Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I'm not going to lie. I was a smart kid. Okay, so that may be venturing into a little blatant bragging, but it's soon to be accompanied by some not-so-proud confessions, so the unashamed and the shameful balance each other out. It's probably no surprise to anyone that I was an exceptionally shy, quiet child. My preschool teacher never even heard my voice until the last month of school, when I responded to her "good morning Trisha" with a quiet "hi". It earned me a sticker and a proud note to my parents (which I still have . . . framed . . . . just kidding. Well, about the framed part). In the world of children, shy and quiet usually goes along with the assumption that they're little angels (or seriously disturbed . . . but typically it's the former). Let's face it, it's rarely the quiet ones who are the bullies or the type who make Jenny cry on the playground by pulling her pigtails or not allowing her into their exclusive club. And if there's an obnoxious/troublemaker type kid you can bet it's not the one who softly whispers "hi" in the morning (on a talkative day). In conclusion of this introductory paragraph, it's not too surprising that quiet kids are often thought of as being sweet, simply because they don't actively cause trouble. I could only wish that the same assumption held true for shy adults. . . too bad that after your childhood years are up being quiet is often taken as stuck up or rude. But that's another blog for another day.

I forgot where I was going with this. . . shy kids are supposedly wonderful little citizens. . . I was painfully shy. . .  and fairly smart. Got it. Back on track. So I was thought of as this "perfect" little kid . . . quiet, never mean, did her schoolwork without being asked, did what she was supposed to, got A's in everything but gym. As such, if I ever DID do something wrong, I was very rarely held accountable for it, because adults always thought "Trisha's so sweet, she would never intentionally do something bad. . . she must not have realized that taking the goldfish out of the bowl in the classroom would kill it". Don't worry, I never did that to a fish. If adults were REALLY smart they would have realized in this hypothetical example that I was intelligent enough to know fish die when taken out of water. The problem was, (well really it was not a problem), they always assumed my sweet nature and moral sensibility outweighed my intelligence . . . because even if I was a smart kid, I was still just a kid. So if I did something wrong they assumed I was just confused or didn't know it was wrong. Totally underestimated my intelligence. Or, totally overestimated my propensity to do the right thing. I remember quite a few times I was proud of myself for outsmarting adults whenever I was in a sticky situation that was completely my fault. And a couple of times I'm not so proud of. Let the storytelling begin. . .

It was 4th grade. We had to present our example of a "simple machine" that we made at home. It was a big project that I put off long enough that I completely forgot it was due that day. Most kids brought in things made with little wooden spokes and wheels purchased at the local craft store or made out of k-nex toys. Some of the less impressive ones were made out of cut up cereal boxes, popsicle sticks, coat hangers and yarn. And, because I lived in semi-rich, middle-upper class Orange, aka town of spoiled children pushed to be overachievers, many were clearly made with the assistance of a parent or a very helpful teenage brother who aced shop class and included welded metal and miniature motors. Seriously, here's the type of thing I had to compete with. . .

NO WAY a 9 year old would have built this
pop-a-balloon machine completely on their own,
unless you let your 9 year old work screw guns
I'm going to be stereotypical...
the only sign that this was made by a
little girl is the choice of pink wheels

I don't buy this one either
Okay, this I'll buy. It's made with a toy
and kids are handy with toys. Still, it's too
impressive when I had literally nothing to show.
This kid is certainly proud of it.

This "make your breakfast" machine could have been thought of by a kid and is visually less appealing than some of the other examples. But it has a number of components and is therefore still impressive. My guess? It was a smart parent making it seem more believable...
This was seriously like the
least ambitious one shown...
though it's impressive that
thread could hold such a heavy
book without much support.
That alone would amaze me.

So what was I going to do? One after one, these kids were presenting their genius contraptions and I had nothing. I would have never admitted I forgot about it or put it off. I also would have never lied and said I forgot it at home because it still showed too much irresponsibility for my liking. But, in my mind, I was expected to have one of the best ones of the bunch, because I was an overachieving, perfectionist, intelligent child (although prone to occasional laziness and ignoring of projects). So I did what I'm so poor at in the world of acting. . . I improvised. I grabbed a ruler in my desk, and while other kids were presenting I discreetly plucked off a couple pieces of tape, rolled them up to be double-sided and stuck them on the edge of my ruler. When it was my turn I went up to the front of the class, sprinkled some pencil shaving sawdust on a table and proceeded to clean it up with my sticky invention. Since it was so lame I had to really sell it. I may have been shy, but I was still into acting. I pretended to be really proud of my "machine", explaining how I wanted to make something practical (acting as if I had no clue such a thing as a lint-roller existed). The genius of this approach was that it also subtly implied that my classmates' balloon popping machines and mini "elevators" that could lift pencils had no real, important use, but my brilliant sticky stick could work wonders removing cat hair from your couch. When asked what kind of simple machine it was I said it was a pulley because it pulled things off of other things. I knew it was wrong, but I acted like I thought it was right and hoped that it would be interpreted as if I seriously misunderstood the concept of a pulley as a result of insufficient teaching. Some smart aleck kid asked what to do once the tape isn't sticky any more. I said you replace the tape. He gave me a look that clearly said, "Well that's not very practical, is it?". I secretly was mad at him for asking a stupid question. My grade on the project? A solid B. I knew it should have been a D or perhaps a kind "try again after I help you understand the intention of the project better". But my report page just said something generic and polite like "Let's go over how pulleys work. . . nice try! Clever of you to make something handy!" Guarantee you that if it were a slacker kid who presented a ruler with a piece of tape on it they would have just gotten an incomplete . . . the elementary school version of an F. But I was given the benefit of the doubt. I was secretly proud that I outsmarted the teacher and momentarily curious as to how often I could get away with handing in projects in this manner before she started to catch on and stopped being so kind. I'm not going to lie. This one I'm still kind of proud of.

Some of my other stories I'm more ashamed of. I recall one particular quiz where I looked at someone else's answers and we were both confronted about it. It was a really obvious case of cheating. . . a geography quiz where we both said Nebraska was Zimbabwe on a map or something equally as obscure that would be highly coincidental (read impossible) if we both gave the same wrong answer, probably spelled the same incorrect way too. I couldn't have been all that smart if I considered Zimbabwe a possible answer for a U.S. state. Anyways, we both swore we didn't cheat and I was believed because I was the "model student". I still remember the teacher telling both of us how it's wrong to steal someone else's answers, but looking only at the other kid while she said it. I don't think he was punished, because he didn't confess either (he didn't do anything wrong. . .  other than give the wrong answer), but I remember feeling so guilty for lying, and not getting punished for it, that I considered volunteering to clap the erasers. . . everyone's least favorite job. . .  but then reconsidered because I figured that would give away my guilty conscience. (Clearly, clapping the erasers would have completely reconciled my cheating and lying) I decided to trade with the kid instead: my Dunkaroos for his carrot sticks. Relieved my guilt a bit. I assumed the teacher would have figured out my "nice deed due to guilty conscience" bit but that the kid wouldn't. I clearly thought highly of my peers' intelligence. Horrible child, I know. But I did give up my Dunkaroos. Which at the time was a very big deal. And it traumatized me so much that despite temptation, I never copied from someone again. Lesson learned before I hit a double-digit age.

I was quite proud (and about the most rebellious I got as a child) to outsmart my gym teacher a couple of days each month. Although in this case it wasn't really as much outsmarting as it was simply getting my way. We were all instructed to wear sneakers and either pants or shorts twice each week on our gym days. I hated gym. Hated it. Almost as much as I hated recess. (Mandatory social interaction and the freedom to choose an activity was painful for me. I was an odd child). But, as much as I hated my mother regularly dressing me up in dresses, bows and shiny shoes for school, I hated gym more. So on gym days I would always "allow her" to pick out a dress for me. Then, I'd have to sit out of gym class and watch everyone else play. The gym teacher never yelled at me (because I was a sweet, quiet girl), but he would nicely remind me to wear appropriate gym wear. Always hating to take blame as a child, or give the impression I did something wrong, I told him my mom made me wear dresses. I really was an angel, wasn't I? A note was sent to parents to remind them of gym days. My mom started paying attention, dressing me in pants. A minor setback, to which I found a solution. I simply packed dresses in my backpack and got changed into them at school. I was never punished for repeatedly wearing dresses. Just nicely reminded. Come to think of it, this is probably a big reason why gym was the only class I got Bs in.

The whole quiet & smart thing worked to my advantage up through high school. I remember one calculus exam I just didn't study for at all for whatever reason. . . busy with dance, pure laziness, new episode of 7th Heaven. . . I don't remember why. I failed it horribly. . . got like a 30. But because I typically got As my teacher asked me what was up, I said severe stress or something, and he let me re-take it. I figured I'd get a similar exam to the one we took that covered the same topics. But no. I got to re-take the exact same test, after we had already gone over all the answers as a class. I got a 100 to replace my original score. I was older at this point so I did feel some guilt for this, considering I didn't even try the first time around. But then again, it was the teacher's decision to give me the exact same exam. It was a "lucky me" moment and I was thankful for a nice, though perhaps too understanding, teacher.

No clue what made me reflect back on these stories recently. I've realized I was a manipulative little kid who clearly had an issue thinking she was smarter than everyone else and more entitled. Good thing I've grown since then. Mostly.