Thursday, November 12, 2009

I'm still Somebody

The neighborhood where my family lived until I was in the 7th grade was brimming with children the same age as me. It was a great way to grow up because I always had other kids to play with.

We had moved there when I was three and from day one my mom pretty much tossed me out the front door every day by the seat of my pants and didn't let me back in the house until dinner time so I was forced to run loose like a little savage and ended up making friends with all of the other children who lived near us. They were all boys and by the time I started first grade it was well established that I was one of them.

I could build a fort and leg wrestle with the best of them. I was a smudge faced, scab covered, toughskins wearing, treehouse building little dare devil. I could spit farther, punch harder, and pop the biggest wheelies. I was a superstar.

But my badge of honor soon become tarnished once I started first grade and had the chance to be around other little girls. Prior to that I really didn't know any other girls but once I started going to school all day long, rather than the half day you have in kindergarten, it soon become clear that I was a freak and I had absolutely nothing in common with any of them.

Suddenly my long distance spitting skills and dirty fingernails were not winning me any friends. Only after being called "tomboy" and "bruiser" and getting in trouble at school for chasing Shannon O'brien* around the play yard with an earthworm until she cried did anyone (my mother and I) realize that this needed to change. Thus began my lifetime struggle to be more girly.

I begged my mom to buy me some dresses and white ankle socks with lace around the edges and black patent leather Mary-Janes. That year my winter coat was red velvet with white rabbit fur trim and I had a matching muff.

Yes, I said muff.

I loved that muff. I was going to search for a photo to post here but I was afraid to Google "fur muff".

Anyhoo... I thought these girly clothes would transform me instantly from Pigpen into Shirley Temple and Darla from the Little Rascals all rolled into one. The new clothes certainly accomplished the mission of my becoming more girly, but alas the year was 1973 not 1933, so I was in addition to being super girly a big giant goober.

In a further attempt to help me get in touch with my feminine side my mother enrolled me in ballet lessons. I was thrilled at the opportunity to squeeze myself into some pink tights and a tutu, swish around in soft pink satin shoes and bingo - no more tomboy. I couldn't think of anything more girly and feminine than ballet.

As it turns out these ballet lessons changed my life and I learned far more from them than simply the joy of the dance. I learned that I lack a certain self awareness. Whether or not the long term effect of this has been good or bad I still can't decide, humility is a double edged sword and something I think kids these days** could use a little more of, but I can tell you that the 6 year old me was devastated. I can also tell you that the 6 year old me got over it and decided that perhaps dance wasn't going to be her bag, but instead moved on to music and singing lessons which turned out quite nicely.

While the actual bad experience with ballet lessons that turned out to be a defining moment of my life was not directly caused by my usual favorite target of blame for all things psyche scarring, my mother, she did however sign me up for ballet lessons without taking into consideration 2 very key elements of the situation:

1. Although she signed me up for the right age group, the 5 and 6 year olds, what she didn't realize was that all the other 6 year old girls in my class had already been taking ballet lessons since they were old enough to stand. So everyone in the class had way more experience than me.

2. I have all the natural grace and agility of a water buffalo.

Combine elements one and two and suffice it to say that I was not successful at ballet. Now add to that my ballet teachers lack of compassion, her inability to be direct and my talent at being unaware of the actions of my own body.

To describe the situation I must assume that you have occasionally had one of those moments where things are going along smoothly but suddenly there is an irritating disruption and you're not sure where it's coming from? A cell phone ringing in the library, a car alarm blasting away in the middle of the night, or some horrible smell on the bus? It could be any number of things and you say to yourself who in the name of Christ could be causing this terrible noise, disruption or odor?

Well that's what happened in ballet class one evening. We had finished all of our little warm up exercises and had just started putting some of our moves together to form an actual dance. As we stood at the bar (or whatever you call that thing) the teacher was counting out slowly and naming the moves. She was not satisfied with our performance and kept shouting STOP! AGAIN!

Then she would start the counting and calling out the dance steps all over again. It's vague because I was only 6, but she must have done this like 4 or 5 times. Each time her shouting, counting and step calling getting louder and more shrill. Finally she had had enough of whatever was bothering her and yelled, "Somebody is completely out of step and ruining it for the rest of you!"

Oh, A-ha! I eyed my fellow tiny dancers suspiciously thinking, yes one of you is really screwing up and annoying our lovely teacher, who would do such a thing?

Our teacher was really, really pretty and had been a runner up in the Miss Ohio pageant (or some such equally impressive contest to my 6 year old mind, but as I mentioned my memory of such detail is a bit fuzzy) the year before. In hindsight I'm sure she was nothing more than an economy sized bitch who had no business working with or around small children, but at the time I wanted nothing more in life than to please the pretty, pretty lady.

By today's standards I'm sure she would have been prosecuted, tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, but like I said, it was the 70's and back then verbal abuse and psychic scarring, and hell why not, physical beatings were not only considered good solid parenting practices but encouraged and bragged about by most adults and educational professionals.

The ballet teacher then gave some more specific instructions to the culprit, "Somebody needs to keep her neck straight. Somebody needs to stop looking at her feet! Somebody needs to pay attention!!"

Yes, I thought, Somebody really needs to do that!

If you haven't figured it out based on the title of my post I am Somebody. It was a defining moment in my life because I have spent the rest of my existence on this planet trying to avoid experiencing that moment again. That moment that makes all the blood drain from your face when you discover that you are the last person in the room to recognize that you are being a tool. It's my cell phone ringing. It's my car alarm going off in the middle of the night and the horrible smell on the bus is the dog shit on the bottom of my shoe.

Discovering your own oblivion is rather circular and the philosophizing required to ponder it further is beyond me, but I have noticed this:

The decibel at which you complain out loud, the number of people who hear you complaining and the amount of obscene language used directly corresponds to the degree of likelihood that you yourself are the cause of the disturbance or strange smell.

*Not really her name of course. Actually I can't remember the kid's name, but she was Irish.
** Using the phrase "kids these days" automatically qualifies me for old fart status, a senior discount and membership to AARP. I'm going out to get fitted for dentures and big giant wrap around sunglasses this instant.


Michelle said...

Same kind of story..different circumstance! Glad to know I'm not the only one!

Anonymous said...

Thank Jeebus my parents couldn't afford ballet lessons when I was little, otherwise I would have probably been standing right next to you at the bar. They had no choice but to let me run wild.

SkylersDad said...

I think they should have just let you go feral. It would have made for an interesting sociology experiment.

CDP said...

Ha ha to Skyler's Dad. And I have been Somebody for most of my life, so I could relate. Not only that, but I'm cooking up a "kids today" post that will allow me to join you in the Greatest Generation. Damn kids should just get off my lawn.

Ghost Dansing said...

incredible post... wanna dance

WendyB said...

A representative of a water buffalo rights group called me and complained that you were disparaging them in a buffalo-ist way. They are actually very graceful.

Anonymous said...

I completely get you. I was tossed out of choir, violin AND oboe lessons and asked to turn in my taps shoes. Who know I could have so little talent?

Anonymous said...

I couldn't get past the "fur muff" part. I was laughing so hard! I can't wait to hear what kind of search terms people start entering to get to your blog...

Buffalo fur muff
Shirley Temple's muff

The list goes on and on...

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Michelle - I think if it doesn't happen to us at least once soon or later - we all run the risk of growing up and becoming a tool.

Kirbs - I was much better off running around with the boys I think - I have never quite felt comfortable with girly stuff - makes me feel like I'm in drag.

Skydad - I wasn't far from it.

CDP - All popular music sounds the same to me now too - very soon I'll be trading in my VW for a beige Buick and lining up in front of Bill Knapps for the 4pm special.

GD - um... dancing is not my forte, but I'll be glad to belt out a show tune for you.

WendyB - Oh good god - those damn waterbuffalo and the china shop bulls are always up in my grill -they are too damn sensitive..

Suze - some people have a natural gift for dance and some of us have a talent for rolling up a doobie in the back seat of a moving Gremlin using a frisbee and tampon paper.

Catherinette - hey - long time no see - you know I did actually google "fur muff" and it wasn't that bad. "Fur trim" however was a mixed bag.