Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Defining Moments: Part 3 of 5, Surprise

Surprise

It happened in the van—we were driving along some random wooded country road en route to our home on Cobb Blvd while the sun shone proudly, streaming rays through the leafy branches. A contradictory symbol considering the disappointing news I was about to receive.

Actually, it didn’t come out as official news, per se; it was more a comment on the possibility of moving to a different house. Still, the prospect of such a thing rattled me to the marrow, as I had never considered a nomadic lifestyle for the typically static Brigham Clan. There weren’t exactly visions of us in loincloths, scavenging for berries and edible roots while taking turns hauling the supports and canvases for a portable yurt on some wooden trail wagon, but I still felt a burgeoning sense of dread, as I had only lived in one home up to that point in my life. Home was Home, so considering living somewhere else was a little frightening.

I must have been around 10 or 11. Maybe 12. Regardless of which age it was, I was in a state of complete and utter shock. Weird, unstable families moved. Not us.

But, my dad had re-married a couple years earlier, and with four children approaching adolescence simultaneously (Jackie, the youngest, is now 20. I’m the oldest at age 23. There are four of us. Do the math and you’ll understand that we’re talking about a significant number of teenagers all at once. My poor parents), one full bathroom wasn’t going to come anywhere near affable for six grown people. Plus, my parents had doubts about the public school system in Kankakee (think “Dangerous Minds” but instead of thugs carrying guns, they carry nuclear missiles and portable PA systems that play Celine Dion loudly and repetitively).

Plus, there was the bike-jacking incident in the summer of ‘93. About 37 thug children rolled up on me balanced on about seven bikes like circus monkeys (though these were slightly less cute and entertaining), and they put me in a headlock until I rescinded my own bicycle. It was a beautifully neon yellow Trek Jazz with a drink holder and gearshift, and it was my baby. I loved that bike. It has since probably been melted down and sold to trophy makers. Sigh.

As an adult, I can see that the reasons for moving were legit, but back then I was not happy about moving to Podunk-a-dunk, Illinois. That was, of course, until I saw the new house, which was much bigger, had more bathrooms, and supplied me with my own sleeping area. Privacy was a new thing to me, and my first tastes of it were extremely enjoyable. I could write, draw, listen to music, or run my minimum-wage slave sewing plant in peace (I’m just kidding! I never listened to music!).

I spent much of that first summer alone—all my best friends lived 15 miles north of me, and I was without a car. But in time, I made a lot of good friends, went to a high school that was the perfect fit for me, and I ended up loving the house and my room. After ten years, it’s even starting to feel a little like home.

That is, until my folks decide to downsize and get rid of this house, too. Then it’s back to fantasies of berry picking and buffalo hunting, which I am absolutely not looking forward to. That yurt is heavier than hell.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Defining Moments: Part 2 of 5, Anger

Anger

By nature, I am a very calm person, so it seldom happens when anyone will see me blind with anger. The only times in my life where I can honestly say I was white-hot mad were the times when I felt I was being treated unfairly or being forced to do something against my will.

Some of these instances are stupid in retrospect: being told “no” to going to a friend’s party that my parents were absolutely positive would include alcohol (even if I had absolutely NO intention of partaking in the activities), being forced to take out the trash in the middle of my favorite show, getting in trouble for a reason that I felt was unnecessary (like the time I took my brother’s pudding from him and ate it—yes, it was a mean thing to do, but did it warrant a multi-day grounding? Hardly).

However, on some occasions during my youth (which I’m assuming is much like most your youths—where any and everything parents do is wildly insane and ultimately unfair), I’ve grown so angry that my responses to the unfair situations were probably a tish extreme.

When I was about 11, I was enslaved in an evening ritual of having to practice the piano. My ma would stand over me with an eight-foot bullwhip as I labored away on the ivories with nothing but malicious fervor. It’s hard to play a beautiful sonata when you’re dizzy from rage about having to play it.

Believe me, I complained. I begged my parents to let me stop playing piano. But they told me I had “long fingers” and was destined for great things. My grandmother told my mother that she had to quit piano as a child because they couldn’t afford it, and by God, she put her allowance money towards paying for those damned lessons anyway. My father, a huge music-lover (as in, someone who loves music a lot—not an obese man who listens to a lot of “The Who” records), said he always wished his parents had pushed him play.

None of this affected me. I wanted out. I felt like an Alcatraz prisoner at my own piano. One night, my childish pride wouldn’t allow me to take any more. I sat at the piano, as I had always been forced to do, but I refused to tink out a single note. Arms crossed, I basked in my newfound alpha positioning in this situation.

Then, I was given an ultimatum: “Practice that piano, or go to bed.”

It was about 5:30pm on an absolutely beautiful summer evening.About three minutes later, with outside light bursting through the closed blinds, I pouted in silent protest, arms crossed over the hem of my covers.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Defining Moments: Part 1 of 5, Embarassment

We all have defining moments in our lives—times when we experience our emotions at their absolute strongest. We cry because we’re so sad. Or so happy. Or so angry. And all of it is good, not because it’s fun to be pissed off or embarrassed, but because we as humans need to experience our feelings. Letting emotions pass through or systems like a burrito with a little too much hot salsa is a good thing. We let them in, digest them, then relieve ourselves of them. These are the processes that define our lives.

Emotions like happiness and despair are easy to recollect; we feel these every day, and most of us can remember a great kiss or horrible death. But it’s more difficult to recall obscure moments in our lives that changed the way we lived, ones that pulled us out of a funk. Or into one. Moments that made our faces red, but didn’t set off massive rumors at school. Moments that surprisingly made us feel lucky, or unlucky.

Like I said, we all have moments that define our lives. These are mine:

Embarrassment

One such moment for me happened at the tender age of three. At such a young age, my parents were already sending me to a half-day preschool, and I don’t believe I was too far removed from the potty training process. See, at age 2, my mother gave birth to twins, and when they were brought home from the hospital, I immediately expressed my defiant disinterest in Kyle and Jenna by forgetting absolutely everything I had just been taught about “going” in the “proper commodes.” In the months that followed, my parents did everything they could to convince me that I had already graduated from Toilet School.

I, however, experienced intentional amnesia, which confused me enough to where I couldn't recall whether or not I had the facility to use the bathroom properly. At age 3, in preschool, I should’ve been pretty familiar with the commodities available in the lieu, but my defiance had been going on for so long that I may have actually forgotten how to do My Business.

All of this came to a culmination one day in preschool when I had an accident, but actually not on purpose. I shuffled off to the coat closet before anyone could have an inkling as to what was going on, and I pulled the door shut behind me. The small closet felt huge then, my tiny body a mere speck in the enveloping giganticism of the darkened closet. I focused my sense of smell on the musk of polyester coats and the dusty plastic backpacks that surrounded me on all sides—anything to avoid the smell of my own self.

I don’t remember whether I cried or not, but I stood there in that closet for several minutes with absolutely no course of action in my brain. I guess I figured I’d just set up camp right there in the coat closet, producing a makeshift bed from piled jackets and windbreakers. My stomach churned with anxiety and shame, and I would’ve sold my soul at that point for a clean pair of jeans.

Finally, mercifully, the teacher cracked open the door, presumably looking for me. It is very likely I cried, blubbering out the details of what had happened, and she let me stay right there in that closet until somebody could bring me fresh garments. I was extremely grateful.

And that officially ended my bathroom strike. If it weren’t for that incident, I’d probably still hate the twins and “relieve my emotions” in any dark corner I could find.

That exact instance changed me. Hence: "Defining Moment."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Great Student Quotes

Well, the school year is drawing to a close, and I can honestly say that my second full year of teaching has been as enjoyable as the first one was. All year long, I keep track of funny or stupid things student say, and at the end of the year I post a compilation of the best ones. I hope you guys laugh as hard at these as I did. Some of them still generate some vocal chortles from yours truly. Enjoy!

Billy (a sophomore): “Washington Irving? Isn’t that the guy that invented peanut butter?”

Me, to the class: “Let’s review: adverbs describe…”
Students: “Verbs!”
Me: “Right, and what type of word describes nouns?”
Zach (a senior): “Adnouns?”

Me: “Do you guys know the name of the woman who supposedly constructed the first American flag?”
Billy, without raising his hand: “Ooh! Rosa Parks!”

Me: “I’m going to a BB King concert tonight.”
Jessica (a freshman): “Who’s that?”
Me: “Well, he’s arguably the greatest blues musician of all time.”
Jessica: “Ew. Isn’t that like, old man music?”

Zach: “Hey Brigs, can I leave early for lunch today? I was being really quiet the whole period.”
Jarad: “That’s ‘cause you were sleeping, you moron.”

One freshman’s definition of labyrinth: “An inflammation of the inner ear.”

Me: “Now, why might Edgar Allan Poe have found the death of a beautiful woman so tragic?”
Billy: “Because didn’t all of his girlfriends die of the same disease? They all had laryngitis or something.”

Ryan (a sophomore), giving a presentation: “So here the soldiers are joining together because they have morale.”
A spectator: “What’s morale?”
Ryan: “It’s um… okay… It’s when a bunch of people get together and say, ‘We’re not happy.’”

“C is for cats. I have two cats. One is named Tigger and one is named Roxy. They are both male cats, and they are gay together.”
-Abbie (a freshman) in her autobiographical alphabet assignment.

“He has a low self of steam.”
-One student’s answer to a character-based question.

Dan (a senior): “Man, you’re as gay as a two-dollar bill.”

Ryan: “My hands are so cold… I should be a doctor.”

And my personal favorite:

Carli (a sophomore): “If I write for more than 15 minutes straight, my hand starts to hurt. It’d be nice if I could just switch and write with my left hand, but I’m not bilingual.”