|SwankiVY's Life Story!|
SwankiVY's Elementary School Years!
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School was pretty great. I had a Smurfs lunchbox and rode a bus like a big kid! We sat in teams of four desks with our names on them, and we practiced writing, colored animals, and got to play at various stations during creativity time. I don't recall making any good attachments to other kids; I was more interested in having the adults interact with me. I already knew how to read upon entering kindergarten and had even begun to learn cursive on my own with my mom, so I was way ahead of the game, and I always aced my worksheets. My teacher recognized that I was bright and didn't make me participate in reading groups; she sent me to the computer lab with the fifth graders during their reading time, and I was partnered with an older girl who taught me how to program simple stuff with LOGO. It was fun. (She once scared the crap out of me by claiming that if I got any smarter I was going to "turn into a BRAIN." I'M GOING TO TURN INTO WHAT???)
I continued to be a weird kid, of course. I still sucked my thumb and I think the other kids my age thought that was weird, and I brought my Winnie-the-Pooh blanky to school with me so I could use it during naptime. More often than not I was not able to sleep during naptime, so I picked the homemade play-dough out of the rug and ate it. Yeah, that's gross. I didn't care. I liked to walk in circles when I talked, and I didn't like the games the other kids played (especially the physical things on the playground--I wasn't very athletic). I loved to draw and make up stories, and once my teacher let me dictate a story to her; she wrote it down and I illustrated the words, and we made a little book out of it. I got to go read it to other classes during a school-wide event called the Young Authors Conference. I loved paying attention to the order of things, and my box of eight crayons had to be in a particular order that I had determined to be "correct." God help you if you used my crayons and you didn't put them in the box red-blue-yellow-green-orange-purple-brown-black. (This caused me some stress later when I didn't know how to fit gray, pink, or white into my order. You'll probably think I'm insane, but to this day I want things in that color order. The clothes in my closet are organized by this color order even as an adult.)
Pattie and I decided we wanted to have pen pals, so I picked my Aunt Jane and she picked my Aunt Diane. I think this went off and on for a while, but we didn't really know much to write to them, so I used to draw pictures and say things like "Find your name in this picture," after which I'd write my aunt's name and then make pictures out of all the letters so she would supposedly be unable to find it. (It was kinda cute.) Even though we actually didn't write them very often, we were very pleased to have "pen pals." Later, after Pattie got older and spent some time with Aunt Diane during some visit to our grandmother's, she discovered that she collected glass animals, and decided to copy her in doing so. I didn't really collect anything except Smurfs, and I wished I collected bottlecaps like Bert on Sesame Street but the caps just weren't very interesting when I did find them. I did seem to have a weird affinity for finding lost change, though. Probably largely because I looked at the ground when I walked, and my mom was always telling me I needed to look up and around more.
Having decided to be a writer very early, I decided I should really start writing books, and came up with a cute picture book drawn on notebook paper called "The Hard Workers." I wrote about three girls building a big snow house and decorating it with letters. (One of the messages on the outside was "NO BOYS." I'm not sure why I was adamant about that. Probably because media suggests to kids that they surely don't want other genders invading their private CLUB MEETINGS.) I wrote the steps to making the snow house on each page and illustrated how the girls were coming along. It was pretty cute, and once I stapled it together I had a real "book."
I "graduated" from kindergarten having established myself as a quirky kid with a perfectionist streak (I used to cry if I got something wrong on a worksheet), and by the end of my first year in school I read on a fifth grade level. The next year I started first grade with a teacher named Mrs. Jernigan. Apparently my glowing reviews and previous test scores didn't matter to her, because when I was tested for reading group placement in first grade, she determined that I couldn't read at all. Know why? Well, since I hadn't been in any reading groups in kindergarten, I had never seen a phonics mark in my life. This teacher decided to start with the simplest reading samples--marked up with "short-e" and "long-e" markings to "help" me--and I looked at them and thought it must be some weird advanced thing that was beyond me. It might as well have been Martian. Instead of asking about it or trying to read without paying attention to them, I just got overwhelmed and cried, so the teacher supposed I couldn't read at all.
I don't remember much about her class except that we worked on penmanship and my reading group--unbeknownst to me, it was the most remedial--sat on the floor being asked in turn to read single words on flash cards. If we read every word correctly when our turn came, we were given one M&M at the end. Yup--one. One piece. Like a doggie treat. It was bizarre. I had no idea that I was in the dumb kid group until there was a poster on the wall congratulating another group in my class for finishing their Honeycomb primer, and I couldn't figure out why they were ahead of me. I'd always thought I was really smart, so why were there kids in my class who were so far ahead of me?
My mom had a lovely altercation with that teacher after she found out I was being given remedial work. My mom says it still steams her to think about when the teacher began sentences with "Well if you THINK your daughter is so GIFTED. . . . " Ha. My mom had me tested by an independent counselor, who determined that by age six, ten months, I was reading on a fourth grade level. She decided if my teacher was so incompetent that she thought a six-year-old whose reading level was determined to be eight years, ten months deserved remedial work, she wouldn't get to teach me, and I got moved to another class very briefly. It was brief because we were moving.
That class is barely a blip on my radar, but I remember it being kinda crappy too. I got this worksheet where I was supposed to be learning left from right, and I truly thought I understood the concepts until I got my sheet back all marked up. I was supposed to follow the directions to color different parts of a cartoon monster different colors, and the instructions said stuff like "Color the monster's left hand purple." Well, I DID color the monster's left hand purple. As in, it was HIS left hand. But it wasn't on the left side of the paper, and apparently THAT was really what the worksheet wanted. It made me very, very upset, but I was terrible at expressing myself when I was frustrated, and I never got to explain to the teacher why I thought she was wrong.
I didn't like Mrs. Fare because she was bad about explaining "why." Her policy on worksheets was that children had to bring their work up and have it corrected before they could go on to their next assignment, and if we got something wrong she'd just put an X there without giving us any coaching. I remember not grasping the concept of apostrophes right away and having a lot of stress over the fact that she would just give me an X instead of explaining how I should figure it out, leaving me to just play a guessing game until I got a check mark. I was the shortest kid in the class as well as the new kid, and again I didn't make any friends. I got lost on the way to the bathroom. I didn't talk loud enough. I still sucked my thumb.
Around this time was also when my family put me in Hebrew school one day a week after school. I really liked that. My grandfather gave me a learning book to learn the Hebrew alphabet and I zoomed through it on my own, and in the after-school classes I practiced with other kids. I was the only one there who had a name that couldn't be written in Hebrew, weirdly, so I was using the name Rachel. I thought it was just a name we arbitrarily used for me since I couldn't use my real one, but I found out later that actually it's my official Hebrew middle name. My official Hebrew first name is Shira (which means "song"). I don't know why I wasn't using that one.
I also really liked playing the Pac-Man video game whenever I got a chance to play one at an arcade. Sometimes I played so much that I made my finger hurt and got a callus from the joystick, and I had vague plans to make a glove to wear while I played (y'know, 'cause golfers have special gloves; why couldn't I?). I was disappointed when there wasn't some kind of awesome surprise after the banana board. It just kept repeating. (I was later delighted to find that Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man get to have a baby by way of an animated stork if you get far enough, but after that if you kept going there'd be more and more stork babies, and it never did anything else interesting. I was able to get far enough that the ghosts no longer changed colors when you ate Power Pellets, which was disturbing.)
A boy named Drew who I think was in my sister's class was sometimes babysat by my mom after school, and I teased my sister that he was her boyfriend. (She told me that she secretly kissed him on the hand when he was sleeping, so I wouldn't let her hear the end of it.) I think his older sister was named Laura, and I seem to recall liking her but feeling like I wasn't worthy of her attention because she was too grown-up.
I started a gifted program in school where I got bused to another school once or twice a week, and we had Montessori-like class sessions that focused on creativity and weren't very structured. I was the only one in my regular class who was in the program at the time, and we had this one teacher named Mrs. McGee who claimed to be a hundred years old. It was a big scandal when we found out her birthday had come and gone and the cake in the teacher's lounge DIDN'T have a hundred candles on it. I liked playing Tangrams and messing with the geometric blocks. For a while I was the youngest child in the program, which made me feel special because at home I was always the oldest, but then little kindergarten twin girls named Nina and Abby joined, and they were so cute and played the violin. I paradoxically was jealous of them and wanted to be their friend. I wished I had a twin sister. Sometimes I wanted Pattie to dress like me so we could "be twins." When I finished first grade I was acing standardized tests like mad and showing great promise in the academic world, though my language skills were a little stronger than my math.
Somewhere in that time period, my sister met Ellen. I was a year older than she was, but we ended up playing together just as often as she played with Pattie. Ellen's family lived on my street, and sometimes her mom would let us play over there. Ellen liked Care Bears, and sometimes we played silly games. We sang Madonna songs and later developed a great friendship. She was in dance classes, which I was kinda jealous of because I still harbored some delusion that maybe one day I'd grow up to be a ballerina. Sometimes we went roller-skating, and for a time we both had a thing with wearing baby bonnets. My mom got mad at me for wearing mine in public. Not sure why.
I had another friend named Grace; I think she had been in my class at one time but ended up moving later, and we still kept in touch. Grace had her own room with a frilly canopy bed or something. I remember being impressed that she had Garbage Pail Kids cards because I wasn't allowed to have them, since my mom thought they were disgusting. I think she also had a lot of Barbies. She was an only child. I don't know what we had in common except that we liked to play together. One time at my house we were pretending to be mermaids and had made a beach scene in my room, and we were changing our clothes to get in our costumes to play. And then we noticed some guy was looking in the window! We freaked out and hid behind the piano, and when my mom asked us what was wrong I told her we'd gotten a peeping tom. My parents thought we were making it up until my dad went outside to check it out and actually found one of our patio chairs was put up by the window, presumably so the guy could stand on it and peer in. Creepy.
My sister and I also became friends with some other sisters named Lisa and Michelle, but I don't remember how we had gotten to know them. I just remember we sometimes went over their house or they came over ours, but I think our friendship was short-lived. Also, sometimes we had babysitters if our parents were going out. We had two regular sitters and I believe they were both teenagers our parents knew from the Sunday School. One was a girl and I am not sure I remember her name, but it might've been something like Dinah. I liked her because she claimed not to be a grown-up, and proved it by letting us eat unbaked brownie batter. Our other sitter I think was named Adam, and I didn't like him as much because he made it obvious that Lindsay was his favorite. He always called her "the nutty one" and tried to make Pattie and me feel special by telling us we were so grown-up, but I didn't particularly want to be grown-up. I would have preferred to be the nutty one, thank you. (Guess he didn't get that.)
Sometime around then, my mom had to start working during times when she used to be home with us, so we started being taken care of by a woman named Ann who lived on our street. She had two kids younger than we were, and her little boy weirded me out. Maybe because I never had brothers, but I was kind of afraid of him even though he was a toddler. Perhaps that developed because soon after I started going there one afternoon I tried to take a nap and when I was almost asleep he came over and headbutted me, and wouldn't leave me alone to sleep. When I tried to complain about it I got the "What the hell, you're eight years old and he's two, how can he be hurting you? Aren't you a big girl?" treatment. I didn't know what to do about it so I just kind of randomly feared the kid. She also had a little baby girl who was cute. Ann liked to make bread and I thought that was neat. She also once put food coloring in glasses of water and put roses in them, which caused the roses to suck up the dye and become colored. I was more interested in the colored water itself, and started randomly coloring water at home and leaving it around. My mom didn't get why I'd do that.
I finished second grade passing everything with flying colors, and I excelled especially in anything that required writing. Sometimes we were asked to write our own content in response to a prompt, like "things I would like to say to my mother" or journal entries prompted by a subject or title. Sometimes I even asked the teacher if I could read poems I'd composed in front of the class, just for fun. I convinced everyone I was a butt-kissing nerd with that one, and that made me sad, because at home if I wrote a poem it went on the fridge. It was kind of a revelation when I figured out that my peers took it as showing off when I wanted to share my work. Oh well.
I think it might have been that summer that I went to a retreat that had something to do with our temple. All I remember is that there was way too much sung-aloud prayer before every freakin' meal. At this time I liked the Ewoks cartoon (though I didn't care for Star Wars itself and had never seen it--and sometimes I dressed up with an Ewok cape!), and really liked She-Ra as well. I had a doll of the main character and her flying horse. Pattie had He-Man and Battle-Cat. We were kind of jealous when Lindsay had a birthday and half her guests got her She-Ra toys, because we were the ones who liked them. I also learned how to play chess and really liked it, but wasn't really very good at it. I learned how to ride a bike without training wheels, and I was allowed to bike around in a limited area. Also, this sounds kind of weird, but in early elementary school I also developed a strange fascination with makeup. I had a few cast-offs from my mom and liked to put it on. We also had a box of "dress-up clothes" that we'd sometimes don silly dresses from, and my father would play the piano and my sisters and I would dance. He liked to tinker sometimes, making up silly songs and just jamming. One of his songs sounded ominous and scared Lindsay. It got worse when he teased her by calling it "The Werewolf Song" and playing it while saying "BWAHAHA, the werewolf is COMING, TONIGHT!" She would scream and hug the wall like she was trying to hide. Which caused my dad to invent a song called "Oh I Love To Hug That Wall." He was silly. He was the pianist for the temple we went to for Sunday School, and sometimes we sang the assembly songs at home while he was practicing. I really liked that.
I got a dollhouse. I had really wanted a dollhouse for a while and I received one as a gift sometime around then. It was a make-your-own deal from a kit, and my dad helped me put it together but I did all the painting and put the shingles on meticulously. After that I concentrated on collecting or making furniture for it, and even went so far as to put little framed pictures on the dollhouse walls. We also got a dog, much to my dismay. I didn't want a dog but my sisters did. And, of course, even though I was against it from the start, the selective parental memory dictated that "YOU GIRLS promised you'd help take care of it!" so I had to do my share of dog care. Which honestly wasn't much as we were pretty spoiled children who didn't have to do very much for ourselves, but it seemed like a lot to me because I didn't like dogs. No one could agree on a name for her so she was just dubbed Puppy. She was a mutt who had blue eyes like the rest of the family. Also, pet-wise, I'm not sure when it was, but my sister Pattie had a green parakeet named Cracker, and after it died for whatever reason she got another parakeet, but this one was blue and named Midnight. She used to let them sit on her head, but I don't really remember when she got them or which bird was around when. As you can see, I was not very interested in the pets.
Sometime in 1986 I briefly joined a Brownie Girl Scout troop with my sister. You might laugh, but the main reason I was interested was that they got cool uniforms. I obsessed over the pictures of the various uniforms in my scouting handbook, drew pictures of their outfits, and lamented the fact that there had been no such thing as Daisy Girl Scouts when I was young enough to be in it so I could NEVER EVER get the Daisy bridge patch. In any case I was only a year away from being too old for Brownies too, so my mom wouldn't get me the Brownie uniform since yeah, they're expensive. I earned a couple of Try-It Badges but I didn't have any sash to put them on. Waaah!
I got obsessed with the television show Popples and religiously spent my allowance on related toys. I ended up collecting the entire set of Pocket Popples, and at $5 each and ten in the set, fifty dollars' worth of toys seemed like A LOT to me. (Other than that I spent my allowance on candy from a nearby store called Buffalo's, which I was proud of being able to ride my bike to alone.) I was consumed with watching the show and drawing the characters, and I memorized all their color combinations and noticed all the "rules" about them. (I mean, did you ever notice their noses are ALMOST always the same color as their tummies, and that there are patterns with regards to what color their ears and hands/feet are as compared to the colors in their tails? Wow!) I even had Popples shirts and pajamas, and I thought I'd die from happiness when I received a Popples lunchbox. My favorite Popple was Potato Chip. (She was small and yellow. Any idea why I might have identified with her? Ha.)
Our friend Ellen started coming over to get babysat by my mom for a while, and she had to have regular snacks because she had developed diabetes in her early childhood, so my mom always sat us down together and tried to make our after-school snack match whatever her mom had given her. I thought rice cakes were yucky so I didn't appreciate that. We had fun playing but sometimes Ellen went off to play with Pattie and I wasn't invited. (Of course, sometimes it was the other way, but I noticed that far less often.) We played imaginative games together, including one that my sister and she had made up called "Kidnapper" (which consisted of us pretending to be kidnapped by some dude--personified by the drain in her front yard--who made us cook for him . . . and we would eventually feed him a bomb and then run screaming up the hill, trying to get away before he blew up, and one of us would inevitably trip or get caught by the man and the other would have to pull her free). We also liked to create haunted houses, play house (I was the baby, she was the mommy) and make up dances to popular songs. Also, on Wednesdays when I was in third grade, we'd go to gymnastics with Ellen and get to do stretching, tumbling, balance beam, and bar work. We always liked it if we got to get in the foam pit, but it wasn't often we had time for that.
I continued to come up with weird self-directed imaginative activities. I started making weird robot people out of the Construx set I'd been given as a present, and I made up whole stories about their life cycles and played house with them. I didn't care that the bucket things that were the robots' heads were actually supposed to be seats for the car you were supposed to build. I liked making up people and give them personalities and draw them (an early indication that I'd be a character-oriented writer, I guess, since these guys never had stories attached to them; just people, no story). For instance, I had a shirt that said "Cute & Cuddly" on it, and I used that as an inspiration to make a series of characters with a descriptive phrase that applied to each.
And I created a pretend race of fairy-like fictional characters named Kathabow Babies. When I drew them they were always little boys with wings who wore nothing but underwear and had butterfly antennae. I once drew a Kathabow Baby on the wall in the dining room, but that was because our mother wanted us to doodle on the walls. This was her idea of a prank: We'd doodle weird things on the walls, and then she was going to wallpaper over it. That way if someone stripped the paper they'd get a hilarious surprise. (Unfortunately, the papering project didn't go as fast as she'd planned, and we had weird drawings--including a naked lady drawn by my mom--on the wall for like a month while we were eating dinner in there.) My mom had a bit of a mischievous sense of humor, and so sometimes we did too, and we took to trying to trick each other. I once put a halter top she'd thrown out into a cereal box so she'd find it when she tried to get us breakfast. And once I stuffed some of my clothes with other clothes so it would look like a person (including a sweatshirt with a hood), put the dummy face-down on our bedroom floor, opened the window, and went and got my mom, pretending to panic that some kid had jumped in the window and fainted on the floor. It fooled her the first time, but for some reason I kept trying to get her again. (Obviously that's the kind of prank that only works once.)
Our family was pretty busy in general, but we still had family time now and then. We had a New Year's tradition of playing family board games and making special drinks. (I thought everyone was drinking milkshakes. Yeah, that was just the kids.) There were special things like The Wizard of Oz (my mom's favorite!) where we got to stay up late to watch, and holidays and birthdays were always a big deal. Mom always went all out on our Halloween costumes depending on what we wanted to be. One year I decided I wanted to be Dracula because I'd never been anything scary before, so my mom sewed the cape (complete with a red inner lining and a collar that stood up!). Sadly, when I put it on and slicked my hair back, I looked in the mirror and scared myself and wouldn't stop crying until my mom agreed to help me find a non-scary costume. She dressed me up as a baby for trick-or-treating. I was well aware I was being insulted. I didn't care because I was too relieved that I didn't have to be Dracula. :) We regularly took family vacations during the summers--sometimes camping, a theme park called Carowinds, or local day trips. Usually we'd bicker our way through the trips and want to kill each other by the time we got home, but then somehow look back and exclaim, "Wow, remember how much fun we had?"
Sometimes we went to the beach. Living in Wilmington, we were near North Carolina's coastline, and there was a really cool beach with HUGE rocks that I loved. They were shiny and multicolored (well, different shades of gray), and I liked to climb on them and stare at their shiny parts. When we came back to the beach after a long absence I always felt like they were friends I'd not seen in a long time. I remember Pattie and I once got lost on a beach during a vacation, but I don't recall if it was that beach; I just remember that we overshot our family's blanket and just kept walking and walking thinking we'd eventually find them. Our mom was frantic when she found us. Some good citizens helped reunite us though. :)
Another early memory of mine involves playing on a playground on some monkey bars and realizing about halfway through the set that I wasn't going to be able to make it to the other side. My daddy was watching and he told me to let go and he would catch me. And he did. I remember listening to the song "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper and always thinking of that time whenever the lyric "If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting" came on.
Pattie and I still loved to listen to records and play out the stories, though sometimes we argued about who had to be which character. Our favorites were a Hugga Bunch record and a Cabbage Patch Kids record, both of which were musical. Hugga Bunch had dolls associated with them, and we each received one (I had Huggins, she had Hugsy). Then Lindsay got three of them for her birthday even though she didn't really like them. That seemed like it was always the story. (We used to tease her because one of the ones she got was named Patootie, and we thought it sounded like another name for a butt or something.) We used to pretend to be the characters we had dolls of on the record, which annoyed me because Pattie's character was the central one and mine was minimally involved, but I didn't want to have to play a boy, so I just played all the other parts to interact with hers. On the Cabbage Patch record, we liked the stories and the songs but we never had the dolls for some reason. We loved singing the Rachel Marie/Sybil Sadie duet from the record while we were going to sleep in our bunk beds at night. I can still sing every song on that record for you if you want. Just ask.
One week--might have been that summer--my sister and I went to a Girl Scout-related camp. It was pretty much horrible. We had weird chores and duties, slept in uncomfortable cabins, and engaged in activities that I thought were totally awful. Worse yet, I had this suspicion that one of the camp counselors did not like me because she paid a lot of attention to the leader's daughter and seemed to ignore me, and *I* wanted to be the special one. I don't really know why. That was also the year I was a flower girl with my sister Pattie in my Aunt Jane's wedding. That was huge because we got to wear pretty dresses and ride in a limo. WOW! We got bad home perms and looked like blonde Shirley Temples.
Our dog had puppies when she was the equivalent of a doggie teenage mother, and I wasn't interested in the whole thing but my whole family was really excited (and kinda worried, because we couldn't keep the puppies). Puppy had her babies and we managed to find good homes for them by putting an ad in the paper. My sisters were really sad to see their puppies go, though.
I wanted my walls to be pink. My mom said no way. Somehow we negotiated that it would be better to have it be more of a peach color. And yet somehow it ended up pink anyway. Lindsay was getting old enough to point out when things weren't fair, and she wanted her room painted too. She chose yellow and got no arguments. I was annoyed that she didn't have to even ask twice for her choice after I had to fight for mine. I dealt with it.
And then after I got my own room I realized I was scared to sleep by myself so I started asking Pattie to sleep in my bed with me or I'd go sleep in her room which used to be ours. (Usually she'd be in my room though, and I don't know why.) We would usually talk long after we were supposed to be asleep, and we had a dumb game where we would ride on each other's butts. (Usually it was just me getting to ride on her butt. We would play that game and laugh and our parents would have to come tell us to go to sleep.)
My room had mini-blinds and a big wooden bookshelf on the wall and some other bookshelves and a dresser, and mostly cute little tasteful decorations my mom put up. Somehow I got it into my head that I wanted to put up posters so I'd be cool like my friend Meghan's big sister, and I ended up ordering this teenybopper magazine through my school's book club. (Why they had that in there I don't know, but I somehow managed to get permission to buy it.) I put up all the posters that were in the magazine on my walls even though I only knew who a couple of them were. The big celebrity at the time was Kirk Cameron, and I thought he was a very nice-looking boy but actually if you had asked me at the time I wouldn't have been able to tell you that he was an actor. (I didn't watch the show he was on, and just figured him for a "famous cute guy.") My sister teased me by saying I privately kissed his poster in my closet. That had never occurred to me to try, so I denied it loudly, and then proceeded to try it secretly. Kissing a poster of Kirk Cameron turned out to not be very exciting, in case you're wondering. I also had posters of Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, though at least I knew who the hell they were because I liked their music. (Remember? This was the 1980s.)
Leisure time was spent with reading, going on neighborhood adventures to places we probably shouldn't have been going (namely, a construction site we liked to play in), and playing in the backyard or the "secret hideout" (in a circle of bushes in the yard which was almost covered by a tree's canopy-like branches). We also installed our above-ground pool at this house and sometimes played in it. I invented a game called "The Floating Head" and scared the crap out of my baby sister with it. "MWAHAHAH, the FLOATING HEAD, destined to roam the top of the pool . . . FOREVER!!!" I also lied to my sister Pattie that one in a million children remembers baby talk when they grow up, and that I was one of those special kids while she was not. And Ellen remembered baby talk too and we could talk in front of her if we wanted to. I don't think she believed us (though we were able to trick Lindsay into thinking we were angels because we could produce angel dust magically from our hands; yeah, but really it was baby powder). My sisters and I did get along and play nice often too, but bickering was pretty much a regular part of life. The movie Dirty Dancing came out that summer and Ellen really liked it (maybe because it was about dancing and she was into that?), so we'd sometimes listen to the tape in her room even though I think I wasn't allowed to see the movie yet at that time.
On the weekends my sisters and I briefly had swimming lessons, but we weren't really enjoying it so that was short-lived. I also went to Girl Scouts, which sucked because the leader wouldn't let us earn any badges even though I had a cool empty sash to put them on! (Somehow her daughter, who was a member of her troop, had mysteriously earned badges and her mother was fine with ordering them, but none of the rest of us got to try. Even when we earned the badges, like the year we sold cookies, the leader would never order them.) Our troop had Secret Santas that year and I got the leader's daughter and got her nice and thoughtful things even though I was annoyed that she got preferential treatment. I didn't get anything from my Secret Santa until the very last day and then it was a candy cane-shaped pen. For the girl who doesn't celebrate Christmas. (Oy.) I hate Secret Santa programs. I never get anything good. Oh, that year I also joined the fourth grade chorus.
We got an Apple computer that was a cast-off from my computer-programmer uncle, and this was one of those old jobs that ran off the big thin disks that actually WERE floppy. (This is also in the days before the mouse.) I learned to program the computer in a limited fashion, and I would write weird little scavenger hunt programs on it that were mostly quizzes about myself for other people to take. The computer could also play some limited games. There was a text-based role-playing game called Cyborg, and even though I drew maps to try to help me solve it I never figured out if it could be beaten. (It was more fun, anyway, to try commands such as "eat shit" just so the computer would say "there is no shit here." If there actually was something to eat, you really could eat it in the game!) There was also Lemonade Stand and Raster Blaster and Battleship. The usual. I spent hours programming that dumb thing. I wonder what things would have been like if the Internet had been around when I was ten?
I was still going to Hebrew school but we changed to a different synagogue or something--don't remember exactly when. Toward the end of the first one, though, I liked to play four-square with a couple friends there, and I always wanted to play it with my sisters at home. We'd make up elaborate rules and play by them, trying to get and keep the "king" square as long as we could. We had next-door neighbors--I think the boy who came over most was named Dennis--and he liked playing boy-type games with Pattie and inviting us over to play in his REAL pool (yeah, theirs was actually set in the ground). He knew lots of dirty words and we used to incorporate them into grade-school potty humor songs, usually involving our teachers or someone on TV. Pattie and I (and sometimes Ellen) really had fun with our toilet humor and made some audio recordings of "dirty" things [HEAR IT!], or things we found hilarious like all of us pretending to puke at the same time. (What's sad is I listen to the tape as an adult and I still laugh. Sorry.) Pattie and I sometimes liked to dress as "twins" even though we didn't look very much alike anymore, though sometimes we'd get the same kind of outfit in different colors (mine would be red or pink, and hers would be blue). Thing was, she had a thing for beret-type hats for a while and I didn't like that, plus she usually wore glasses, and on top of that my taste was girlier, so sometimes being twins meant making fashion sacrifices.
I think it was that year that I stopped going to after-school Hebrew school. In our school, my sister and I were two of the only non-Christian kids, and sometimes this caused little squabbles; one day I made a big deal about not wanting to do a Santa Claus-related arts-and-crafts project, so the teacher let me make Old Man Winter with a blue hat from the same pattern and that satisfied me. Because of this, some cheeky girl walked up to me on the playground and directly asked me, "So why don't you believe in God?" I tried to explain to her that Jewish people DID believe in God but didn't think Jesus had anything to do with it, so she just said that was "stupid" and walked away. I decided that SHE was the one who was stupid because it said right in our Torah that the Jews were the Chosen People, after all. And then I realized for the first time that all these people who thought we were wrong must have THEIR own book of some kind telling them opposite things. And suddenly I wasn't so sure that ours was obviously the correct one. It hadn't really occurred to me before that it might not be so clean a decision, and determined that I didn't want to be a part of this Hebrew school thing anymore. I threw a temper tantrum when I was asked to go, and my mother seemed completely willing to follow my lead and not require me to go anymore. (I'm not sure if that involved fighting with my dad or my grandparents, but she wasn't into it herself and certainly didn't like having to take me there a couple times a week.) I never got a Bat Mitzvah and never went back, though I can still sound out Hebrew words from what I learned.
I continued to work out my feelings and thoughts (and rant about my family squabbles) in the journal I kept (this one more "grown-up" than my third grade one since I was now in the DOUBLE DIGITS; link goes to my journals page offsite). I was in chorus again that year, and chorus was only available to the fourth and fifth graders so this was the only year my sister Pattie and I were both able to be in it. It was fun to get to see both my sisters during school, since when we had chorus I got to see Pattie and when we had Buddies I got to see Lindsay. For some reason it was always so much cooler to see your family in school. Once we got home I didn't really give a crap about seeing them. Heh. Sometimes my sister and I practiced our chorus songs together at home, and I even taught Lindsay to sing one of them [HEAR IT!]. Weirdly, that was the year they disbanded our AG program--so no more going to another school for me--and started something called AS--"Advanced Studies." It was mainly a lame excuse to get the smart kids out of class and have us do brain-teasers and creative activities, but what pissed me off about it was that I still had to do all the work from the classes I missed. It was almost like being penalized, especially since AS wasn't all that fun. (We did make a time capsule which we filled with facts about our lives and predictions about the year 2000, but that was a highlight in an otherwise mostly boring program. I went above and beyond the class requirements and really filled my time capsule with stuff I'd think was interesting when I was 21, including a tape of my voice. [HEAR A CLIP!]) Those of us who needed a higher reading group moved to a different teacher's room for advanced reading, and this lady--Mrs. Stout--was quite a strict, no-nonsense teacher, much worse than my normal teacher. I always felt sorry for the kids who had her full time.
Pattie and Lindsay and I got into these tiny dolls called "love-a-bye babies," and we each had at least a couple. They disappeared off the market because they got recalled, but for a few years they were everywhere, and we got caught up. Pattie and I had feeding and dressing routines we did for the dolls before bed, and one time when we got in a fight she decided to "punish" me by refusing to feed her baby because she knew it'd bother me. I felt compelled to get out of bed and feed the baby after she fell asleep. I was weird.
Social life was a bit rocky. A boy named Darrell in my class started picking on me and saying he liked me and wanted to be my boyfriend, but apparently that mostly involved him expecting me to give him food at lunch. I didn't like Darrell and he was always trying to latch onto me on the playground. It was annoying. I also had an incident that year with some people accusing me of stealing my classmate Vicky's eraser because I'd told her I liked it and then it disappeared, and all the girls turned against me except my friend Meghan, who let them search her desk to prove she wasn't hiding it for me. I was always grateful to her for not turning on me like they did. But anyway it was traumatic. Stupid kids. In November our family planned a family reunion and Disney World trip, so I missed a week of school. It was really fun; we saw EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom and Sea World (though I didn't care for Sea World). Pattie and I had planned for a long time that we were going to dress like twins while we were there, so a lot of our outfits matched. Our mom made us shorts that had clouds on them for the airplane ride, and we had matching purses and matching pink cameras. But except for how we were dressed, we didn't really look like twins as much as we used to when we were much younger. She didn't have bangs anymore, wore glasses, and had much shorter hair. (Mine was very long, usually kinky from being braided, and I had the bangs.) Shortly after we got back, there was a holiday concert for chorus. That was great too.
Video of Pattie and me on the teacup ride at Disney.
Our school had a poster contest about drug awareness, so I decided to enter it. (I can't recall if it was extra credit or mandatory, but I wanted to do a good job, so I planned my idea really intensely.) I came up with a design that involved a girl sitting next to a table full of realistic-looking drugs--I glued some pills on there, one of Ellen's syringes for her insulin injections, a mirror with lines of salt on it to simulate cocaine, a bag of oregano as pretend pot--and the girl was holding a report card full of failing grades. I had some preachy message on there about failure or whatever. I won third place and was pleased with myself.
I don't think my parents found a house in Sarasota at that time but they knew what schools they wanted to send us to, and we sold our house. Lots of transitions began to happen as we prepared to move. At school they were preparing us to move to middle school next year, too, and I felt very disconnected from it because I wasn't going to be going to any middle school in the area. I was still told to go to the orientation program for the one I'd have attended if I wasn't moving, but I decided to ditch and just walked home (since I just lived two houses away). That really annoyed the teachers when they couldn't find me for dismissal. I didn't really care. (Later I incorporated that experience into a somewhat autobiographical short story written in 2001. It's called "The Escape." Link goes offsite to my short stories page.)
My friends and I started having our last get-togethers. I'd recently gotten brave enough to bike with friends to a local bowling alley, and I went there with Meghan and some other school friends. It was weird and I felt mature and independent doing it, but also didn't like being that mature. I went to my friend Missy's house a couple times and we had some last fun and I attended some kind of party. I played with Ellen for one last play-date and I remember crying and running after her car when her mom came to pick her up. I cried to my mom that I was "never going to see her again," and my mom was very sympathetic but said she was sure we'd get to visit. She was wrong, though; that really was the last time I ever saw Ellen.
I remember still being in the last few days of school when we had to move out, and we were totally in no man's land. I was living in a hotel for my fifth grade graduation. (I finished elementary school with an A average in everything but science, for some reason.) The stress of the upheaval was making my sisters and me bicker more than usual so my parents offered to give us a dollar every day we behaved. I wanted to buy a Nintendo and my sister and I made a pact that we would save our money until we had enough. We had had to pack possessions according to whether they were "first drop" or not, so some of our stuff wasn't going to be seen for three months or so because we had it in storage. Our family moved into a condo, which was part of the relocation deal my father's job provided, and all of a sudden we were residents of Sarasota, Florida.
During the condo days we did a lot of swimming and going to the beach, and since my dad's job was paying for two meals a day for the whole family, we ate out a lot. (My favorite restaurant to beg for was Magic Moment, a magic-themed restaurant with a sort of gimmicky wizard ball you had to push to open the door.) We also played lots of card games. Someone taught me to play canasta and I was obsessed with it, and also I liked to play spit or war and have whole tournaments to see who would win. (I got really pissed if Dad beat me.) My mom bought a whole ton of sugar cubes and we made icing and used it as "cement" to make "brick" houses from the cubes, but we had a lot left over and started eating the cubes by themselves. Oh, that's healthy. When the cubes were gone we sometimes ate our houses. Ewww.
We also took a trip to a water park called Adventure Island, and that was cool. Soon we got to start shopping for school clothes and stuff, and I remember one of the fashions of the time was little plastic tee shirt clips. I got a pink heart-shaped one but somehow it "became" Lindsay's when she claimed it had always belonged to her, and the one that was actually hers (a peach rectangle) was said to be mine. I didn't mind the peach one, but I was pissed because I had purposely picked out the heart one. It irritated me when no one seemed to acknowledge that I remembered the REAL way things went. That actually seemed to happen a lot even though whenever anyone forgot anything silly they always came to me first (like "Hey, do you remember what the combination is to this lock?" or "What was our old phone number?" or whatever). One time I got really upset for some reason because everyone was insisting I had been with them when they watched the movie Starman, and I hadn't heard of it and didn't recognize any of the plot details, but when I told them I just must not have been in the room, my mom just rolled her eyes and called me an airhead. Uh, sorry, but I really didn't see the movie. . . . In any case the "airhead" card was always the trump, because I WAS "out of it" sometimes, but it mostly manifested in not paying attention to where I was going or being in my own world imagining something instead of watching what was going on around me. It wasn't the kind of air-headedness that would let me sit in a room and watch a movie and then have no idea I'd done so.
Our family found a house and we moved in. I was very nervous about starting middle school because there was going to be class-changing and this was a new state and I didn't know what to expect at all. But now that it's time to talk about that, you'll have to click the forward arrow to explore my middle school years, because this is the end of an era.