Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rubber Duckie Bookbags and Earth Shoes


When I was in first grade, my mom sent me off to my first day of school, trailing behind my 5 older brothers and sisters, with my peter pan blouse, my freshly pressed uniform and my Yellow naugahyde Rubber Ducky book bag. I was crying. I had just turned six and I hadn't been to kindergarten. Sesame Street had done what it could.

When we got to school, having walked up our street and crossed Euclid avenue, it was time to get in line. In Catholic school, you're always getting in line. Lines to come inside, lines to go outside, lines to go to the bathroom. Everyone goes to the bathroom at the same time, whether you have to or not. But that's a story about second grade.

Apparently, a yellow Rubber Ducky book bag is for babies. Not first graders. That's how I was greeted by someone in line. I don't remember what their book bag looked like. I only remember I wasn't getting a new one. First grade proved to be challenging. In all regards. Apparently, I wasn't much for sitting still, or much for keeping track of my Easter Seals box. But I played a mean triangle! and I wasn't bad a the sticks either. No one mentioned that.

Despite these things, I did get chosen to portray Mary, the Mother of God, in our first grade Christmas Pageant. Perhaps Mary wasn't good at remembering her homework, or sitting still either.  Steve Gay, the cute boy in the class, who was the Librarian's son, got to be Joseph. He couldn't keep track of  his Easter Seals box either.

The Christmas of first grade was a memorable one. That year, I got a much coveted gift: Earth Shoes! I don't remember what else I asked for, but I know I asked for Earth Shoes. So Did Katie Carroll, my next door neighbor, best friend. Katie had more experience at First grade than I did, so she might have been a little more compliant. She had a practice year of first grade under her belt before I got there. Katie was the 6th child of 8 kids. I was the 6th child of 7. Katie weighed 29 lbs in first grade. We all carried her around.

I got suede Earth Shoes. Katie got leather. We probably got new socks too. Knee socks. There wasn't anything but knee socks in Catholic school. The fact that we didn't have to wear saddle shoes was more progress than we realized! The first day back to school after Christmas Vacation, wearing our Earth shoes was a day I remember. For some reason, Katie and I were still allowed to sit beside each other, and no doubt we were comparing and admiring our Earth shoes, shoes that made you feel barefoot. It was heaven on earth that one day in Catholic school. Until....A certain unnamed girl, who didn't get Earth Shoes for Christmas, wanted a closer look at Katie's. She touched them--without permission,  her nails dragging along the outside edge, scratching Katie's prized Christmas gift. Katie was dashed. I was dashed.

We still talk about it. Katie's  nemesis, OUR nemesis, hadn't yet developed the potential for sympathetic joy: The joy you feel in someone else's good fortune, or happiness, or achievement. I guess you could call the opposite, jealousy. Jealousy might be defined as wanting something someone else has. Whether it's a skill, or a personal strength, looks, or something material. But I don't define it that way anymore.

I think Jealousy is more rooted in the absence of recognition of our own personal gifts, and attributes, unique qualities or posessions. It isn't that we want something we don't have, it's that we forget to recognize what we do. Maybe it's because we're expected to get in line so much. Do what everyone else is doing. Get the same book bag as everyone else. We loved our Earth shoes, but what we probably loved more, is that we BOTH got what we wanted for Christmas: 


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