The naivete of youth
I had a tough audience to impress when I was a kid.
I was the youngest by a long shot in a litter of nine children, so by the time I got around to doing things they were old news. No one batted an eye when I started kindergarten, for instance, I think my mother wondered why I wasn’t under her feet from the hours of 9-3 one day and put it all together.
I desperately wanted to inhabit the world of my older siblings, who always had more interesting drama in their lives than me winning square ball at recess. Their lives consisted of mystical things, like getting jobs and getting fired, boyfriends or girlfriends and getting dumped, getting the keys to my parents car, and partying. I couldn’t compete. I put my Fisher Price Little People aside and just watched them coming and going instead, it was infinitely more interesting.
Finally I started Junior High, and on the much further walk to the bigger school some of my classmates lit up a smoke. I had finally reached the Big Time; I had joined the ranks of my siblings. At thirteen, I was a bona fide adult.
Feeling high and mighty with my new half locker, my class schedule carefully taped to the inside, lock combination written on my hand, I entered my geography class as the grade nine students cleared out. If I was now an adult they were virtually grandparents – I was awestruck by the whiskers adorning the top lips of the boys, and downright perplexed by the concealed pimples on the girls.
Settling into my seat, I noticed a student had written something in loopy handwriting on the board. It was profound. Deep. I was memorized by its multiple meanings, inspired by its possibilities. Would I be this smart when I was in grade nine? The teacher entered and erased the board, but not before I had committed the quote to memory. Finally, I had something worthy and wise to contribute to the dinner table discussion that evening. My siblings would be astonished with my insightful prose, and ensured of my step into adulthood.
As I crammed into the least desirable spot at the dinner table, the corner spot that necessitated either climbing over one of my sisters or climbing under the table and over my dog, a permanent resident under foot at dinner, I bided my time for making my announcement. I waited for a quieter moment, which only ever happened when everyone’s mouths were full of clam chowder. As the spoons rose to their lips, I left mine in its place and took a deep breath.
“So I read this really cool quote on the board today at school: It’s not the size of the ship, it’s the motion of the ocean.”
My father almost choked on his chowder, and my sister’s went flying out of her mouth and across the table. I was startled; this had more impact than I had imagined. But before I could inwardly congratulate myself, the entire table burst out laughing, and I knew my error in one horrible second. My whole face turned pink, then red, and finally purple as I stared into my clam chowder, wanting to disappear into its creamy depth. My naivete set me firmly back into my barely teen-aged self, the lesson being don’t pretend to be something you’re not.