I was talking to my friend & roommate, Meghan, yesterday and confessing that I still get tremendously nervous when having to “perform” in front of people who have positions of authority over me. Whether performing my job, speaking, executing a plan, or sometimes just answering direct questions… I get instant dry mouth, my jaw will subtly quiver, and the normally fluid phrases & words in my head will become fragmented and erratic. Now this doesn’t happen when I’m around said authoritative figures during just our normal daily interactions… just when it’s time for me to be “on”.
Monday night, our new pastor/elder in charge of developing our church body through teaching & education… showed up unexpectedly to my Neighborhood Group. He and his wife came to sit in and observe and get to know my group. And to observe my leadership and my teaching of the series we’re going through as a church. Ugh.
I went instantly into nervous-mode the second I saw them walk into the room… especially since I was not feeling very well that night, had just come off the road and was exhausted, and… and… I know, I know…
But I felt off my game nonetheless.
It’s just amazing to me that with all my growing and maturing over the years… I can still be instantly transported back to a quivering, knock-kneed child. Granted, I’m not nearly as bad as I was as a kid. I remember spending almost my entire 2nd Grade year in tears. My mom paid a lot of visits to the Principal’s office that year. Not because I was in trouble… but because of how often I came home sobbing. And just FYI – I wouldn’t recommend asking my mom about it. To this day, her blood pressure goes through the roof at its mere mention…
My 2nd Grade teacher, Mrs. Guest, was large and scary and always seemed to be looming over me (think Sybil’s mother). Her tightly-pulled, ashy-white hair knot and chunky white eyebrows were a stark backdrop to the thick ebony-rimmed glasses that balanced on the tip of her nose. She wore her standard charcoal-gray woolen shift-dress everyday, paired with thick opaque support-hose that always fell shy of her dress hem and sagged at her ankles above chunky black shoes.
Mrs. Guest could reduce me to instant tears with her fierce, chastising look. Hand on hip and finger pointed, she nicknamed me “Hippie” because (yes, it was in the early 7o’s) my mom dressed me in some pretty happenin’ outfits, and she did not approve of my “style”. More often than I care to remember… she would raise her voice and bellow complicated questions at me like, “Ms. Hippie, what is the answer to problem number 12?” But all I could see on my paper was a swirl of numbers and blurry figures that seemed to mock me and then run pell-mell all over the page (although numbers still do that to me – but I digress). Unable to mutter a sound, my tears would flow and Mrs. Guest would shake her jowly face with a tsk tsk tsk of her tongue and say… “That’s what I thought. Yes siree. Not a clue.”
I grew up in a home with no outward conflict (key word: outward). And my first two years at school were delightful! So, neither my family, nor Kindergarten or 1st Grade had prepared me for handling the wrath of the 2nd Grade Gestapo.
Sometimes she would stick a little daisy in her blond up-do. She had bright flowers on her dresses and a lilting voice that drew you in and made you smile even when she was asking you about a math problem. She drew cute little faces on our homework and clapped her hands and jumped up & down when you got the answer right in class. She never scolded. She always encouraged. I raised my hand a lot that year. It’s how I think 1st Grade should always be remembered.
Mrs. Guest had the unfortunate lottery of following one of my favorite heroes in all of Elementary School… and though 2nd Grade felt like a prison camp in comparison to my blissful year under the tutelage of Mrs. Curren… I’ve always wondered if I had just demonized poor Mrs. Guest because she couldn’t live up to the likes of Saint Curren. I mean, Mrs. Guest wasn’t a good teacher. She wasn’t kind. She said and did some pretty mean things to me that year. And I’m pretty sure that much of my still becoming a blithering idiot in front of authority-figures was a result of my spending a year being molded by Heir Commandant. But maybe, just maybe… her knuckle-wrapping, name-calling, spirit-crushing ways were how she thought 2nd Grade kids would respond best? Maybe she… she…
Oh forget it. Even I can’t find the silver-lining in this one.
Needless to say, I am still working through childhood dramas that continue to affect me today. I’m assuming we all are. Fortunately, the good things from childhood still affect us, as well. I will always believe that the Mrs. Currens of the world exist, because well, they did once. And thanks to her example, I will always believe that love does cover a multitude of sins (including math)… and that kindness is possible in authority… and smelling like apples is a good thing.
Thanks Mrs. Curren.