When I was a little kid I was very shy. You know that kid that hides behind all the adult’s legs and peeks around afraid to get too close? Yep, that was me. I think my mom referred to me as a late bloomer. When the time came, I was not excited in the least to go to school. I would actually have to talk to people there. Ugh. As the summer wore on and September loomed closer my anxiety grew. I am the last of five kids and four of those siblings attended the very same, very small Catholic school. Everyone knew everyone. You would think that would give me comfort. Except my brothers were (and I’m trying to be kind here), rambunctious boys. Saying that you knew our family may not have been a compliment. Our family had a certain reputation at school.
So day one rolls around, I can recall the dread that wedged in the pit of my stomach as vividly as I can the plaid of my uniform skirt. I had a nun for a teacher that year. In my memory, all of the nuns looked the same so I can’t really remember her name. In my head, I have always just called her Sister Mary Penguin. This being a very traditional school in the 60’s, we were seated alphabetically. Was there any other option? My last name started with A, so I was in the first row and the first seat. Ok, ok. I could do this. I was a master of not being noticed so this prominent seat was a challenging position. But with my ninja-master-level skill of melting into the background, all would be fine. Then the bell rang and school started and that theory went out the window.
Sister Mary P introduces herself, she talks about the day and what it will be like and she is really nice. Oh, and they have books there. Books that I can take home and read! Whew. Maybe this whole school thing isn’t going to be so bad after all. Then it happened.
Sister asked us to introduce ourselves. Stand up and say our name IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. OMG. This was not good. I had to speak in front of these strangers. I’m in the pole position. I’m first. I stand up on shaking legs and mumble my name. The nun, in what I am sure was an attempt to engage with me, says that I have a long last name and asked if I knew how to spell it. Seriously? Of course, I did. It’s eleven letters long and I’m proud of myself for knowing so and I start to spell. A—–R—–C—H– – – – Mid letter I can’t take it, I can feel all those eyes just staring at me. It’s super hot in the room. My uniform is scratchy and I think I have to pee. The anxiety gets the better of me, and I throw up. Not the little ick it’s just in my mouth kind, but I mean like a bucket full of vomit. Go big or go home has always been my motto.
The room went still. No one said anything. Time was frozen. The kids in that classroom were the same kids that I spent the next eight years with. My worst nightmare had just come true. Sister finally broke the silence and grabbed the trash can but it was too late. The janitor had to come and put sawdust on the floor, the windows were opened and the class was pretty much disrupted. Welcome to First grade, Mari.
Somehow, I survived that year. I put one foot in front of the other and made it through. Sister Mary P was kind and somehow I didn’t get a cruel nickname over the incident. I was lucky that time. I had plenty of other times when I didn’t skate by so easily, but that’s for another post.
My stepdad got remarried last year in the church that was next to the school. The morning of the wedding Keith and I got there a little early and as we sat in the parking lot, waiting to go into the church to celebrate the day, the memory of that first day of school flooded back to me. I recalled the shame, the humiliation, the dread, and realized that I have come such a long way. It would be so easy for me to hold onto the negative part of this memory and to dwell in the pain. For me though, I want to start looking at these parts of my life as gifts. I am grateful for those experiences. Let me make this clear I wasn’t grateful at the time, but I am trying to look back and see the lessons I was being taught. I have come to believe that all of the crap we go through in life are assignments from the universe. I have the opportunity to learn something every day. It’s when I fall down and fail spectacularly I learn that I can get up that I learn how strong I really am.
Just don’t ask me to spell my maiden name.