As Smart as a 5th Grader

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The author at 8.

The kid in me is still there.

I’m not talking about the carefree, fun-loving, playful “kid-in-me” kid.  I’m talking about the more-easily-embarrassed 5th grader in me.  She’s still there.

A few years ago, my workmates and I had just finished a successful presentation to a group of about 50 people, and we – me and six other executives, all men, half of them over 6’4″- gathered in the front of the room afterward to talk about the meeting.  We were standing in a casual circle around my computer and projector, and I was packing things up as we talked.  It was a happy atmosphere.  At one point I unzipped a pocket in my projector case to put the cord in…something fell out of the bag onto the floor in the middle of the 7 of us.  Reflexively, all of the men reached down to pick it up for me.  Then they realized what it was:  a tampon. A stark white Woman Rocket.  OB Super, no less.   They recoiled instantly, with a startled “OH!”, and tried to restart the conversation as I awkwardly plunged to the floor to grab it.

Now, I was much younger then.  Maybe 46.  But I suddenly felt like a 5th grader.  Mortified that the boys had seen that thing.   I wanted to die a thousand deaths.  Just for a minute.  Then I told myself,  These men are all married and have children.  They know about tampons.  I know that.  But now they know I use them. Wait.  Of course they do.  But they never thought of it before.  And now they have.  All at once.  Right in front of me.  I wanted to crawl in a hole.

OK.  Now let’s over think the thing.

Not that I feel inferior as a female.  I don’t.  Not that I am ashamed of the facts. I’m not. Hell, anyone would tell you I am a confident, downright boisterous person, willing to talk about just about anything with just about anyone.  I’m known for an occasional shocking comment, in fact.  Just to get a laugh or to make a point.  But on my terms.  That bouncing two-inch feminine hygiene product stripped me naked for a split second. Such a powerful little object.

Look: it doesn’t make sense, but I can only tell you the way it made me feel.  I wanted to die like a 5th grader would.

Granted:  it passed quickly.  The guys, of course, forgot about it instantly.  In fact, I myself didn’t think of it when we went for beers after work that night.  Well, maybe there was a lingering sting, but it didn’t affect the mood, let’s say.  I did not think of it the next day when I saw them at work.  But I have thought of that moment on occasion since then, mostly to howl out laughing about it with my girlfriends, who could all relate to that odd 5th grade feeling of wanting to die of embarrassment.  Why would a grown woman feel like a 5th grader?

It’s not important, but it’s interesting.

As a mother, I relive all of the anxiety of my own childhood – especially my adolescence – through my children.  Not getting invited to something.  Eating alone at lunch.  Not getting that part in the play.  Being teased.  I could swear it’s more painful from this once-removed position.  Maybe because my sweet baby is experiencing the pain I once felt, or maybe it’s because it’s completely out of my control now….but it hurts.  Physically.  Aching in my chest and swirling in my stomach.  Sleepless nights.  It’s that 5th grader (or 9th or 11th grader) inside of me coming to the surface…in tears.

It’s motherhood, I know.  It’s one of the most painful parts.  I like to tell myself that somehow my feeling this pain is actually taking away some sliver of my child’s pain.  That if I didn’t feel it, my child would feel a fraction worse.  And that helps me accept it.  Almost welcome it.

I doubt it helps, though.  What would seem to help more is if I hunted down the kid who made my kid feel that way and beat the daylights out of him (or her).  Boy, that is a real feeling I get sometimes and I have to calm my she-bear self down to keep from acting on it.   Maybe I could go after the parents....   I’ve never actually done it.  Really mean looks are as far as I’ve ever gone.  Those are strangely satisfying to me, somehow.  Even if they’re not noticed.  Like Superman’s death stare.

So I guess part of the reason those 5th grade memories are so vivid, and we can slip back to them easily from time-to-time, is because we are meant to stay connected to those experiences.  It’s useful.  It helps with empathy.  It helps with parenting.  It helps with humility.

I remember when I was a kid and I was hurt or sick, my mom used to rub my back and say, “Oh, Krissy, I wish I was the one who was sick.”  As a kid, I thought to myself,  Right.  Who in the world would want to be vomiting violently for three days with a raging fever?

Now I know.  Mom would.  Mom did.  Mom does.

I know that, because now I do.

Thanks in part to that 5th grade self still inside of me.

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