today so I wouldn’t scald my legs on the metal slide!”

Mrs. Hutchinson tossed the penny.

No one heard it plink on the linoleum floor.

That day, the first grade never made it to recess.  We shuffled back to our miniature chairs; the boys cursing Mrs. Hutchinson.

“It was all her fault we didn’t get to go outside!  She’s the meanest.”

Even then, I understood why the class didn’t have recess.  We didn’t listen to Mrs. Hutchinson.  We didn’t follow the rules.  We didn’t respect the privilege of playtime.  Little children disrespected an adult. We acted entitled to recess because we were first graders and had worked hard reading and writing and trying to figure out those damn sets and numbers.  Who did Mrs. Hutchinson think she was, keeping children from their play?

The class sulked in front of their Starsky and Hutch and Leif Garrett lunch boxes feeling wronged.

Years later, I wonder if those former children are still sulking, still feeling wronged. It seems this bad luck or perhaps tainted skew of the world followed my class, and my Generation X demographic throughout the following decades.

When we all gathered for a special assembly to watch the first teacher rocket into space, the live TV was quickly shut off when the explosion filled the screen.

Record albums were censored and required parental guidance, latchkey children were left home alone, safe sex was supposed to protect us from some new virus, and cold wars were all the rage.

When we graduated from college in the early 1990s they labeled us as slackers. We danced in mosh pits and the few of us who made it big as internet pioneers lost it all months later. We watched sky scrapers topple, and our generation of military fought for oil and arms in the guise of peace.

Today I heard from my husband and younger sister in two separate conversations tell me “we are now a protected demographic because we are old and they can’t fire us because we could sue for age discrimination.”

“I’m not old!” I cried, “I am still relevant.  I am just getting started!”

“We just have to stick it out in our jobs a few more years and then we can retire,” My husband suggested.

“Retire!?  Just yesterday I was standing in line listening for the penny to drop!”

I realize that Generation Xers are over forty and that there are fewer of us compared to all those Baby Boomers and these pesky Millennials nipping at our heels.  Have we been so busy that we missed hearing the penny hit the floor announcing we have reached our prime, that we are the generation to listen to, to market to, to cater to?  Somewhere along the way, did we miss our recess? Did we miss our chance to leave our mark?  Were we too busy being silly, talking and not listening?

I won’t accept that I am obsolete.  I saw Justin Bieber in concert.  I Tweet, Facebook and just got rid of my Blackberry!  I’m even on Instagram.  I still have goals to achieve.

I also have great advice to give to those Millennials.  I tried to share some nuggets of knowledge to my niece and two nephews who just graduated from high school this year.  Let’s just say that my words of wisdom were like Mrs. Hutchinson’s penny.  Nobody heard it.




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