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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

And You Thought Grade One Was Tough

If you’d asked me where I’d be now 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed here. I live in an even snowier city than I was raised in, where half the people speak French and a new face pulls me out of bed every day. Not the life I imagined, especially that last part. I’m not sure exactly what I expected to happen, but in my kid-mind, I thought in extremes--either I’d be fully independent (able to shower myself, dress, and by proxy walk) or I’d be dead. Either way, life was sure to have its way with me.
The second guess at my future goes as far back as my memory does. I can remember being in my junior kindergarten class with my light purple lunch pail and a piece of blank paper on the L-shaped table in front of me. Knots wrapped around knots in my stomach as the teacher called out instructions in her beautiful sing-song voice. She was telling us to fold the paper in all sorts of different ways, her hands making dainty creases with the paper until it became an airplane. Though I don’t remember the story behind why we were making an airplane, I know that it was tied to being good children of God (My JK year was spent at a private Christian school connected directly to our church).
“And after you’re finished folding, you can wash your hands for lunch,” She said in her kind-but-firm voice. I stared down at my page, with all it’s shaky creases in all the wrong places. I tried to start over. flattening the lines of my mistakes with an all too gentle hand.
Why couldn’t I do this?
I looked around the room. On my side of the L, most of the kids had already had their planes checked and refined by Ms. Coates, and were heading to the sink. I made a new fold, pushing down extra hard in hopes that the paper would do what the teacher was asking of us. But again my hands shook in a way that wasn’t welcome.
Tears started to form as the slowest kid in the class headed for the sink.
I was the new slowest. Or just a newly realized slowest.
“Don’t worry,” Ms. Coates said, “sometimes you just need a little more time.” She smiled sweetly, and then took the page, pulling a new one out of nowhere. “Here,” She put her hand on top of my small one and made all the right creases, all the while acting like she hadn’t said all of these instructions 5 minutes ago.
Ms. Coates felt like my saviour. And I was grateful. But I also felt a strange, muted sense of loss. I still don’t know how to fold a paper airplane.
School continued on with more of the same, with only my age and grade changing. At 10, when people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said that I wanted to be a bus driver and work for Sears. Most of the adults cackled and would inform me that school bus drivers didn’t make much money. In truth, I knew I couldn’t hold money easily and that I wouldn’t likely learn to drive a car or a bus. I thought this was a silly question though, so I gave it a silly answer, and people seemed to like it. I really couldn’t picture me doing anything when I grew up. The adult me that grew up to drive a bus and works in retail is able bodied and has perfect, unfrizzy hair. But no one ever asks about her.
By the time high-school came, I decided I could try writing for real. It was the opposite of my nemesis math, so it seemed fitting. When I informed my dad of my new plan, he said, “But writers don’t make much money.”When I asked what I should do instead, he said I should try many things and then decide. He left the conversation before I got to ask what I should try.
I’m old for a young person now, and still don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I’ve applied for school again and look for jobs daily that I think can manage. But every time I read that “some errands are required” with receptionist positions or “must be able to multitask,” I can’t help but think of that ruined piece of paper, with all its ugly creases. And wish I’d become a computer programmer.

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