Month: August 2014

The Elementary School Series: Sports Edition

Claire in Little League

My attempt at a smile after crying during a T-ball game.

 

When I was in Elementary school, I was prone to instantaneous sensory overstimulation, especially during sporting events. These are some stories that I’m sure many of my schoolteachers still remember.

Soccer Field Heartbreak

The first crush that I ever had was when I was in third grade. Unbeknownst to me, it would be the start of a long and extremely awkward quest to find – dare I even say it – “the one.”  My poor elementary school self, unaware of the shame and embarrassment that lay before me, decided to pursue a boy. Like an ignorant fairy nymph watching between the trees of a mystic forest, I stared at him longingly every time I passed his desk to go sharpen my pencil.

“I think he moved when I walked by,” I’d say to myself as I shaved my pencil to a fine point. “He definitely moved in his seat when I walked by.”

I didn’t really have any explanation as to why I suddenly felt a certain way about this boy. I didn’t wonder why I went from viewing boys as alien beings to creatures to admire because I was in kiddie love.

I decided to be brave. In class I was known as the shy kid but during recesses, I started to actually attempt to talk to him.

“Hi,” I’d say.

“Hi,” he’d say. And then he’d go play kickball.

“That was good,” I thought, giving myself emotional support. It was progress!

The most thrilling moment of my third grade love life was when we organized a soccer game during recess. Now, I was a soccer tyke pro – nobody could defeat me at my defense. My only problem was that I was usually the smallest player on the field.

Excited to show off my moves to my potential man, I sped onto the field where the other kids were teaming up. I puffed out my shoulders and stood firmly amongst my fellow sporty kids. I was the tiniest person on the field so I had to do something. “I’m not going to be picked last this time.”

I was picked last.

It didn’t matter because my hunk was on my team. “Yay!” I thought. “I can play alongside him the whole time!”

And did I. The entire game I followed his every zigzag and diagonal cut across the field. This made him look less at me, however, and more likely to give me weirded-out looks.

“This isn’t working,” I pondered. I changed my tactics and decided to alternate between running on the opposite side of the field and then happening to make my way over back to him casually.

He was receptive to this.

“Hi!” I said, during gameplay.

“Hi Claire,” he said.

“He said my name!”

I was so delighted at my success that I didn’t notice the massive fourth grade Neanderthal of a boy running into me until it was all too late. I fell down to the ground and as quickly as you could say “penalty,” I was crying.

My bitty babe and the brute that bashed into me to the ground helped me to the side of the field and sat me down. There was an adult there watching the field and she started to console me.

“Are you okay, Claire?” my crush asked, caring so tenderly for my feelings.

“Yeah… I’ll be… okay,” I said, the sobs starting to abate.

“Okay,” he said. He turned to start running onto field. The oaf left me to run alongside him and started to jeer.

“What’s the matter? Aren’t you going to go back to help your girlfriend?” he sneered.

To my dismay, my love interest snapped back at him emphatically.

“She’s NOT my girlfriend!!” he yelled.

That was it. There was my answer: I wasn’t his girlfriend. And everyone knew that I was shut down. I started to bawl harder.

For a few days after that, whenever I would walk by his desk to sharpen my pencil, I’d make sure to shoot him the most hateful glare that I could conjure.

“Who needs him anyway”?

 

The Harlem Globetrotters Made me Cry

Fortunately, I haven’t cried every time I’ve met a famous person, and the following story is the reason why I try my hardest to not cry.

Since I was the world’s biggest five-year-old basketball nut, I knew whom the Harlem Globetrotters were when they came to visit my elementary school. We all were gathered in the gym and sat in front of the stage as they came up front. They were tall and funny and real basketball players. I was in awe.

They were looking into the crowd for a volunteer. Out of all of the shining faces in the crowd, they picked out me.

I was ecstatic.

As I weaved my way through the crowd and walked up to the front, the audience cheered. The players asked me innocent questions like what was my name and how old I was. I was shy and quiet and didn’t say much so they decided to go ahead with the trick.

All that I needed to do was hold a pencil and they were going to spin a ball on top of it. I always thought that spinning a ball on your fingers was the coolest thing ever so this made my head feel like it was going to explode.

But it was too much. I had gone from ecstatic to the emotional edge when the crowd started to cheer. The ball was spinning on the pencil in my hand, the gym was suddenly extremely loud, and everyone was looking at me.

I started wailing so loudly that my kindergarten teacher scooped me up and took me outside.

She knew what was going to happen the moment I started heading up to the stage.

My mom recalls: “When the teacher called home afterwards I could see the whole experience play out before it happened. It was only a matter of time. She had said, ‘I had hoped. I really, really did – I was rooting for her. But it was just too much.’”

After my teacher talked to my mom, I went back in later and sat quietly in the back where I was comfortable.

Whenever people like to brag about their celebrity meetings, I always know that I have an ace in the hole. I can always say, “I met the Harlem Globetrotters and they made me cry.”

 

“I Will PERSEVERE!”

I was going to do it. I was going to unleash my fears. I was going to battle my demons. I was going to overcome the mountain of self-doubt and self-deprecation with triumph and everyone was going to know it. I was having a meltdown, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

“I will PERSEVERE!” I yelled up to the ceiling.

My parents enjoy this particular moment in my emotional career. They would often quote “I will persevere” when I would be crying about something or other and it’d make me laugh. The important thing to note is that I do not remember any of this. I must have blocked it out of my mind considering it was so… out there.

It was during one of my community house team basketball games. Something that the coach and my parents would tell me frequently that basketball was a game of movement.

“You can’t dwell on the fact that you’ve missed a layup or if you pass it to the wrong person,” they’d say. “You just have to move on and keep going.”

I took these words to heart and decided to try to not be as affected during the games.

This particular game, though, I was making a lot of mistakes.The problem was that during the first couple of years that kids could be on the basketball teams, the refs didn’t call all of the penalties. Now that I was in fourth grade, they became more strict with the rules.

The ref often tweeted his whistle at me.

“Traveling!” he’d say.

The gameplay would resumed but soon he would tweet at me again.

“Double dribble!”

On defense, I would be better. Or so I thought.

Tweet!

“That’s a defensive foul!” he’d yell.

The last straw was when I got a foul for standing too close to the free throw net. As I was struggling to keep it together on the court, the ref went up to me.

“Just don’t worry about it, it’s just a foul,” he said.

Little did he know that telling me “don’t worry about it” was only going to make me worry about it even more.

That wasn’t going to stop me, though.

The other team carried the ball down the court. I ran behind, struggling, before stopping in the middle. I clenched my hands and raised my hands a la Platoon. Emotional catharsis. Redemption.

I unleashed my battle cry, enunciated perfectly for everyone to hear.

“I will PERSEVERE.”

This shook the crowd a little bit. There was some murmuring and “awws.” My stunned parents, however, burst out laughing.

“We didn’t want to seem like we were laughing at you!” my Mom says. “But it was so funny! I mean, what little kid says something like that? It’s something that I wish I had on video.”

Safe to say that I don’t say “I will persevere” every time I try to get past one of my moments. Although, I am interested to see what peoples’ reactions would be the next time I get frustrated during an exam or a job interview and I exclaim “I will persevere!”

 

Why would you yell at a kid during a T-ball game?

During a recent visit with my grandparents, I asked my Pop Pop about a picture of me on his desk.

“This one, now this one is a favorite,” Pop Pop said, chuckling as he picked up the picture.

My face is distorted – my one eye squinting and my mouth is in a bizarre “oh” formation. My baseball cap loosely fits the top of my head as I hold a trophy in an oversized uniform.

“You were crying and we asked you to smile and this is what you did!” Pop Pop said.

My parents were on a trip, so my Grandma Mickie and Pop Pop came up for the week to take care of me and my siblings. My last T-ball game was during this week so Grandma Mickie and Pop Pop came to watch me play. I’ve always liked baseball and, while I wasn’t the best at it, I did do a pretty good job at catcher or shortstop from time to time.

Back then, that didn’t matter though. I was just excited to be on the field. Anything was possible on the field. You didn’t know where the ball was going to end up and that was the exciting part! And it was always the best when it happened to land right in front of you because – yes! You were in control! You got to choose how the game went on! Also, I was really looking forward to the trophy at the end of the season.

As any kid knows, though, it’s hard to be part of all the action when you’re in the outfield.

As the innings went on, I was always attentive and engaged with what was going on. A single hit here, an out there. It was still all very exciting and I was still very happy to be out there, but there was something that was troubling me if just for a little bit. I had hardly touched the ball and not once had I ran onto the infield. As much as I was having fun, I wanted to be part of the game.

Late in the game, a kid at bat hit the ball in my general direction and I darted for the infield to try to make the play.

“CLAIRE!” my coach yelled. “DO NOT go for that ball! STAY in the outfield!”

Because I’ve always been a rule follower and sensitive to any time I’ve gone outside the line, I immediately stopped rushing forward and started crying. This only further annoyed my coach. He called me over and took me off the field. I went to the side telling my Grandparents that I couldn’t handle being in the game.

“He was just a little insensitive, I think,” Grandma said. “I mean you were just a little kid.”

“I mean, why would you yell at a kid in T-ball?” my Pop Pop exclaimed.

Despite my coach’s insensitivity, and my meltdown, I still came away with my end of year trophy in hand, and my Pop Pop got one of his favorite pictures of me. In a sort of way, this pattern has been consistent in my life since.

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My professor’s dog ate my muffin. I cried.

Did you ever have a rough start to your morning?

Did a dog ever eat your muffin in class?

Did you cry about it?

Before I go any further, I want to be clear about something. This is the story that I use to truly test people, usually people who don’t know me very well. I tell this as an icebreaker with acquaintance-potential-friend types. Will this person handle being my friend? I think to myself, as they say, “yeah, sure, let me hear it!”

I also tell this to guys that I’m interested in – you know, when you go on those pre-dates and you tell each other stories to give off that I’m-uber-datable impression. Luckily, I have the art of giving off the wrong impression boiled down to a science and this story is merely just part of the experimentation. I look at his soft eyes and slight smirk and I know what he’s thinking, but I think to myself, Yeah… but will you want to handle me?

And, as a sick sort of challenge for myself, I think, I bet not.

This horrifies my mom.

“Claire, it’s funnier when they know you,” she pleads. “Let them get to know you first… Please.”

But I can’t help it. It’s almost as if I feel like I owe them the truth, you know? It’s not just because weird things like this happen to me a lot… it’s also because of my reaction to these sorts of situations.

The date was nondescript and the morning dew on the grass was average. It was just a normal day; I was getting ready to go to a normal 9:30 am class and, surprisingly, I was not running late. I strutted confidently into the dining hall. Nary a soul was near the pastries.

This kingdom is mine, I thought, drinking in the possibilities.

I looked at the shelves and the potential breakfast delicacies bathing in fluorescent light, their sweet smells pulling me in. I wanted it all.

But then I saw it. It was a blueberry muffin with some clear sugar sprinkles placed haphazardly on a glazed top. A black paper muffin cup hugged its gooey core.

My precious, I thought, channeling my inner Gollum.

As I put the one to rule all muffins in my outer backpack pouch and walked into class, I would soon come to find that I had gambled too heavily. Too succulent of a treat was not destined in my stomach.

It would be in the stomach of a Rottweiler.

“Isn’t she just the cutest??” my professor gushed. I sat down in my seat, stiff, and placed my backpack on the table.

“Yeah,” I said.

I lamented that the day that I was early to class was the day that my professor brought in the type of dog that ran over me while I was a kid. The memory still persists as one of true abject horror. I was standing innocently in a soccer field, not even a tween, and then all of a sudden a sleek bear-like figure stampeded over my small body.

And now one of them was sniffing my bag.

I pulled it closer to me. I had to protect my breakfast treasure.

Minutes passed and the rest of the class filed in, muffin-less and dark circles glowing under their eyes.

I am queen, I thought.

Until the pop quiz.

Why would she give a pop quiz on my day of muffin triumph? A perfectly good morning was now soured as I apathetically looked at the questions. I had… glazed… over the chapter.

Glazed, heh heh, I thought. Stupid jokes would pull me through.

But I was wrong. By the end of the quiz, I was drained and I overwhelmed. It was MUFFIN DAY. I thought. I couldn’t just have one day of muffin-y bliss?

And so I did what I had started doing in first grade whenever I felt like crying over bewildering circumstances. I went to the bathroom.

I didn’t cry this time, though, but it did help calm me down. The quiz wasn’t worth that many points and I would just actually read the chapter the next time. It would be okay.

If only I could have guessed what the next two minutes of my life had in store for me.

First off, I was already a little shaken with the dog and the quiz and all. But walking into a room of laptops simultaneously playing George Carlin’s Seven Dirty Words stand-up bit was pure disorientation. Later and after the madness, I would be told that it was because the projector wasn’t working.

The echo-y shouts of profanity paled, however, in comparison to the bizarreness of my professor just losing it at the sight of me. I mean it – she was practically in tears watching me tip toe to my seat.

“Claire… Claire I am so sorry,” she said, gasping for breath between laughter.

I had been so focused on the laptops that I had failed to notice the carnage on my table. Crumbs… crumbs were everywhere. My backpack askew, the dog was nuzzling her nose into…

Oh no.

My tablemates witnessed my reaction and started to laugh too, bemused at my look of genuine disappointment, surprise and anger. I knew that they weren’t really laughing at me, but it didn’t help. I’ve had to learn over the years that there’s a reason why my peers can pick on me easily (I react and I am sometimes – if not most times – very weird) and that I shouldn’t always blame them, but in this moment, that logic went out the door.

In that moment, I was back in elementary school.

My adult consciousness shut down and before I could process what was going on I was bawling. This made the room dead silent except for the weird echoes of George Carlin bouncing around in the room. With everyone dumbstruck and staring at me, I hightailed it out of there.

I felt like I was coming back down to Earth from wherever the hell I go whenever I get like that while I was crying in a stall in the bathroom and calling my mom. With the phone ringing, my first sane thoughts came through my mind.

What do I even tell Mom? Why am I even calling her? What just happened?

“Hi Claire!” she said, sunny and blissfully unaware of my current state of mind.

“Hi Mom,” I said, garbled.

“Claire… Claire what’s wrong?”

My mom has told me that she can tell within the first two seconds of a phone conversation if I am fine or not. “I usually listen for an echo,” is what she says. “That’s how I know you’re in the bathroom.”

“Mom… I was in class, and it was the professor’s dog, and I went to the bathroom, and it ate my muffin.”

I wish I could actually type the true iterations of words that came out of my mouth because it did not sound like that.

“Wait, what? Did the dog eat a muffin? Did it die?”

“No… it ate my muffin.”

“It… what?” Her voice was becoming less concerned and more incredulous.

“Yeah… it ate my muffin. I got it from the dining hall.”

“What?!” she practically shouted, holding back her laughter.

I started to giggle. “Um, yeah, I guess it’s kind of weird.”

She didn’t hold back this time.

“Oh my gosh Claire… I thought the dog had died or something! Oh my gosh! So what did you do?”

“I ran out of the room crying.”

“Oh my gosh!” It was the sort of voice she used only when she was laughing so hard that she was crying. After a few minutes of bewildered laughing, we both calmed down.

“Okay, well, you should go back to class then. Maybe they’ll know not to bring dogs in the school anymore!” she said.

Feeling better, I hung up. I washed my hands and dried off my tears. And then the pit of my stomach dropped.

I have to go back in there.

I am no stranger to public crying and to public humiliation. Again, another art form I have mastered. But this… this was different. My reaction hadn’t just been weird; it had been jarring.

As I walked back in the class, everyone, and I mean everyone, turned to look at me. The dog was back at my backpack and my tablemates in stunned silence shooed the dog away as quickly as they could, afraid of another outburst from me. I sat down. The class continued in awkward, muffin-less silence.

My world was salvaged when the class finally was over. I tried to scoot out as fast I could but my professor got to me first.

“Claire… I am so, so sorry.”

“Really, you don’t need to feel bad about it,” I said, nearly crying again. Why am I crying NOW?

I thought I could save just a tiny bit of dignity by playing up the fact that a Rottweiler really did run me over as a kid.

“Oh my gosh… I should have known,” she said.

“It’s really fine, really,” I said, one foot out of the door already.

“Take this,” she said, and she stuffed a five-dollar bill into my hand.

Before I could say, “oh no, you shouldn’t have to do that,” she was out the door as quickly as the Roadrunner darts out of frame.

Stunned, I walked out into the late morning day and made my way to the library like a zombie. I was going to attempt to get work done before my next class, but deep down I knew that any attempt of brain functionality would be futile.

Until I saw the café counter.

Next to the deli line was a pastry basket. It didn’t have a blueberry muffin, but it had something better. A coffee cake muffin.

It was like I was making the connection in my mind for the first time that money could buy food.

I… could still have… a muffin.

I beamed at the cashier who exchanged my cash for muffin and I didn’t mind the odd look she gave me.

“Thank you… Thank you so much,” I whispered to her.

“Umm, you’re welcome?” she said.

I walked away and found a perfect study spot. The chair was comfortable and books and windows surrounded me.

And, gingerly… respectfully… I started to eat my muffin, never feeling as happy as I did in that moment.