In fourth grade, I had a pixie cut I hated, and got a D in math. Two column multiplication and long division were a nightmare, and I refused to learn the multiplication tables beyond the sixes. On the up side, I was a wiz at grammar. I stole a copy of the grammar books for fifth through eighth grades and happily worked my way through them in secret.
GLC schools have operettas, which are little musical plays where every grade has a moment in the sun. In kindergarten I was a mouse. In second grade I was a flower. Fourth grade was my big chance to break out of the chorus.
The play was called “Spring Is The Season of Happiness” and I got the part of Spring! Finally something was going right. The day I got the part, when all the other children had gone home, and I ran through the halls to tell my father, who was principal and teacher. He probably knew about the casting of the play, but I would tell him anyway. “Dad, Dad, I got the lead! I’m going to be a star!”
When I saw his face I knew I wasn’t running into his arms for an atta girl. “Keep talking like that and we’ll take the part away from you.” He turned and walked away.
Pride. I had shown pride. We were humble because anything we did was far lacking god’s glory. We didn’t toot our own horns or praise each other because god forbade it. How could I forget? There were so many rules and in my excitement I had forgotten this. In church the next Sunday I recited the liturgy so sincerely: “Oh most merciful god, I a poor, miserable sinner confess unto thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended thee, and justly deserve thy temporal and eternal punishment.”
They didn’t end up taking the part away from me, but the joy was gone. I learned my lines and smiled when they told me to. At the conclusion of the play, I walked down the aisle alone as the school sang about the joy of spring. I wasn’t sure what to feel. The forbidden pride and shame both.
Over the years, my parents told me that I was in the highest level on the state achievement tests, but it was not that important and I shouldn’t feel pride. If I got high marks, I was told I didn’t have a balanced life and should play more. Any career I proposed was reaching too high. There was just no way of succeeding. The voices in my head started in on a refrain, and they increasingly were more accusing. You’ll never be anything. You can’t do anything right. They said you’ll never rather than I’ll never. The voices of my parents and the church began to take on a personality of their own in my head.