I love reading. The first book I ever read on my own was about a little dragon, and it was such a happy day. Once the letters became words and those words became sentences, I was nearly always with a book. I would balance precariously on windowsills in rainstorms, reading. I’m sure my mom held her breath when she’d open the door and find me perched on our porch railing, with no comprehension of the danger, and a book in my hands. My school librarian didn’t believe I could read Pinocchio in 2nd grade, but she humored me anyway. Her dismayed expression when I returned it in a week ready to compare and contrast the book and the animated adaptation confused me. When my 4th grade teacher sent me to the 6th grade classroom to take AR quizzes on books that only I was reading, I became somewhat aware that I was unusual. This same year, I began to grasp that confident, intelligent girls were not supposed to appear to be either of those things. When you overhear your teacher implying that your head is so big you won’t fit through a doorway, it stings a little. She wasn’t wrong that I was proud of myself, but why shouldn’t I have been? Shouldn’t we all be proud of ourselves? It’s very likely that I did come across as a know-it-all. Most ten year olds don’t know how to read a room. The same can be said for a lot of adults. Being self-assured is not equivalent to using that poise to demean others. It was reasonable for her to be upset with me if I was mean to a classmate, but it is not acceptable to shame a child for believing in themselves. It was the early 1990s; she never said anything like that about my male classmate. He wasn’t my nemesis, but an amazing rival. We loved to compete with each other. If he got a 99 and I got a 100, it was the best day. Likewise, he reveled in my 99s when he was in the lead. We were not hostile to each other; we just happened to be spurred by an equal opponent. She did not see me as his match. If she did, she wouldn’t have expected me to feign humility while encouraging him to continue with no behavior adjustments. He could have gloated, and it would have been acceptable. She was a great teacher overall. She saw that I was a reader, that books were food to me, giving me life and knowledge and gumption. Her creativity and her persistence is what paved the way for me to read the higher level books for credit. I was already reading them, and she felt like I deserved something for that effort. It wasn’t that I shouldn’t be smart, I just shouldn’t show that I was smart. I should, of course, live with aplomb, but not in any outwardly identifiable ways. I think I’m still undoing that lesson, and it’s why I found friends in books. There was always a friend somewhere in a book who understood being told to hide who you are by minimizing certain traits of your personality. Still other friends knew what it felt like to be told they were “too sensitive”, “too much”, or “too talkative”. With time, my shelves filled and I adored our library. People like me lived in the books in the library. Restless artists writing themselves into restless characters who could say and do all the things they desperately wanted for themselves but were told they couldn’t, because their heads might pop the next time they went through a door.
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