Sunday, August 05, 2012

Advice to a Ten-Year-Old

At a recent Toastmaster’s meeting, the Table Topics subject was what advice would you give now to yourself at age ten.   Do YOU remember being ten years old?  I do.  We had moved in the middle of my 5th grade year from a small-town Kansas school to a big suburban school in Lakewood, Colorado. I rode a school bus, a new experience for me.  I made  a friend named Esther. 

For the first time in my life (and the last, too), I was the teacher’s “pet.”  The teacher was a nice young lady who had to teach a very large class.  I think we filled up five rows of ten desks.  When I arrived at the school, I knew just a pittance about fractions, and I had practically been flattened by long division, but that was nothing to adding and subtracting fractions.  Behind again in math!  Evenings with my mom, never the most enduring of women, tearing her hair and my dad patiently trying to explain fractions.   

My mom took me to swim lessons at the Denver “Y’ and we rode the bus each way. I would advise my ten-year-old self to become a good swimmer.  I actually did that, and then let my skills lapse.  Do not let skills lapse.  Maybe I went “off” swimming because of the suits we had to wear in college were knit and indecent.  Oh Lord, let me never encounter those ugly, clinging green suits again.

Piano lessons were my other activity.  By no means accomplished, I did practice.  Dreaded recitals.  Advice to ten-year-old self.  In five years, no one will remember that you hosed your recital piece; they won’t even remember the recital.  And don’t  let your hard-earned dexterity lapse.  I did.

For some reason, my mom hadn’t affiliated herself with the local Methodist church, so I sampled various religions, including born again Christian and Christian Science.  I went to an Evangelical “vacation Bible school,” and I still remember the preacher’s wife with her house dress and her wild curly hair casting an imaginary fishing pole and singing, “I will make you fisher’s of men.”  With plenty of vigor.   I also made bookends using the head of a nail to make a cross on pieces of wood.  None of my childhood art projects were ever saved.  My kids? We still have a lot of them which I still treasure.    

Being the teacher’s pet was wonderful, but she always used the last fifteen minutes of each day to allow her students to show off their talents.  A girl in my class named Jacqueline Emerson played the piano beautifully.  She was smart and poised and had my full-blown envy.  It was pure hand-shaking torture to play my awkward notes after Jacqueline tinkled the ivories.  She had so much self-possession at ten. More than I had in a lifetime.

I had a cat, Mickey, that we got as a kitten.  I was heartbroken when he was hit by a car one night on one of the busy streets blocks away from us. Bereft and missing him, I spoke to him every night in “cat heaven.”  I did so love the dear creature. In those days, all cats went outside.  Advice to ten-year-old: keep the cats indoors, especially at night.  Have the cat fixed or spayed.  Our three are kept in.  Two former strays would love to get back out again.  One sneaks out occasionally, but always come in soon.  I think he smells coyote.

My mom and I played canasta by the hour and enjoyed each other’s company.  Three years later, we were at each others throats.  If she said something was black, I insisted it was white.  We both stuck a stake in the ground.  Ouch!  She encouraged (read nagged) me to enter a rhyming contest to get free tickets to the Ice Capades.  I actually won, but she helped me with the rhyme.  Note:  helicopter parents are not a new thing. 

Once she made spaghetti and meatballs.  They tasted so delicious. I was in love!    This was in the days before people went out to eat except once a month on Sunday.  I begged and begged her to make this succulent dish again. It must have been a lot of work, because to my chagrin, she didn’t.   Compliment your mother lavishly when she cooks something you enjoy. 

Later that summer we moved to a little town in Northeastern Colorado.  Out of the big city, again I was permitted to walk to the movie theater every Saturday for a western or even a double feature.   I always bought candy, not an everyday thing in my life back then.  Two years later, I had a mouth full of cavities. Note: go easy on the sweets, kiddo.

The town had a Carnegie library, and I read my way through the children’s section, then the adult.  In Lakewood, I became hooked on the Tarzan books.  Reading transported me, as it still does today.  Note to ten-year-old self.  Continue to read. 

What advice would I give now to that skinny little girl?  To repeat: when something bad happens, ask yourself will you still remember it five years hence. Will anyone else?  So often, we do not.  Other advice:  continue to explore and be tolerant of other religions. Swim, study, love your cat.  What advice would you give your ten-year-old self?    

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