Tales of a Fifth Grade Weirdo

My niece Lola starts grade 5 next week, which is crazy, because last time I checked, she was like 2.5 and scarily obsessed with baby dolls.

Now it’s all iPod app this, One Direction that.

I remember my first day of grade 5 like it was yesterday.  It was 1996, and in keeping with the fashion of the times, I sported a shiny new pair of black Doc Martens, a red and black plaid jumper, and, in flagrant disregard of my baby weight, a black turtleneck crop top I stole from my 25-year-old sister.

Rounding out the look was a god-awful scrunchie in the style set out below,

Side note: is this look actually back in again?

And a hideous backpack covered in un-funny comic strips. Obviously, this was not my choice. In fact, so badly did I want a pink and white Jansport, I staged a full-on meltdown in the back-to-school aisle of Eaton’s, the ill-fated Canadian retailer.

A no-nonsense kind of woman to her very core, my mother showed no remorse, placing the atrocity at the cash alongside a fresh package of slouchy socks.

At the age of 10, I was, to put it mildly, at an “Awkward Stage”. I was prepubescent, mildly overweight, and extremely clumsy, but somehow blissfully unaware of all of this. Despite rendering me complicit in more than one crime against fashion, my mom still managed to somehow instill in me a sense of unwavering- albeit false- confidence. I was led to believe that no one was better than me at anything- even Taekwondo (everyone was better than me at Taekwondo. If there was a demotion from white belt, I would have gotten it.)

Although I am continuing to deal with the repercussions of my inflated childhood ego (wait- not everybody loves me?), I am still thankful to her for this.

In defiance of all laws of the universe, I was also extremely pumped about going back to school. This is understandable though, because I was a weirdo.

As a young child, I was so excited to go to school that I would pace back and forth at the end of the driveway and wait for the bus to come at least 40 minutes before its designated arrival time. I maintained this silent bus vigil even in the dead of Canadian winter- hands wrapped in double-layer gloves, face obscured by cat-eared balaclava.

 

Like this- but slightly less terrifying.

After concerned calls from the neighbors (“are you sure there’s nothing wrong with her, dear?”) my mother pleaded with me to stay inside, assuring me that I wouldn’t miss the bus; but I wasn’t having any of it. I’d heard the Kriss-Kross song. I wasn’t taking any chances.

Source: MTV.com Getty Images

This year was no different. At the end of July, I began collecting flyers from various stores and cross-referencing them against my ever-growing list of school supplies. By early August, I had completed an itemized list, by location, of where to find the best deals on each item. I presented this list to my mother, expecting her to be pleased with my due diligence, but instead she simply shook her head sadly and poured herself another cup of coffee.

After two weeks of  my constant haranguing, we finally went shopping, and I spent a full day alone in my room, proudly labeling my multi-coloured duotangs, Five Star binders and purple LeKit.

 

It appears that my niece has somehow inherited this trait from me, as last week I received these pictures of her proudly holding up her new school supplies.

Lo1 lo2

*Tear*

Never before have I been so proud!

Question of the Day: Were you excited to go back to school?

 

 Daily Prompt:  August Blues– As a kid, were you happy or anxious about going back to school? Now that you’re older, how has your attitude toward the end of the summer evolved?

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A Climb To Remember

Looking back, the summer of 1990 was a rough time for everyone involved. The Gulf War was in full swing, a sharp recession swept the global economy, and MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” was a number one single.

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As if these atrocities weren’t enough, it was also the year my mom went back to work part-time, leaving my dad with five wily rug rats to contend with during one of the hottest summers on record in Nova Scotia.

My sisters, teenagers at the time, could mostly fend for themselves; however my brothers (10 and 12) and I (only four) required constant entertainment to keep from tearing each other’s heads off.

Dad tried taking us to the playground; but the monkey bars proved too perilous. Our trips to the beach resulted only in jellyfish stings and heartache. Eventually, he gave up, bought a bucket of KFC and took us to Greenhill Provincial Park. A picnic in the park, he (undoubedtly) thought, what  could possibly go wrong?

The park offered panoramic views of the entire county, and in those days there was a tower several stories high you could climb to get a better look.

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Immediately upon arrival my brothers rushed to the tower, with me following right behind them.

“Where do you think you’re going?” asked my brother Kristin, “This isn’t for babies!”

“I’m not a baby!” I protested, “I’m four and a half!”

“You’re not allowed!” contested my brother Stephen.

“Can I dad?” I pleaded

“Go ahead,” he sighed, lifting a drumstick defeatedly, “but be careful.”

With a satisfied grin, I began climbing the ladder, taking the first few rungs with vigor. I was feeling quite smug- until I looked down. The ground appeared miles away; my dad and his bucket of chicken nothing but a red and white dot on the horizon. Above me, the ladder seemed to extend infinitely.

My lip began to quiver.

“Hurry up!” shouted Stephen, a few rungs ahead.

“She’s scared,” chimed in Kristin. “I told you she was a baby!”

Tears burned the backs of my eyes, but resolve stirred deep within me. I was Jack, and this was my proverbial Beanstalk. I would climb this tower if it was the last thing I did.

Somehow, through sheer adrenaline, blind faith and four-year-old will, I made it to the top. Ready to bask in my accomplishment, I stepped onto the platform, took a long gaze around, and…… immediately began to bawl like a baby.

“DADDY!!” I wailed, “IT”S TOO HIGH!!!”

Inconsolable and paralyzed by fear, my father was forced to abandon his chicken and momentary peace to climb up the tower and rescue me.

“It’s ok,” he said later, wiping away my tears with a half soiled wet-nap. “You can try again next year.”

But I didn’t. Not that year, or any year after. Instead, I developed a life long fear of heights (and, vaguely, wet-naps). However, I did learn one important lesson that day which continues to guide my decision-making process: when given the choice between taking a risk and staying firmly on the ground with a bucket of fried chicken- always, always ,choose the chicken.

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Question of the Day: What Is Your First Memory?

Love Lessons From My Childhood Pen Pal

I got a letter in the mail the other day. It was a bit of an unexpected thrill, considering my mailbox is usually filled with nothing but Domino’s pizza flyers. (Which, don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate.) 

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While reading it, I was reminded of a time in my life when letters weren’t quite so infrequent.

………. Cue the flashback (you knew it was coming)

flashback

The year was 1995: I was 9 years old, bookish, and heavy into Blossom Hats and The Babysitter’s Club. I was teetering on the verge of what would soon become my five-year “awkward phase”, but didn’t know it yet. Life was good.

It was also the year I made my first Pen Pal.

*Not me or my dog.
*Not me or my dog.

I acquired my Pen Pal through somewhat unusual circumstances. My father, the son of Croatian immigrants, liked to keep ties with his Eastern European heritage. This manifested itself mostly in three ways: cooking obscene amounts of cabbage, hoarding things, and subscribing to a Croatian newsletter called  Zajedničar. 

Zajedničar, as I recall it, was a bizarre publication filled with ads for life insurance, way too many consonants, and people in weird costumes playing Tamburitzas.

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 I never paid much attention to it until one day, my dad showed me an ad offering a PenPal service connecting Croatian children across North America.  

Now this was something I could get down with. The opportunity to correspond with a real live girl in another country? Sign me up!

I immediately submitted my information to the magazine, and a few weeks later, received my first letter.  It was from a girl named Jessica in Erie, Pennsylvania. She was 10 years old, and loved Barbies, gymnastics and stickers- in that order.  She even sent me her school photo, in which she was wearing one of those Western bolo shirts that were popular at the time.

This was the best I could do on Google images. In reality, she looked nothing like this.
This was the best I could do on Google images. She actually looked nothing like this.

Her long, sandy blond hair was tied into a side braid with a fluffy white scrunchie on the end, and she accessorized with dangly troll earrings, gummy bracelets and a toothpaste-commercial smile.

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To me, she was impossibly cool.

I immediately began crafting my response. Besides just telling her my entire life story, I also spent hours researching her hobbies and interests in order to prove what a thoughtful and conscientious Pen Pal I could be. I even had my dad pull out the atlas to show me where Erie was on the map. 

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I was certain she would be impressed by such informational gems as:

Did you know your town is named after a lake??!”; and 

I heard toothpaste is great for removing sticker residue!” 

We corresponded for the next few months, sending letters as well as other totems of our respective 90’s childhoods: stickers, colorful erasers, POGS, temporary tattoos.We never spoke a single word about Croatia, but that was OK. 

Eventually, things kind of fizzled out. Ok, I’m lying. Jessica just straight-up stopped writing to me. I don’t really know what happened. I mean, maybe I was a little overzealous in my pursuits- spending hours drafting elaborate letters, consulting atlases and whatnot. And maybe I should’ve seen this one coming when my 10-page anthologies met with only a few measly paragraphs in response. “Maybe she’s busy practicing her tumbling,” my mother would say. But deep down, I knew the score. 

While being blown-off so coldly hurt at the time, in a way I’m thankful, because it probably prevented me from becoming a full-on stage 5 clinger in future romantic relationships.  

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Now I’m just incredibly closed-off and distant. I think it’s working out pretty well for me.

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So thank you, Jessica, for teaching me that there is such a thing as coming on way too strong. I  hope you finally found that Sailor Moon sticker sheet you were looking for, and that somewhere, out there, you and your side braid are tumbling off into the sunset.

Question of the Day: Did You Have A Pen Pal Growing Up?

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