Prickles

May 4, 2012

This piece of memoir comes via The Red Dress Club’s challenge this week to begin a narrative with the idea of “crossed arms.”

***

She crosses her arms and scowls at her younger sister, who is excitedly hopping up and down.

“M.,” I say, “Hold still for a minute, wouldja? I can’t brush your hair if you’re moving around like that.”

“Thorry, mama” she lisps through 4 newly lost teeth. “Ith just that I’m tho excthited!”

“I know you’re excited, but you aren’t going on your field trip with bird’s nest hair, so calm yourself.”

“Do you know that they’ve even thet up a thavenger hunt? Tho we have to find all the different dinothaurs?” She claps her hands in glee, and chants, “field trip, field trip, field trip!”

Miss D. uncrosses her arms and fiddles with the cereal in her bowl, now far past its prime. The scowl remains.

“Why does M. get to go on all the good field trips,” she mutters, pushing the bowl away in protest.

“You just went on a field trip last week,” I remind her.

“But that was just to watch the Senate,” she says with derision. “All they did was sit and talk and say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’. That is not a good field trip. Not like the Natural History Museum.”

Awesome Stepkid Ro sits on a stool in the kitchen, eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He looks at me and we exchange wry smiles. The girl has a point.

“You know, you’ll get some fun ones later,” he assures her. “Most of the cool field trips I took were in middle school. We even went to the circus once.”

“I had some boring field trips, too,” I say. “Every year, we had to go to the symphony.” I wrinkle my nose in distaste. “You had to sit still for a whole hour and just listen…but then there were some awesome ones like the Planetarium. That was always my favorite.”

The scowl remains firmly on D.’s face; she knows what we’re up to, and it’s not going to work. Not one bit.

She can’t even look as her little sister, backpack in hand, skips out the door for school, holding Awesome Stepkid Ro’s hand.

Suddenly, she erupts in tears. “Why is M.’s school so fun? I hate school! I hate 4th grade! It’s boring  and really, really hard–especially fractions–and we never do anything  fun. Last year was fun, and 2nd grade was fun.”  She blows into a tissue. ‘Why does school get so serious and boring?”

I sit on the couch next to her, patting her shoulders and back, which she barely tolerates; she clenches her jaw and endures the sympathy.

There’s so much I want to tell her, but I can’t bear it, because the truth hurts. And the truth is, that some point, they suck the joy out of school. They just do. For me, it also happened in 4th grade.  My teacher was thick-calved and humorless, and there were no more dioramas or raising crawfish or word searches. Bam! Just like that, the life gets sucked out of learning, out of school.

If she’s lucky, she’ll get a few future teachers who will try to spice things up, and tell little jokes, and make it not so painful. But those teachers are gifts. Rarities.

“Hey, D.,” I say. “We have a few minutes before you have to leave for school. Do you want me to paint your nails? I’ll use that really crazy, glittery kind.”

“Sure,” she says. “Okay.”

I hold her not-so-small-anymore hands in mine and paint sparkle onto nails. Two coats, for good measure.

“Thanks,” she says quietly when I finish. “It was just…I don’t know…I was feeling so prickly inside.”

That she can explain what jealousy feels like in such terms makes me realize how firmly she is sandwiched between child and adult.  Nothing works the way you expect it to–it’s like you’ve lost your compass.

She’s got so much to learn and face and grow into.

“It’s okay, baby,” I say, voice a little thick. “Sometimes I feel prickly too.”

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica@PLRH May 4, 2012 at 7:42 am

Your child is a genius. Prickly inside is an excellent description. Actually, the accurately describes how I feel when I’m frustrated and everyone around me has gotten on my very last nerve. Not that ever happens.

If it’s any consolation, my best field trip was in the 5th grade.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 10:12 am

Erica,

What was your best field trip? I want to know!

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Absence of alternativrs May 4, 2012 at 7:54 am

Wow. I forgot how great a writer you are. Love this piece. Love it.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Awww, thatnk you, AA.

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Jenna May 4, 2012 at 8:12 am

You’re making me cry, Kitch. I don’t even know why–or maybe I do–that period of being sandwiched between childhood and adulthood just hurts.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 10:13 am

Jenna,

You’re preggers, darling. Everything makes you cry. But thank you. :)

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Barbara May 4, 2012 at 8:45 am

Gosh, I’m glad I’m old. Guess things have changed teacher-wise, ’cause I LOVED school. Especially boarding school. There was such a sense of freedom (from parents). And my middle school years were spent in such a little town, nobody even heard of field trips. :) To where?
But boarding school, yes. Lots of field trips. Educational ones as well as entertaining ones. We loved getting on a bus and going someplace, no matter where. There’s just something about the camaraderie on a bus with your class. We were with our friends and that’s all that counted.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Barbara,

You went to boarding school and didn’t get eaten alive? Girl, you have moxie.

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Jennifer May 4, 2012 at 9:06 am

Oh poor Miss D. It is no fun when everyone else is getting to do fun stuff and it feels like you aren’t getting to do anything at all. Hopefully she will be able to find some enjoyment in school again soon.

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Cheryl @ Mommypants May 4, 2012 at 9:48 am

I kinda feel prickly every time I read your writing.

Teachers do suck the joy out of learning, don’t they? Not the good ones. But if you get a dud? Uck.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 10:14 am

Cheryl,

We definitely got a dud. A dude dud. I’m hoping for better luck next year.

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Dawn May 5, 2012 at 3:41 am

Maybe after the school year you should complain about the dude dud.

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Julie May 4, 2012 at 10:27 am

Ouch. I lurk. I like your kids. And your tone. And most of your recipes. And I play in three symphonies. As a professional string-type musician. And I’m really sorry for your bad symphony experiences as a kid. They must have been bad orchestras. Either that, or really good orchestras that really didn’t give a crap whether they were helping educate, since that’s what orchestras do. Entertainment is merely a way that education is accomplished.

I’ll keep reading anyway. ;) Hope you’re feeling better.

Ooops. Best field trip was an orchestra trip to Chicago in high school. Went to a Greek restaurant and ate (duh) Greek food, and to see the Chicago Symphony, and to see Fiddler on the Roof at a dinner theater. And went shopping on Michigan Avenue.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Julie,

Welcome to the non-lurker club! Actually, I hated the field trips to the symphony for two reasons 1. The teachers turned into Stalins and we weren’t aloud to wiggle or say a peep 2. The symphony didn’t play kid-friendly music. Kids love music, and they could have done so much better. But we got Bach.

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Dana May 4, 2012 at 10:39 am

“She clenches her jaw and endures the sympathy.”

So, so awesome! You can really feel it when worded that well.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Dana,

Alas, it’s true. Miss D. has never taken affection/sympathy well. Even as a small child, if she hurt herself, she went into a corner to deal with it herself, and if you tried to touch her, most often she would balk. She is still that way.

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Waterfall May 4, 2012 at 10:57 am

I love how you got the little one’s toothless lisp and the older one’s disappointment. Sparkly nail polish would cheer me up too.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Sparkly polish makes everything better, right?

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Cathy May 4, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Oh maybe she just has a bad teacher this year. I never stopped liking school – maybe a class here or there, but it can be fun and good. You are such a good mom. And they stay in that middle land for a long, long time.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Cathy,

She does have a dud. Our first. She’s always loved school until this year.

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Kate May 4, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Oh. Prickly jealousy. Those ‘easy’ grades, when you’re in them can be rough too. And if you’ve very lucky a teacher or two reignited fun interspersed in all those years.

My baby learned her best friend is moving away yesterday. I cannot begin to think about it without my own tears. For her hurt – her crumpled self all afternoon.

Sometimes, life just isn’t fair. And more often then not mommy can’t fix it. But glittery nail polish is awesome ALWAYS.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Kate,

Miss M.’s BFF moved this year, too. Luckily, the kindy teacher let us know in advance, so we could prepare her. It still stung, and stung hard.

Go get some audacious nail polish, okay?

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Jane May 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Fingers crossed that D’s teacher next year is most definitely NOT a dud.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Jane,

God, me too. Because the change in her is frightening. Where is my confident, happy girl?

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Maggie S. May 4, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Please tell her there is a girl out here who feels that way, too.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 8:14 pm

Maggie,

I sure as Hell hope so,

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Wisper May 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm

How sad! I think you did a great job contrasting the younger sister’s excitement for her field trip with the older sister’s struggle to even enjoy school much less field trips. The lisp from the younger one was a perfect touch to add.

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SuziCate May 4, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Yes, even grown ups fell prickly sometimes, too.
My sister got to do all the cool stuff, too…and those weren’t field trips; she was just allowed more freedom…I felt real prickly back in those days!

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angela May 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm

I’m so glad you had the moment of glittery polish and the admission of the prickly. What a sad feeling to have about school and about learning. I wish more teachers could understand what they really hold in their hands. Too many teachers like that can really affect the way children view education, and that’s a shame.

Writing & dialogue-wise, this is just lovely. I can hear it perfectly: the lisp, the soothing, the grudging emotions coming to the surface. I loved it.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Angela,

I used to be a teacher (high school English), and I learned really quickly how hard it is to be a good teacher, and how easy it is to be an average teacher. And Jesus, what a difference it makes.

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Tina May 4, 2012 at 7:52 pm

I feel prickly most days, actually. Especially during recess, but that’s just because my butt is too big for the swings. There’s just something about swinging that seems to send your cares flying.

This was a very touching take on the prompt.

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TKW May 4, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Tina,.

Nono! Nonononononono. No matter how plush the ass, it always feels good to swing. Double Dog Dare you to swing to your heart’s delight this week, even in the dusk of evening, when nobody will witness. Swinging is magic–no matter your troubles, it’s a love affair with the air. You will fly.

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Privilege of Parenting May 4, 2012 at 10:12 pm

The suck-the-joy-out-of-it truck didn’t make it to my school until 5th grade, but then it parked and stayed and sucked and buzz-killed all the way through high school.

I need to go in the time machine and get a 70′s Bowie mani-pedi to uncross my child-arms. I love your wordsmithing and I love your parenting.

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TKW May 5, 2012 at 8:08 am

Bruce,

I’d love to see you with a Bowie mani-pedi! Smiling just at the thought of it.

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Dawn May 5, 2012 at 3:47 am

Happened to me in 4th grade too. We moved to a new town over Thanksgiving. My new teacher was old and cranky and mean. It too awhile, but later on school was OK. And then I joined band in middle school and life was worth living again. Even with Bach. I hope she finds her thing in school!

This one made me cry too…and I’m not preggers…but I started over at Jane’s where I cried through her folded arms so I was primed for yours.

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TKW May 5, 2012 at 8:09 am

Dawn,

I’m glad that you found band–those extracurriculars save lots of kids who feel lost and bored in school. And moving at Thanksgiving time? Double suckage.

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alisha May 5, 2012 at 6:56 am

i just love this so much. such a real moment. that age…oh, that age just makes me want to hold them forever.

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TKW May 5, 2012 at 8:10 am

Alisha,

It’s a hard age, but I’m learning so much from her.

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Biz May 5, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Loved this post KW! Hope you and your family are having a nice weekend. :D

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TKW May 5, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Biz,

Miss D. is the only girl on a community flag football team, so it was a warm, proud day. Backatcha.

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Tiffany May 5, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Prickly is a perfect descriptor. You tell her, from a high school teacher, to hang in there, that we’re not all bad, and even in high school you might have a good one that will make you change your mind about how you feel about school. Tell her I’m a high school math teacher for goodness sakes and I am still “buddies” with lots of my students who hated math…but loved me. The good ones are out there. I’m just so sad she learned that there are bad ones so soo.

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TKW May 6, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Tiff,

I was a high school English teacher! I have gone to several former students’ weddings, and some are even mommies now. It makes me feel old, but good that I made some sort of impact.

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idiosyncratic eye May 6, 2012 at 11:58 am

Oh it’s so true that they suck out all of the joy of learning, such a shame and waste. Some mistaken idea that adults should have lost interest in having fun. This is a brilliant use of the prompt. Well done too on doing such a great job of validating her feelings. :)

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Renee K May 7, 2012 at 7:05 am

Wow! Every time I visit your site, I am awed by your story telling. Although she is in 3rd grade my daughter absolutely feels that “they suck the joy out of school. They just do. …Bam! Just like that, the life gets sucked out of learning, out of school.” Thank you for sharing this reflection. It’s good to know that I am not the only mother sitting on the couch with my daughter trying to make it just a wee bit better.

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TKW May 7, 2012 at 11:41 am

Renee,

It’s so sad, isn’t it? Because you remember back when things seemed so fresh and exciting. :(

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Liz @ PeaceLoveGuac May 7, 2012 at 10:29 am

You nailed it, KW. And have inspired me to keep more glittery nail polish on hand.

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TKW May 7, 2012 at 11:42 am

Liz,

My motto: always have glittery nail polish and Band Aids on hand. :)

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philosophotarian May 7, 2012 at 11:21 am

oooh. prickles. I get that word in a deep down way. Back in the 5th grade, a teacher pulled me aside and told me that the reason I had no friends (untrue, by the way!) was that I was so prickly. I cried, of course. Rage tears, not sadness tears. She was/is right. I am prickly. Probably no less prickly than I was 20+ years ago. Some of us just *are* prickly sometimes. And when people love us–prickles and all–hoo boy, that’s just about the best thing ever. Lucky Miss D. Lucky you. Prickles and all.

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TKW May 7, 2012 at 11:44 am

Philosophotarian,

I’m kind of a prickly, too. But I’d like to kick your 5th grade teacher in her (probably formidable) ass. What a thing to say to a child!

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philosophotarian May 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm

right? as is probably evident, I still haven’t quite forgiven her. And it *was* formidable!

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The Curious Cat May 7, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I narrowly missed 4th grade when we returned to the UK. Because of this I always thought US schools were more fun than UK schools but maybe I just never reached that point where it all fell apart. Learning should never stop being fun and interesting though…this is where schools maybe have it wrong and need to address things…

Ah life…so many trials! xxx

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elizabeth May 9, 2012 at 7:22 pm

There is a period between when school becomes not fun and when it does again (for a little at least), and it has inspired a piece that has been sitting in my drafts FOREVER. So thank you–and hopefully your girls will see that eventually school can become fun again. Nerdy fun, but that’s the best you can get.

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Arnebya May 10, 2012 at 7:19 am

I just got back from space camp w/my oldest. The middle girl, oh, how she cried that no one ever goes on trips with her (or that she doesn’t get to go on many anymore). I hate that that happens, that the teachers, as the kids progress, start to zap the fun out of school: it’s all about test scores and annual yearly percentage and gains in percentage points and budgets, think of the budgets! Prickly is the absolute perfect description and I love that she was able to capture it so perfectly w/that one word.

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Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri May 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Kitch,

Man can you write. This one left me with tears. When is your book coming out?

xoxo

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