I began reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott a couple years ago but never finished. A few weeks ago, a friend gifted me this very same book, encouraging me to write more. It’s the first brand new book I’ve owned and held in my hands for a while now. The way most women lust for shoes, I lust for books. Even if I don’t read as much as I used to, I still stare longingly at people reading books on the train and stand giddy and overwhelmed in bookstores.
For my own personal project, I’ve decided to read through this book until the very end and write along the way, publishing what I’ve written (good or bad) on this blog.
The first chapter is called “Getting Started”. She suggests we start with our memories of childhood.
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My third grade teacher’s name was Mrs. Johnson. She was an older lady, probably in her fifties or sixties. She had brown hair always worn in a long single braid to the side that hung over her shoulder and ringlets framing her forehead. She was tall and thin, as her face was long with a pointed chin. She wore brown tinted glasses that gave her an owlish appearance and red lipstick that further exaggerated her pursed lips that I would stare at whenever she read aloud from Ramona Quimby books.
There’s at least one association I have with each of my elementary school teachers. With my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Campbell, it’s clowns and indoor tree houses. With my first grade teacher, Mrs. Gibson, it’s hiding my bowl haircut underneath my hood and being the teacher’s pet. With my second grade teacher, Mrs. Engels, it’s Suzy Zoo because she wrote notes on Suzy Zoo stationery and gave out Suzy Zoo stickers. With my fourth and fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tewinkle, it’s the lion that ate peanut butter and getting in trouble for saying bad words. With my third grade teacher, Mrs. Johnson, it’s Ramona Quimby books and crapping my pants.
Mrs. Johnson read “Ramona the Pest” while sitting tall and rigid in her chair, acting out all the voices and giving Ramona the best voice of all, tomboyishly scratchy with a slight pout. We would sit on the rug listening to her read while Sarah Schindler and I took turns doodling on each other’s backs with our fingertips. Sometimes Sarah would deliberately let her drawing wander onto my sides and make me laugh.
It was when Mrs. Johnson was instructing us how to make our Thanksgiving turkey out of an apple and some toothpicks that I crapped my pants. A small group of us were sitting at the picnic bench that was behind our classroom, watching as she showed us how to transform an apple into a turkey, using colorful toothpicks as its plumes. I had to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to raise my hand and interrupt her, so I tried to keep it in. I sat on my foot and wriggled like a worm, but sure enough, it began to come out. And once it started coming out, I couldn’t stop it. All I could do was cringe and try not to squish it, sitting to the side with one butt cheek poised in the air. I held my breath, waiting and praying to God that nobody could smell it. When my teacher finally finished speaking, I raised my hand and asked to be excused. I scuttled to the girls’ bathroom that was across the playground and shoved the door open. It was dark with light coming through two small windows above the door. I breathed a sigh of relief. I went into a stall and quickly but carefully took off my pants and underwear. I dumped the poop into the toilet then flushed. The underwear I threw into the large trash can and pushed it under wads of paper towels so that it lay buried, a secret I’m not sure I even told my best friend. I scrubbed my hands clean in that dark little bathroom, horrified at what I had just done.
There’s a picture of us holding up our turkeys, me smiling a toothy grin not looking one bit as if I’d just crapped my pants and threw my underwear away like a hoodlum disposing all evidence. This picture is in the classroom album I won in a raffle at the end of the school year. Mrs. Johnson had asked me to come up to pick a name from the hat, and I picked my own name. Some thought I had somehow cheated, but most just laughed at how lucky I was. The album had a fabric cover of red paisley print and was filled with photographs of us throughout the year. There’s one of us weaving our own mini Navajo rugs. There’s another of me and my best friend, Ilana, playing a board game. And my favorite is of me wearing a paper plate mask with long ears attached. I’m pounding my fists in the air as if I’m saying, “Why, why, why?” during the last scene of the play “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
So I guess third grade wasn’t just one big mishap of crapping my pants. And I’m sure kids do that all the time, right?