Monday, February 20, 2012

Decade #1--First and Fast

I've been thinking a lot recently about how I've evolved over the last 42 years, and this week I'm going to delve into my life and what has created who I am.

I have a vivid memory of singing "Twelve Days of Christmas" behind the curtain, dressed in my made-with-motherly-love floral flannel nightgown and kerchief, waiting for my turn on stage. Michael Dixon and I had memorized "Twas the Night Before Christmas" for our ward's Christmas party, alternating turns with the prose, finishing strong with a united "and to all a good night," and I was ready for my close-up.
I was four years old.

I grew up in a home where my mom stayed home, my dad worked a full-time job during the day and officiated high school, college, and city sports at night. They were busy, but I always knew I was loved, always accepted for who I was, always encouraged and supported in anything I wanted to try, always protected and sheltered from the world.

Who was I the first decade of my life: A decade defined by public school and piano lessons, moving five times before we settled into the house I consider my childhood home, it was a time in my life where I took pride in my academic prowess, but when my energy could rarely be tamed. In today's social climate I defintely would have been catergorized in the ADHD group--my first grade teacher, Mrs. Wiseman, actually removed the chair from my desk and allowed me to stand through much of the school year, hoping to discover a solution for my boundless energy.

I was smart, and I knew it. I had no idea how to control my impulses to always be right and to always be first. I did everything fast with not much thought to accuracy--first was always best in my book. I was the first of four children, I was the first to read, first to learn my times tables, and first one done at every meal. It didn't matter what the food tasted like or if I missed one or two problems in my rush, I was FIRST.

My impulsivity in the classroom must have been annoying at best for my teachers, from Mrs. Wiseman in first grade to Miss Carey and Mrs. Braunwort in second. We moved halfway through second grade, and Sawtooth Elementary was progressive in its educational approach--students were grouped by ability and rotated teachers throughout the day. Everyone knew which groups were the smartest kids, and I never passed up an opportunity to proclaim which class I was in. Looking back, I can see why I was often ostracized for my outspoken bragging.

Third grade--Mrs. Vandenbark, the woman with a ramrod for a spine. It was either her or me that year, and she was determined to break my will by knocking me down a peg whenever possible. I hated that class, but I wasn't going to give in. I wrote a one-girl adaptation of "Rumplestitzkin," which I begged her to let me perform for the class. She wouldn't relent until I agreed to let Jennifer Condie do it with me. Fine, I surrendered, as long as everyone would be watching. I wanted to be the most important, the one in the spotlight, not stretching to be the best, but always thirsting to be first.

My fourth grade year with Mrs. Swenson was the first time in life it registered in my mind that others might not like me, might be repelled by my constant motion of both body and tongue. Why wasn't I included with the popular girls? I was smart, I was . . . smart. Why not? Never did it cross my mind that I would somehow need to amend my personality and my wishes to that of a group. Why should I? I was in the gifted program. That automatically made me right. Right?

By fifth grade, cliques were forming, and I somehow knew I was on the outside. I wasn't pretty, I wasn't blond, and I certainly wasn't wearing a training bra yet, so where did I fit in? Fifth grade was the first time I ever got into a fight at school--Darren Jones, the boy three houses down the street from me, was a bit slow on the uptake. He was strong, but I could outthink him and talk circles around him, which I did often and with pleasure. I don't remember the particulars, but I remember a verbal spat of some kind and a cupcake ending up in my face and then being punched. Punched by a boy. What would happen in today's elementary schools? In mine, I don't remember consequences of any kind other than my dad giving "ole Darren Jones a good talking-to."

I couldn't control my tongue or my wiggly skinny body for any amount of time unless . . . unless I was immersed in a book or I was seated behind the piano. Reading took me away from the emerging pain of school--to a place where I could be accepted and cool. I learned to love every genre of literature--from Susan Cooper's fantasy The Dark is Rising series to Lois Lenski's Newberry winner, Strawberry Girl, I had found friends. No one to sit next to on the school bus, but what did that matter if I had a book to read? And I read faster and more than anyone in my class. I distinctly remember hoping I would get to read the biggest paragraph of the story out loud and then when I did, hearing Mrs. Bowyer call, "Slow DOWN, Jenny. No one can understand you when you read like that."

The piano--ah, the piano. From the moment I began taking lessons, I remember the piano calling to me. It came so easy to me--those 88 keys and my ten fingers were always destined to be a pair. The timing and the fingering and the dynamics were always secondary to how fast my fingers could fly across the keyboard, how quickly I could finish the song. My goal from the beginning was to be a better pianist than my dad who could drop a few bars from "The Burning of Rome" or "Stars and Stripes Forever" from memory. Fifth grade--that was the year I reached my goal. Ten years old.

Those first ten years of life--not particulary athletic or coordinated, but I was first as often possible and as fast as circumstances would allow.


  1. You and I either would have been best friends or worst enemies if we'd known each other those first ten years! That sounds SO much like mine! Although, at my school, I was made fun of because I WAS wearing a training bra in fifth grade! ;) I had a few friends, but not many, and it took me a long time to figure out that being "right" wasn't always best. It's amazing the things we could learn if we could humble ourselves, isn't it? I hope I've learned a few of those lessons by now! I look forward to reading the rest of these posts!

  2. Well this explains the almost finished "14 pieces" of furniture. And the energy you need to mother your brood. I find it very hard to be objective about who I was as a child. I only remember instances, rather than whole pictures of time. It's great that you can see the past so clearly and it can only help us to understand who we are today.

  3. WOW! You just described Tucker and Lily to a T. No wonder you're such a splendid Mom to all your kids. You understand them so well. They are so blessed to have you and your "experience" to help them through the poo that is school and adolescence. Isn't amazing how we turn out and what we learn from our childhoods?

  4. Sounds like a few kids I know and love!

    I would have been your friend even then, due to the fact I didn't care if I was first, didn't notice that people could be mean and my first fight was in 6th grade and I popped Alan Jones in the nose for trying to lift the back of my skirt! I got in huge trouble and when he made fun of me for it the next day I popped him again...guess I wasn't a very cowed by the punishment!

  5. Goodness - you've been a force from day 1, it sounds like! You are the perfect one to mother all of your exuberant children - it's good that they have someone who is always one step ahead of them. And isn't it nice that as we age, we do relax a bit. In your case, not TOO much, though!

  6. Wow - your were destined to be the mother of those high-energy children of yours! The perfect mother! God gave you all the impetus to be first for a reason - you need to stay ahead of them, every step of the way.
    This was a lovely insight - I can almost picture the 10 year old Jen.

  7. Ahh, the memories. The thing with you and Darren Jones? We all ended up in the principal's office - you, your Dad and I, Darren, and his Mom. I think there was a twinkle in Mr. Turner's eye.

  8. I'm amazed that you can remember so much of your childhood. I can't believe how much Lilly looks like you!

  9. that first photo bears such an unbelievable resemblance to your own kids - amazing! and i agree with many of the other comments here - what a gift that you can see your childhood with such clarity!! and then to be documenting it like this - i'm feeling inspired to try thinking about my own "decades" and to write it all down while i still can ... LOVE THIS!!

  10. I am going to enjoy this series. So interesting to learn a little more about you and your growing-up years.