Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thanks, But I’ll Take the Sticks and Stones

This is my first post in a series inspired by Craniofacial Awareness Month.  We’ll see how long it lasts... 
Remember that old nursery rhyme chanty thing when we were little?  Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.  I always thought the guy who came up with that little ditty must’ve had a heck of a lotta self-esteem.  That; or he lived in a bubble.  But unless we’re channeling John Travolta circa 1976, nobody’s living inside a protective bubble.  The world’s out there and we’ve gotta take it on – even the sticks, the stones, and the words that are hurled our way.
Last week was an auspicious week for a couple of friends and colleagues.  They were sending their daughters off to kindergarten!  Starting school is such a huge step and as I listened to and read their stories, I couldn’t help but think back to when I started elementary school.  I think that was when I first realized that other people – people totally outside of my safe family bubble – saw me as being different from all the rest of the kids on the playground.   
It wasn’t like I was completely unaware that I looked a little different.  My mom has told me that when I was four years old, I looked in the mirror, and asked her why I had a boo-boo on my eye.  So, obviously I was aware of appearances – mine and everyone else’s.  Starting school made me acutely aware of something else – looking different wasn’t exactly good and unless you were Punky Brewster, looking different wasn’t something to be celebrated.  Nope, in the mid-1980s in the hallways of a suburban elementary school, looking different made me an easy target. 
And nobody’s an easier target than the girl at the water fountain.
Now, don’t get all scared.  This isn’t a sticks and stones story.
I wasn’t any old girl at the water fountain.  I was a Fourth Grade Safety, complete with an orange belt, authorized by Glenside Elementary to protect the water fountain in the main hallway during school dismissal.  It was definitely the cushy spot in the rotation; a spot that I had lusted after ever since I saw my big brother standing guard when he was a Fourth Grade Safety.  I loved it.  Except every day that I was on duty in front of that water fountain, a second grader would come by and call me Monster Face.  Sticks and stones?  I would’ve preferred them. 
Something that I loved, something that I had wanted to do ever since I was in the first grade became the thing that I dreaded most in the world.  When I saw his class coming down the hallway, the knot in my stomach would grow bigger and bigger, as he got closer, I would duck my head, and silently pray that he didn’t say it, not that day.  Usually, my prayers went unanswered. 
Words will never hurt me.  Words hurt me most of all.
I wish I could say I stood up for myself.  I wish I could say I held my head up high and soldiered on.  I wish I could say that…but I can’t.  Ducking my head – hiding – became the norm.  In fourth grade, sixth grade, high school…all the way up to college.  I worked very hard to create my own little bubble where I was safe and nobody could hurt me.  I did a pretty good job for a while.
But bubbles burst.  And I’m not in fourth grade anymore.  I’m taking on the world.  Even second graders.  Especially second graders.

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