Math was always my toughest subject. I like the concept of math—that big important ideas, the building blocks of the universe, can be expressed in neat, logical formulas. But applying neat logical formulas, i.e., numbers and stuff, and then throwing in some letters—because why not?—was for me a foreign language, the kind that when you hear people speaking it, you are 99 percent sure that they are totally making it up.
But while math was a difficult subject, it was not what made school difficult for me.
You’ve had that dream, right? You’re standing on stage and you suddenly realize that you don’t know any of the lines you’re supposed to say. You don’t even know what play it is that you are performing in, or if it’s even a play at all. Plus, you’re probably wearing something like pajamas, or worse, the emperor’s pajamas, and the faceless, nameless audience is roaring with laughter and the laughter is because of you. But part of you knows it’s just a dream—or needs to know it’s just a dream, because how can something so terribly humiliating happen to you in real life, how can you go on living afterward—so you force your eyelids open and there you are, heart still pounding, but safe in your own bed.
Except for the part where it’s all a dream and you wake up in your own bed, that’s pretty much how I experienced life in general, and school in particular, when I was a little girl.
Yes, I know. You came for the laughs, but I’m going to have to get serious for a second here, if that’s okay. Come for the laughs, stay for the cookies. In this case, “cookies” is code for humiliation, but they have chocolate chips, so they’re totally worth it, and I forgot what the metaphor was here, but bear with me anyway. Have a cookie.
School for me when I was single digits years old was a world of its own, and a thoroughly bewildering one. It was very much like everyone had gotten a rule book that detailed the way this world was run, and I, for some unknown reason, had not.
When adult me looks back on little me, I think that I should have whistled in the dark somehow. I should have pretended to be Jane Goodall, studying Bais Yaakov Girls, magnificent and mysterious in their natural habitat, until they finally accept me as one of their own. But hindsight forgets that you are the product right now of those exact circumstances that you used to be in, and you are therefore incapable of understanding your own mindset while still in that situation. To put it in less confusing terms, I was too young to laugh at myself. I would only watch, and I would wonder.
“Hi,” I saw one girl say to another on the first day of fourth grade. “How was your summer?”