Matilda and Me

Let me start by saying I grew up reading Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’ but I was way too old for kids books by the time he wrote ‘Matilda.’ And, since I usually avoid kids movies — and even avoided them as a kid — I went to see ‘Matilda’ on Broadway without any preconceived notions of the story. I went because I love musicals and ‘Matilda’ got rave reviews.

It was a great experience. I even shed a few tears at the end. Why? ‘Matilda’ reminded me of being a little girl in a life & death battle with MONSTERS. Yes, MONSTERS!

The Monsters in ‘Matilda’ are of the human variety. Matilda’s hateful, mean-spirited, intellect-numbing parents and the truly monstrous headmistress of the prison-like school, reminded me of a very bad period of time in my childhood, when I attended a school that inspired my parents to move before the next school year began.

I entered the austere building — complete with bars on the windows — an out-going, confident, articulate and affectionate five-year-old and a few months later I’d been beaten down into a withdrawn, depressed and very quiet little girl. Like Matilda’s school, adhering to the RULES — without question or exceptions — was the big lesson and nothing we did in that first grade class encouraged intellectual growth or independent thinking. (I’d been jumped ahead, skipping Kindergarten because I’d attended pre-school and already had basic reading skills, etc.)

Each time I tried to have a rational discussion about an irrational rule, my objections were quashed and I received demerits. As these demerits racked up, my mother was called into the principal’s office to discuss my misbehavior. The rules included being required to pin a handkerchief to my dress and weekly exact change for milk every Monday. The more sanitary tissues in my pocket did not fulfill my handkerchief requirement and, as no change could be made, the Monday my mother did not have a quarter to give me on the way to school I had to eat my graham cracker dry with the other kids “whose mothers didn’t love them enough to provide exact change.”

We had deportment lessons to ensure that we walked up and down staircases properly (alternating the leading foot) and, if you were left out of an exercise in which everyone was asked to write on the board, you had to suck it up and sit still.

I didn’t have the words until many years later, but that school became my model of a totalitarian state, headed by a monster principal with equally monstrous minions — especially my teacher. The more she ignored me, the more I withdrew, becoming less and less able to express what was happening to me.

Then one day, she called me to her desk to defend myself. I don’t remember what she asked me, but suddenly I couldn’t answer. Words failed me, but my body rebelled. I vomited on my teacher’s shoes and then next time I went to school I was in the kindergarten class. My parents search for a new home in another school district went into overdrive.

No school is completely monster-free to an imaginative child, but Lakeville Elementary School was paradise when compared to that place. Yes, there are monsters under the bed and on the playground — and sometimes at the front of the classroom.


  1. Seems many of us have monsters to contend with in school. Mine came much later. Though minecoukd be considered internal, they had a hand in my dropping out of normal school.

    Granted I defeated my monsters when I did complete high school and drove them into the ground when I finished college. But these internal monsters still rear their heads from time to time.

    • Candy Korman

      The impact of those particular MONSTERS took me decades to overcome. Children are resilient, but they are also vulnerable and I think adults in positions of authority don’t always realize that they are bullies. They think they are simply doing the “right” thing. Of course doing what’s right, has been the excuse or a myriad of dictators over the course of history.

      I’m glad you drove your monsters into the ground when you finished college!

    • Candy Korman

      LOL… Sometimes I wish I were one of those people who seem to have rebooted at a certain point, but I remember a great deal from my early life, including some pretty early events.

      The shoe thing was pretty spectacular, of course it came out of total helplessness and I hope I’m never that helpless again.

  2. Ungh, my first year at primary school was horrendous too. Oddly enough my parents moved as well, and sent me to a Catholic parish school in our new area. The nuns were incredibly strict, but the kids were an order of magnitude more accepting of a ‘foreign’ kid than they had been at my first school. Nonetheless, school was just varying degrees of torture. It wasn’t until university that I came out of my shell. There really are Monsters everywhere.

      • They are indeed. I sometimes wonder if humans have inherited a sharklike gene – that triggers a feeding frenzy of meanness in some people. :/

        • Candy Korman

          I think it’s about POWER. For some people, being in the bully’s seat is the only time they feel powerful. It’s like blood to a vampire. And there are a lot of vampires out there. (At least that kind.)

  3. Funny how we all have our fair share of monster-like teachers, though there are many good ones as well. We do tend to remember the ones we vomit on though… My monster was Mrs. Whiteside, my kindergarten teacher. We did not get along at all. She’s the one who tried to force me to write with my right hand even though I was clearly going to be a lefty.

    • Candy Korman

      Will we ever see the end of those “switching the lefty” teachers?

      I also remember some of my better teachers — and with great fondness. I’m FB friends with my 6th grade teacher. She really pushed me outside my comfort zones. She was also rational and understood that the kids in her class were not always going to fall into neat lines — let alone color inside of them.

      A couple of years after the vomiting incident, safely enrolled in one of the “best” school systems in the country, I had an odd relationship with a second grade teacher. She was strictly a color inside the lines person. This time I simply withdrew. She arranged to have me sent to the school psychologist for testing. I don’t know what she thought she’d find. Maybe she was truly worried about my sanity or she thought I was learning disabled? Anyway, I really enjoyed the testing process. We played creative games like — arrange these pictures in order and tell a story — plus classic IQ tests, etc. In the end, may parents and the principal were told that I was “BORED” in the class and was quiet because of that boredom.

      LOL… it was definitely a less dramatic strategy, but I think you can only play the vomit card once.