Since I began this blog I’ve tried to figure out when and where fear took over my life, when it sank its talons into me and ripped out my voice, and all I keep coming back to is a significant moment in my childhood.
Here it is…
It was a time of five-cent milk and orange juice, smooth wood blocks for building the greatest creation ever, and the little cushy mats at nap time when we would lie down and stare out the window to watch the trees sway while Mrs. Prentiss read us a story.
There wasn’t anything I didn’t think I could do.
It was a warm September morning in 1968 when my mother walked me to school for the very first time. Kindergarten. I was so excited I didn’t sleep the night before. The clocked ticked backward at one point I swear. I was obsessed with getting to school early. I remember kindergarten started around 8 o’clock but by the end of the first week I woke up around 6:30 a.m., had a piece of toast, and told my mother I didn’t want her to walk with me anymore. I wanted to walk the two blocks by myself. Little did I know, and would find out years later, that she followed me.
I was fearless.
As the youngest of six children I heard “advice” from everyone in the family; do it this way, don’t do it that way, but mostly they told me I was a good girl and could do anything I put my mind to. I was a little girl who was naïve to the ways of the 60’s and 70’s world. I was a naïve wild child. You’re a good girl and you’re a wild child meant for me that it was ok to be a wild child as long as I was a good girl. Does that make sense? I thought it made sense for me. I loved that phrase and it sort of stuck with me as I grew up. Somewhere around my teenage years the term wild child took on other meanings that lead to certain actions, a path of fear forged by thoughts of not wanting to disappoint, not wanting to be alone, doing anything to please, doing anything to be loved, but that is another story that I’ll save for another time.
Back to kindergarten. I think I’ve told the following story a thousand times, it’s an old record according to my husband, but it is a significant story for me because it is when my armor of fearlessness began to be chipped away. I was too smart for my own good at five years old so when the teacher asked me to pick two pictures that rhymed I wouldn’t. The other kids struggled with the task and I didn’t want to be smarter than the other kids, I wanted to fit in, so I picked two pictures that didn’t rhyme. Instead of picking moon and spoon I think I picked moon and fork. Long story short, all the kids laughed and the teacher sent me to the cloakroom.
This seemingly small moment affected my life in ways that were not apparent to me until now.
Why did it affect me so much?
Why did the teacher get so upset?
Why did I choose to pretend I didn’t know the answer?
Because I could read and write when most of the other kids couldn’t yet.
I could do something they couldn’t and it set me apart, made me feel different, made me feel like I didn’t belong. Over the years my wild child ran for the cloakroom when she felt like her actions would separate her, would make her stand out, but after time my wild child stayed in that dark room, only venturing out for brief moments.
How could that specific event have had such an impact on me?
Was it the teacher’s fault?
Was it the other children’s fault?
It was mine.
And yet it wasn’t. Let’s face it I was only five but, and here is the big but, but I’ve never let it go. I couldn’t/wouldn’t accept all I was meant to accomplish in my life because the thought of doing so meant that I would be different and not in a good way. My parents never taught me to think that way. My teacher’s never taught me to think that way. Maybe other kids tried but we live, we learn and we grow. Hopefully.
From that time on and into adulthood my fear of being different was compounded by small things such as an unintended negative comment, the wrong look from someone, or worse yet not being noticed at all, as if I wasn’t even there, as if I was invisible. I gave my wildness away for the sake of feeling accepted, wanted, needed. I gave away precious pieces of myself and received nothing in return.
Recently, I read a something that made me understand how tired I am of telling the story about the cloakroom. I’m tired of going back to the cloakroom, a place/time that’s always made me feel different, less than, separate. I’m sick and tired of the same old boring story period.
So I left the cloakroom.
I left the place of five-cent milk and soft wood blocks, and little cushy mats.
I am a wild child.
Oh sure, I’m absolutely positive my wild child will run for safety back to the tiny darkened cloakroom now and then but only for a visit.
I am wild child and a strong woman.
I will live life without fear.
I will sit out among the sway of the trees.
I will walk with strangers.
I will build my world through my words.
I will be fearless.
Is there a little wild child in you trying to break free?
Do you dare?
I’m sure we all have a story like this one, but it doesn’t have to define or limit us, it only makes us unique and special and gives us lots to write about.
I’ll leave you with this. Writing Our Way Home , a blog I’ve recently stumbled upon, is for me a mysterious magical seed sprouting from damp earth full of promise and wonderful things. They started 2013 encouraging us to write “small stones” or small observations of any length, any genre, whatever you need to say. One small stone a day for the month of January. After six months of writer’s block my voice is free again. Following is the small stone that prompted this blog post.
My wild child escaped her captivity.
She is free to roam, to sit amongst the sway of the trees,
to walk with strangers,
and to build her world through words.
Give it a try! Write a small stone today. You can share it here or you can join in at Writing Our Way Home’s Facebook page. Everyone is welcome.