Sharon’s last response about the kids in our class jogged my memory quite a bit, and I realized that much of what sticks out to me about school between the second and fourth grades are moments of revelation: those times as a kid when you hear something that shatters your sense of stability–of how the world works or should work, of what “normal” is, of who you (or your teachers, or your parents) are. I nearly lost my mind, for example, when I was told in fourth grade that, despite what I’d heard up till that point, it was possible to subtract a larger number from a smaller. (Don’t even get me started about how much that messed me up, especially after the saga of struggling to learn math “facts.”) Anyway, as I was preparing to tell a couple of these stories, I also realized that they had in common central characters whose names were all laughably and uncommonly WASPy, so in the interest of humor, I’m going to tell them with names that –as much as this is possible–capture the distilled essence of these people and their names, as they exist in my memory.
After coming back from recess one day, the boy who loved pink loudly exclaimed–in the know-it-all voice children only use when they’re tattling, “Ms. M—-, Sally’s wearing lipstick!!!” (It was, apparently, against the rules for little girls to wear makeup. A fact which I can only assume provided some solace for the pink-loving boy, given that he, too, was forbidden to play with makeup–though for very different reasons.)
Annoyed, Ms. M—- pointedly asked, “And how do you know that she’s wearing makeup, Ross?” He replied that her lips were red. They weren’t red exactly, but they were a shade of pink that was just a little rosier than you might expect from an 8 year old. I held my breath. Someone was getting in trouble.
“Ross,” Ms. M— replied, “What color are my lips?”
“And what color are your lips?”
“And what color are Abraham Lincoln’s lips???” [It was President’s Day.]
And thus, Ross was silenced, and punished for his tattling with having his name put on the board. I, meanwhile, was dumbfounded. We had seen several pictures of Abraham Lincoln that day, and there was no way that his lips were red. In fact, during our coloring time that day, I’d seen some Lincoln portraiture featuring red lips…and, well, it was more Marilyn Monroe than honest Abe. Nevertheless, Ms. M— had declared it to be true, and I found myself unable to reconcile these apparently conflicting facts. Little Sally Merriweather, for her part, smirked and (I can only assume) plotted her re-application.
In another episode of Erin Learns the Facts of Life (no, not those facts), we were given pieces of bubble gum by the teacher (this was either Not-T-T or a woman I will call Ms. Ditch, because her name makes me think of this noun), and instructed to write a story about it. I was very excited about this prospect, both because Gum was the Forbidden Fruit of elementary school classrooms, and because making up stories was a favorite pastime of mine. I chewed my gum and worked feverishly, right up until Not-T-T/Ms. Ditch instructed us to put our pencils down. Proud of my story (which must have involved a magical gum that transported its chewer to another dimension), I was disappointed when the WASPy-est kid of all, Miles Cranford, was chosen to share his first. He began to read:
“One day in my lab, I put together sugar, water, xanthan gum (an emulsifier)…”
In a move of staggering boldness (or laziness), Miles Cranford had simply copied down the ingredient list from the gum. I was livid. How could he do this? Why didn’t I think of something like that?? Worst of all was the fact that Ms. Ditch was so amused by it. She laughingly said that this wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but Miles Cranford sat there grinning the self-satisfied grin of a blond future quarterback who knows how to charm the ladies…and Ms. Ditch moved on to the next student. I glared over at him and down at my own paper, aghast at the injustice of it all. It was at that moment that I learned that you don’t have to be good to get ahead. You just have to be sneaky…and cute enough that people overlook it.
I was going to attach a couple of other Moments of Traumatic Learning (including the time that this Unnamed Christian School staged a graphic reenactment of a drunk-driving accident for the benefit of prom-goers, to which the authorities invited the entire K-12 student body), but they’ll have to wait for later. For the moment, I’ll leave you with this: