Category: dumb things I do (page 1 of 6)

Long, long ago…

I just had occasion to remember something.

When I was in 7th grade, (can you, reader, already feel the tension mounting? the horror building?) I had a co-ed PE class. (Now? Now can you feel it, reader?)

The end.

Just kidding. But I really did have a 7th grade co-ed PE class. One for which we “dressed out” daily. And there were various and sundry humiliations attached thereto. But I just want to tell you about this one day, this one moment, and the eternal fallout that it caused.

PE class was ending. I don’t remember what we did that day. Don’t remember what we played, but I know it was inside, so not golf or tennis or a mile run (all of which I did very, very badly). The moment was after that part. After going down into the girls’ locker room at Batesville Middle School and changing back into my dress. I don’t remember why exactly I was wearing a dress to school, but there must have been an occasion. I have always pretty much been a jeans-and-sweatshirts kind of girl. This dress, though. I remember it clearly. It had large pastel squares on it, like maybe 6-inch squares of pink and blue and light green and yellow and cream. (Do you remember, reader, that “cream” was totally a color in the mid-to-late eighties?) The dress zipped up the back. I fear it may have had a rounded collar, but that could be a misremember. I know it had a very, very full skirt. Like the kind that even at the mature age of whatever-I-was-in-7th-grade (12, of course), I couldn’t really help myself — I had to twirl. Not in public, necessarily. But for sure at home. It was an excellent twirling dress.

The dress also had a belt, because it was the 80s. The belt was wide and pink and vinyl/plastic. It flattered my 12-year-old waist. Oh, I loved that dress. And so. I wore it to school for whatever the occasion was. And at the end of changing time in PE, I walked back up the steps and into the gym.

7th grade PE was co-ed but divided (occasionally). The girls sat on one side of the gym, and the boys sat on the other. After changing back into our “street clothes,” we took our places on opposite sides of the gym and waited to be excused. I didn’t want to wrinkle my cotton dress, so I stood in front of the bleachers, facing the other girls, maybe talking to one of the Angies, maybe just waiting and listening and totally not twirling. Meanwhile, the boys were slouching on the bleachers opposite.

Could someone have told me? Could the knowledge have descended like a bolt of figurative lightning? Maybe the teacher tapped me on the shoulder. Maybe a creeping sensation caused me to check. I don’t know how I knew, but suddenly, I KNEW.

My skirt was tucked. Up. Into my belt. In the back. And there I stood, already way too body-conscious at 12, with my backside completely THERE. “Facing” the boys.

I could try to describe the humiliation. I could endeavor to explain the horror. I could even delve into the certainty that none of the girls — literally no one from “my” side of the gym — tried to hide me or help me. I remember that I spun (fast) in a half circle. I tugged. I smoothed. I tried to smile. I tried to ignore.

But I never forgot.

To this day, I have a compulsion to check the back of my skirt EVERY time I leave a room. Sit in a chair? Check the skirt. Stand up? Skirt check. Use a bathroom? MUST CHECK THE SKIRT. And, although some may say it makes me nosy, I am always willing to tell/hide/help anyone who is in a Dire Skirt Predicament. Because sisters, reader, need each other. And I will die happy if that particular event never happens to me again.

Thoughts on Growing Up, Again and Again.

I was always kind of offended by the phrase “terrible twos” – is it really fair to condemn a toddler for acting his age? But I get the problem. I totally do. And I think I know why it is what it is. (*Easy for me to say, my youngest is 12.) Here’s what I think: Two year olds are split almost evenly in two halves – no, not good and evil. “I want to be big,” and “I’m the baby.” Hold me. Let me. Help me. I will do it myself.

Fast forward three years. Many of the same behaviors are exhibited by a kid starting school. A fairly even split between wanting to be independent and wanting to be coddled. In my family, it happens again at eleven or twelve. Coincidentally (?) add in hormone shifts (sweet!) and this manifests itself mostly as moodiness – but work with me here. If you could figure out if the kid wanted to be snuggled or sent on an errand, wouldn’t you kind of have life managed?

What I’m finding now is that it happens again in high school. Here’s my theory: growing up is a series of decisions about how a person wants to be treated. Kid or grown up? I mess this up every single day. I assume my students know more / can do more / are willing to stretch more than they know / can / will. They freak out. “Too much pressure!” Okay, so I’ve been treating them too Big. So I back off. I assume they know nothing and will try nothing, and they rebel. “We’re not idiots!” No. You’re not. You’re in the process of growing up. And Process is the key. (*Sometimes I get it right. Or right-ish. I try.)

If I can keep this in mind, and if I can strike a balance, for a class or a section or a kid, I can help that kid succeed in the moment. Just like when my kids were tiny, and really, really NEEDED to make their choices. If I could give my kid a couple of reasonable options, it was far more likely that the choice of the moment would end happily for both of us. (As opposed to, you know, “What would you like for lunch?” which could end in a variety of terrifying disagreements.)

So I’m searching for that balance. I’m seeking to do it respectfully – to give genuine adultish opportunities for those who are leaning that way, and to be patient about repeating the same directions a thousand times (and answering “why?” questions over and over) when they’re feeling needy. When they’re lucky, kids grow up in increments. They do it over and over, a little at a time. I need to learn to access and respect their place at the moment. And, if I’m being fair, I still have days when I want to get wrapped up in a blanket and snuggled. And plenty of times I have a fit when I think I’m being treated like a dumb kid. This may be a lifelong process, so it would be awesome if I could figure out how to do it right.

I’m sorry. I’m stupid.

Once upon a time I made what I had NO IDEA was a stupid, hurtful comment to a struggling friend. She was telling me of a newly-discovered battle she was choosing to keep private – a diagnosis of a child on the autism spectrum. I said what I thought were the right (supportive) things, and then I said something idiotic about her choice not to “wave the flag” about her kid’s diagnosis.

— Here is why I said that. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are fighting remarkable battles every moment with special-needs kids, and I applaud their parenting AND I LOVE THEIR KIDS. Having said so – I have occasionally heard acquaintances speak about their children with special needs as the need: Like, “I have my hands full with this CONDITION who also happens to be my child.” I am a huge supporter of parents who advocate for their kids, and an even more huge supporter of those who help their kids advocate for themselves. Something hurts me when a person is placed behind a diagnosis, as  opposed to the other way around. I think the human being should come first, is all.

Now, I know that what I said hurt this friend. I didn’t know it for a long time. Naturally, as soon as I realized that I had been stupid, I apologized. I recognize that what I meant and what she heard were at vast odds, and that it may have driven a fatal wedge in our relationship. I do not fault her for this in any way. I was stupid. I said something vague where (hello) even if I’d been specific, it would not have been useful or helpful. I caused hurt. The fact that I didn’t mean to? Not relevant. The fact that I apologized? Not enough. I am not here to try to fix all the dumb I’ve been responsible for in my long, long life of dumb. I am here to say that sometimes I say things that are categorically stupid, and that when I offend I am sorry. I try to keep the stupid to a minimum. I really do.

This is an event that I think about on an almost daily basis. It happened YEARS ago. The thing is, I deserve to think about it. I deserve to have it on my mind. That bad decision I made might make me slightly less stupid in future discussions of that sort (or of any sort – thoughts about that mistake enter my mind in nearly every critical conversation I have). And I think it helps me choose to take offense less often than I might, because I consider that when someone I love (or like, or simply don’t despise) says something stabby or hurtful, I can – from personal experience – choose to assume that what I hear isn’t necessarily what he meant to say.

 

Intentions

Can a person make a habit of good intentions? Because on the surface that sounds like Not a Bad Idea. It seems like good intentions would lead to great actions and amazing results. Except, it doesn’t, always.

I generally act on my good intentions (in all my life’s aspects), except for when I don’t. And the don’t times feel bad, and I have regret and stuff. I tell you this so you understand that I’m actually a pretty nice person.

Sometimes, even with the best actions following the most excellent intentions, I get poopy results. I offend. I overstep. I underdeliver. I mess up, is what I’m telling you. And I worry that my habit of good intentions is causing me to be the person who offends and oversteps and underdelivers and messes up and I don’t want to be that person. I want to be the excellent one. And sometimes I’m really, really not.

But I guess I have to take what happens as it happens, because I don’t think it would be a good idea to stop intending goodness, or to stop acting on those intentions. I can’t control the results very often, so I guess I have to Let It Go and junk. And hope that the people whom I offend can get past the offense and decide to discover my intentions. I promise, they’re pretty good.

I Wish I’d Never (a short list)

* I wish I’d never quit piano lessons. This is showing itself in a near-daily battle with the 13-year-old over practicing. She wants to quit, and I don’t want her to have this same regret. So we grumble at each other over the dusty little spinet.
* I wish I’d never said mean things about my mom. I didn’t mean them, but it’s too late for me to tell her that. They weren’t all that different from the things my girls say about me, probably, and most likely they were milder. But I really didn’t mean them. And I’m sorry.
* I wish I’d never bought clothes just because the price was good. I wish I’d been more likely to buy something excellent than to check tags before I decided whether I liked something or not.
* I wish I’d never liked butter.
* I wish I’d never stopped doing those triceps exercises I did when I was 34. I did them every day until I stopped doing them at all, and now look at the state of these arms. Oy.
* I wish I’d never been such a chicken about boys. In particular, about C when I was a freshman in college. He was charming and nice and witty and cute and, by all ordinary signals, interested (at least that one afternoon when I thought I’d better do something other than go out with him when he asked – because [surprise!] he’d never asked again). My fear of being thought a tramp, a brazen hussy, a … oh, let’s be real. My fear of being rejected kept me out of a whole lot of possibly awesome situations.
* I wish I’d never said out loud how I felt about P. Now every time I’m in a room with her, I just get that same icky feeling of being annoyed and disgusted and sad that things are the way they are. If I’d kept that opinion locked safely inside my head, I could pretend I’d never felt annoyed. Or disgusted. Or sad. And then maybe I wouldn’t feel those things at all. Why is it that once it’s said, it’s practically written in stone?
* I wish I’d never stopped the habit of writing every day. It’s hard, these days, to find enough time to write the things I want to say. To carve out the time to enter a story and make things happen, characters feel things, plots go awry. I miss it, not every day, but on the days I try to do it and it’s like using atrophied muscles.
* I wish I’d never gotten into the habit of negative self-talk. How do you unhear your own voice in your head? I wish I’d always been kind to myself. Most days I deserve that, but rarely do I get it.
* I wish I’d never been hesitant to say nice things. I am still hesitant, sometimes – not that I’m shy, but I worry that nice things will be misinterpreted. Sometimes those things happen. But really? To be thought too nice? That might be the right kind of misinterpretation after all.

Little Sister

So when I went to the Memorial Service this weekend, I didn’t want to go alone. Because who wants to go alone? Am I right? (The answer is yes, you’re right. No one wants to go alone.)

So I picked up my brother and took him with me.

An interesting (to me) thing happened when I did. I turned into Little Sister again. I asked him to tell me which was the fastest route to the freeway. Which exit to take. Where to turn. Where to park. Which door to enter. Where to sit. I needed him to tell me All the Things to do. I asked him about a hundred times, “Is that _________?” “Who’s that lady?” I must have been the world’s most obnoxious little sister. I mean, Saturday. Okay, also in all of the past. I had him drive from the mortuary to the cemetery. (That’s because I was in Husband’s car, and it’s fun to drive. Because I can totally find the Salt Lake City Cemetery all by myself.) (I can.)

Does this happen to everyone? Is this a Thing? Because I’m certain it was the most natural reversion in the world.

Whirling

All the things. They’re happening. But not as quickly as they have been happening, and for that little slowdown, I am grateful. I’m helping out with a before-school ACT prep class, in which I explain to kids the irony of the ACT’s dictum against “wordiness,” the “rule” that one uses dashes only in pairs, and the foolery that is Long Sentences Making You Think That Objects of Prepositions Are Actually Subjects of Sentences. [1]

I passed a Praxis test, which is a good step toward teachery legitimacy. I’m all over legitimacy.

I’m teaching TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD to my sophomore darlings now, and they’re an even split between liking it and hating it. Also, I read every few chapters out loud to them, and I do my share of shocking by the words that come out of my mouth. I remind them (as often as I remember to) that these aren’t my words, that I wouldn’t normally say some of these words, that we’re developing character through the use of these words, and that if you find yourself offended by my use of these words, I’m sorry for the offense (but not for the words). One thing that’s shocked me is the number of parents who have come in or emailed or spoken to me directly to tell me that “Ick, I hated that book.” I can’t stop my “WHAT!?!?” when we’re in person, but in an answering email I can usually keep it to a polite, “Well, I hope your child has a better experience with the book than you did.” Because WHAT!?!?! Seriously, people. How? I love this book so, so dearly.

And meanwhile, I’m not earning any awards for Wife of the Year. My poor Husband. He’s a champ and he’s always so kind to me, but I know my life of Wearing Thin is wearing thin for him, too. Thanks goodness for Costco’s frozen Orange Chicken, because at least once a week, we get a real meal round here. (THIS IS THE STATE AT WHICH I HAVE ARRIVED. FROZEN DINNER MEANS REAL MEAL.)

Keeping heads above water. That’s the plan.

___

[1] One of the things I say frequently around school is “If it’s already an object, it can’t be a subject.” People think I’ve lost it. They may be right.

The thing about Outlining

Serious writers outline. Everyone knows this. They create visualization boards and put awesome color-coded cards on corkboards with pushpins. They keep character bibles. They plan out Three Main Points of Action, they catalog the Try-Fail cycles, they draw sweeping character arcs.

I try to do these things. I try to be an outliner.

I can’t.

I write like a toddler playing with shiny glass beads. I play at it, which I am aware is not the world’s best work ethic. But it’s fun, and sometimes I allow myself to remember that writing is fun.

When I try to write like someone else, I find that less happens on the page. I think I finally figured out why. Here’s today’s epiphany. I love the discovery parts of writing. The starting from a point of conflict (usually emotional, but physical works, too) and growing a character inside a situation that will become clear later, when I feel like writing the scene where that stuff gets decided. The beginning with a conversation and building out into an interaction that grows into a written relationship… that’s the kind of writing that I love to do. Discovery-work.

Which still somehow feels LESS than it should be. So I try the other ways. I write an outline, and I make scene cards and they’re numbered and they have handwritten notes about what should happen in scenes, and then I put those cards up on a corkboard with red pushpins. And it looks really pretty, and I have NO FUN writing those scenes.

I think it’s because I already did the discovery-work part, and everything left over is work-work. And the rest of today’s epiphany? I don’t have to eliminate discovery-work. I don’t need to write like anyone else does. I don’t have to keep the charts, or learn how to use Excel, or color code my world (as much as I would love to do that part). I can write the way I write and take as long as it takes and put the words on the page as they come into my heart, and not worry so much that my mind doesn’t have a plan. Because the words want to be written. They want to exist on pages. They want to be shared, and they’ll come, even if it’s all out of order and skeewampus for a few drafts. The characters want to grow and become and flourish and try and fail and succeed and love and laugh, and they will, even if it’s in a different way than most people make it happen.

My way isn’t the best way to write. It’s not the fastest, or the most organized, or the smartest, or the most teachable. But it’s my way, and I can do it my way if I want to. And I want to.