Looking back on my childhood, I recall a mixture of proud and embarrassing moments. Face it, being a kid is not easy, no matter in which era you grew up. I am blessed to have been a child of the 70’s & 80’s. It was a fun time to be a kid. However, my personal experiences on any given day varied from euphoria to soul-crushing anxiety.
The day Scotty Leeper actually spoke to me (gasp!) was a euphoric moment. It was something generic, like saying “Thanks!” when I retrieved a ball for him on the playground in 5th or 6th grade. But you need to understand, it was Scotty Leeper! Scotty could easily have been on the cover of Teen Beat or Tiger Beat magazine. He occupied the thoughts and daydreams of the girls at DeQueen Elementary and distracted us anytime we were close enough to breathe the same air as him. I was completely infatuated with Scotty, which is why to this day, I remember that feeling of unparalleled joy when his eyes met mine, his beautiful mouth opened and he said “Thanks!” before taking the ball and rejoining the other kids. It was pure luck, that ball rolling across the field to where I stood. I was not playing with them. I was on the fringes of the playground, watching them play their ball game and wondering why anyone would run unless something terrifying was chasing them and trying to kill them. I am not going to candy coat this. Walking over to the monkey bars and climbing up to survey the playground was as much physical activity as I desired. Surveying the playground. Who am I kidding? I was up there so I could watch Scotty Leeper’s perfect blonde hair catch the sunlight and shine like an angel’s halo as he chased that ball.
I have written about my life as a youngster before, but for those who do not know, I will bring you up to speed. I grew up in a small town and attended a small school. As small as it was, there were still all the typical archetypes you find in any school. Your girl here was the fat kid in our school. In the first grade, I think I was average weight for my age and height (if not just starting to lean towards the pudgy side) but then something happened and by third grade, I was officially the fat kid. That “something” was (in part) Hostess snack cakes, Ding Dongs in particular. I could eat an entire box before most people could get one of those bad boys unwrapped. But I digress.
I wore the fat kid crown until I was a junior in high school. My lengthy reign came with some unpleasant moments. I was shy and self-conscious so I tried with all my might to blend into the background and avoid drawing attention to myself. This is why I hated P.E. class with a passion. In P.E. class, I really stuck out like a sore thumb. Not only was a little butterball, I was not even remotely athletically inclined. I was cumbersome, uncoordinated and so disinterested in sports of any kind that I did not know even the most basic rules. If my life were a theater, P.E. class was the spotlight that illuminated some of the most embarrassing and stressful scenes from my childhood.
First, I did not like anything we did in P.E., including “dressing out”, because it meant I had to squeeze my chubby backside into shorts that were extremely unflattering and uncomfortable. Then there was the whole agonizing process of picking teams. Back in the day, this is how we did it: everyone sat in the bleachers and the coach picked two kids to come forward. Those two kids would then take turns choosing other kids to populate their teams, one person at a time. As we all sat in the bleachers, the pool of potential players began to thin out, starting with the friends of the team leaders, then the best athletes and/or most popular kids. Yours truly was almost always the last person left sitting in the bleachers. I say almost always because there were times when there was a kid sitting there with me in a cast or on crutches. I got picked before them only because they were not participating. The look on the face of the team leader who had the misfortune of being stuck with me was always one of disappointment bordering on anger. You could almost hear their thoughts: “Well, we just lost this game,” accompanied by groaning from their team members and verbal jabs from the opposing team. “Sucks to be you!” Well, that could not be argued by anyone. Indeed it did, but it also sucked to be me. With my head down, I descended from the bleachers and began the walk of shame to join my teammates. They refused to make eye contact with me, lest my bad juju supernaturally enter their bodies through their eye sockets.
Some people are blessed with athletic prowess; this girl was cursed with fumbling, bumbling ineptitude to the nth degree. I was inarguably the worst thing to happen to any sports team in the history of DeQueen Elementary School. While my “awfulness” spanned all sports, I was clearly worse at some than others. More importantly, there were sports I could tolerate and sports I would rather spend 8 hours in a dentist’s chair eating a drill without benefit of Novocain than participate in. That being said, few words struck as much fear in me as a child as this one: kickball.
Let me set the scene for you. I was picked (last) to a team that desperately wished they could have taken the kid on crutches over me that day. The coach then announced we are going to play kickball, a game that I simply do not understand. At all. I went up to several people, including the coach and said, “I don’t know how to play.” I got the pat answer from everyone: “It’s just like baseball, only you kick it instead of hitting it with a bat.” Somehow, everyone thought that was an adequate explanation of the rules but I did not follow or understand baseball or softball or soccer, so referencing any sport as an explanation of how to play kickball did not help me one single bit.
I went onto the court (this took place in our gym), not knowing where to stand or what to do, so I wandered about and was yelled at by many different people. The entire time, I was thinking about the moment when I would have to go up and be the one kicking that cursed ball. The anticipation of this made my chest feel tight and my heart pound wildly. It is at this point I generally began praying for: (1) a tornado to hit the gym, hence stopping the game before I got up there; (2) a fire drill (or a real fire) that lasted all period long; (3) my heart to explode because dropping dead seemed like a completely reasonable alternative to being up there in front of EVERYONE, with their focus on ME, as I flopped in the grandest manner possible.
My turn up to “bat” came and I had no clue what to do. I looked around. “Just kick it and run!” someone shouted impatiently. Obviously, they saw the confusion on my face and complete lack of comprehension as to what should happen next. Oh, okay. Kick it and run. Sure. Thanks. There were several problems with this advice: (1) I was uncoordinated. Just because my foot should be able to make contact with that ball when it was rolled to me, did not mean it would. In fact, my foot and that ball probably would not even be in the same zip code by the time my brain sent the message to kick; (2) If by some miracle I was able to kick the ball and another miracle made it go where it was supposed to, I was too fat to run; (3) Even if I could manage a trot, I still had no idea where to go or why I was going there.
Anytime I was “up to bat” at kickball, you could count on it being a missed kick or a wild kick. If by some fluke I actually connected with the ball and it went to “a good place”, someone always had to redirect me because I ran the wrong way, or stopped running when I should have kept going. I did not know why one would keep going or stop, so I always guessed and my guess was always wrong. Normally I kept my eyes cast down at the floor, too mortified even to acknowledge there were actual witnesses to the debacle. However, if I dared to glace up, I saw my teammates shaking their heads, or face palming. The opposing team was high-fiving and celebrating certain victory. “Thanks, Fatty!”
I know the people I went to school with probably don’t even remember the name calling. Why would they? It was not happening to them. Don’t get me wrong, most of the kids in my school were not cruel, but a few of them were. This was my reality day after day, year after year. If a day went by and I was not the butt of a joke or called hurtful names as I walked by, they were few and far between. It made me sad, but I never thought of harming myself or taking my own life. I never wanted to hurt any of them either. We never called it bullying back then. It was referred to as “teasing” and “making fun of” someone. If a student complained, the response was “Kids will be kids. You need to grow thicker skin.”
However unpleasant, receiving this kind of treatment from other kids was part of my formative years and played a role in who I came to be as an adult. It could have made me mean or bitter, but in fact, it made me very sensitive to people who are different from everyone else in the crowd. It gave me a heart for the outcast and the underdog.
After a day like the one I described, I would usually replay it in my head and cry, embarrassed and feeling so sorry for myself. Looking back now, I am able to recognize the humor in the situation. There are comical elements I can see simply by change my perspective. Indulge me for a moment and imagine actor Jim Carey playing me in that P.E. Class/Kickball story. We both know it would not be sad or pathetic; it would be a riot!
I was so timid and hypersensitive from years of teasing that I took everything entirely too seriously when I was a kid/teen. Perhaps that is why I refuse to take myself too seriously now. Of course, there are times when I need to be serious. However, I try to keep things lighthearted as a general rule. One way I do that is finding humor in my own flaws and insecurities, because I recognize if I have them, there are probably others out there who do too. When we can laugh together about common struggles, they lose their power to impact us in a negative way. Instead of pretending that I have it all together, I openly share what a hot mess I am. Instead of letting the utter ruin that menopause has inflicted upon my body to cause me to be depressed and self-conscious, I look for the humor in it. If I can laugh about it, it cannot distract me from the things in my life that I can be joyful about and celebrate.
Everything that has happened to me (good and bad), has made me into who I am today: strong, capable and able to find something to smile about every day. When life gets to be too much, I am usually able to shift my focus and find the humor in my situation, which is kind of like flipping the release valve on a pressure cooker.
God used all my experiences to make me a woman who can stand tall and take whatever life throws at me instead of praying for a tornado, a fire or my own death to get me out of it. God took that girl who was teased and humiliated at school, and turned me into someone with empathy. The kid who took everything so seriously, became a woman who does not sweat the small stuff. He changed the child who was too shy to meet the gaze of others into a woman who is bold and confident and unashamed of my faith. He is amazing, our God. He never makes mistakes. My trials in life, big and small, are not without purpose. Like everyone, challenges are a part of my life, but God continues to use them to hone me into what He wants me to be so I am able to do what I need to for Him.