My second grade teacher stuffed a letter in each of our book bags
A notice to our parents that we were not to wear shorts to school as the weather was becoming too cold.
Autumn in New Jersey ebbs and flows like the river on a bad day.
The barren trees dropped leaves of about five different colors and sometimes the winds were strong enough to topple us over. But by recess, the sun peeked from behind the clouds and the air calmed.
We shiny foreheads and sweaty lopsided braid wearing girls would beg to tear away the sweatshirts our mothers made us wear that morning. Instead we were told to stand against the wall for being too warm, all red-faced and scorched from the surprise sun.
My tiny body always had issue regulating temperature. Even today, my skin is range-top warm to touch on the coldest of days.
My mother, the woman who wore hot pants and thigh high boots to her high school graduation, gown open to openly defy the ceremony dress code, refused to be told how to dress her child.
The next day she dressed me in a pair of culottes.
“These are shorts! We’re not allowed to wear shorts anymore,” I cried.
“These are cullocks,” Mommie said in all of her Harlem ESL dialect.
When we got to school, she checked me in for the day. The secretary looked down at my bare legs.
“Ms. Reyes, you can’t check her in — she’s wearing shorts,” the secretary said.
“They’re cullocks,” Mommie retorted.
“They’re shorts,” the secretary yelled.
“Bitch, don’t you fucking yell at me,” Mommie said. “She’s going to her class.”
Mommie began walking out of the office to bring me to my class. The secretary followed us into the hallway. A shouting match ensued.
“She can’t go to class in those shorts! You need to bring her home,” the secretary yelled.
My mother’s profanity-laced tongue echoed against the walls. The principal joined us in the hallway in efforts to deescalate whatever drama he thought my mother was bringing.
“Let her go to class,” he said. “Ms. Reyes, will you please go home?”
The sour-faced secretary looked directly into my eyes while addressing my mother. “She better not have on shorts tomorrow.”
And this is the story of my Mommie getting thrown out of the second grade OR the story of how I spent the winter of 1992 in culottes (with warm knee-high socks and Mary Jane shoes).