Limitless (and the Pitfalls of Private School)

It’s natural to have doubts. We don’t start out that way. In fact, we start out trusting everyone. We talk to strangers, reach for the hot burner, don’t look both ways before crossing the street, attempt to stick our fingers in the light socket… (okay well perhaps not all of us, but we get the warnings regardless) We are born fearless and without prejudice. We know no strangers. We have no issues of weight or body image. We don’t doubt ourselves. Why should we? The world is a great big mystery to be solved and it’s all out there for us! And then… we’re thrust out into the real world.

I remember my first bitter taste of reality. My parents sent me off to Junior Kindergarten at a private school that required all students to wear uniforms. We couldn’t even wear our winter coats on the playground at recess because our school emblems needed to be visible at all times. That first day Mom also sent me off with a few toy cars in my pocket. As soon as I pulled them out at recess, they were quickly stolen by a girl named Mary Alice Askew. I asked for them back, she refused. I asked again to no avail. Recess ended and we were ushered back inside.

Class started, but I was still distraught over the injustice that had just occurred. I whispered to Mary Alice while the teacher’s back was turned, “Give me back my cars!” She snickered. Overhearing this, the teacher called me to the front of the class and asked what was going on. “Mary Alice stole my cars!” I said. The teacher then promptly collected the cars from Mary Alice, put them in her desk drawer and gave me a spanking in front of the entire class! I returned to my seat, car-less and mortified. This was the exact moment I learned that life was not fair.

I spent 10 years at that odd little school with its strange rules and stringent dress code. My Mother was under the impression that if I attended a private school, I would meet people of a higher social standing than those in public schools. What she didn’t realize was that many of the students at this school were sent there because they were kicked out of everywhere else. She also didn’t realize how badly I was being treated by my peers. I was never taught to stick up for myself, so I was bullied and talked down to probably more often than I even noticed.

Mom used to arrange after-school play-dates with girls in my grade who she assumed I was friends with. I wasn’t, and I was usually surprised when they told me they were supposed to come home with me. They were nice to me one-on-one, but when we got back to school nothing changed. Mom kept arranging these hangouts and I kept wanting real friends. I may have been young, but at least I knew the difference.

My teen years were painfully awkward. I was too ugly, too skinny, I’d never kissed a boy and I didn’t know what all the sex slang terms meant. If I wanted a guy to pay attention to me, I had to grab the new transfer student before he started hanging out with the cool kids and making fun of me as well. I wasn’t cool by any stretch of the imagination, so I just did my best to get through.

I found an escape through the world of musical theater and collected a handful of quirky theater nerd friends along the way. There was a great theater camp during the summer and I had started getting a few lead roles here and there. (All the while, my parents were hoping I’d switch gears and tell them I secretly wanted to become a Doctor or Rocket Scientist) One year, right before school started, I landed the role of Baby Louise in Gypsy, which required me to dye my hair a deep, dark brown color. The bullies at school didn’t miss a beat on that one. The prank calls about my hair looking like “excrement” started a few weeks before the show opened. Luckily that was about the extent of it.

But all of that never broke me. Sure, I had plenty of teenage “sequester yourself in your room-listen to loud music and cry” moments, but doesn’t everyone? And I finally found my voice. It took me a long time to learn how I needed to stick up for myself, but I finally have. My friend JD used to say that I had a habit of going from zero to bitch in 60 seconds. This was because I wouldn’t say anything until I was past my breaking point. I put up with all sorts of things that I should have nixed from the start. This comes from a history of self-doubt. When you experience so much unpleasantness, you start to question yourself and wonder if you’ve done something to deserve it. Then in later life, it takes a while to realize that it was never you at all. It takes a skilled eye to see through people.

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So I’ll leave you with this…

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Tiny Little Feminist

I think before I could walk, my parents set me in front of the TV, where I grew up watching a steady diet of the “Dick Van Dyke Show”, “Sonny & Cher”, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “That Girl” and “The Carol Burnett Show”. My childhood was spent thinking that I would grow up to be a conglomeration of Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas, Dinah Shore and Doris Day. These women were entertainment pioneers of that time, but I had no idea. I just knew that was what I was going to be someday.

My Mom is just about as far from a feminist as you can get. She had no idea what a glass ceiling was. She just wanted to be happy. She married the handsome fireman who all her girlfriends talked about, and to this day has no idea how beautiful she is or how attractive she looked in a bathing suit. She went to ECU and worked for the Department of Agriculture and US Geological Survey because she liked the work and her co-workers. She still tells stories about them… And she still holds a grudge because at lunch one day that damned pigeon pooped on the shoulder of her favorite yellow suit, making it unwearable ever again.

Sidebar: In Downtown Raleigh, it was customary for people who worked in the area to walk around Fayetteville Street and the Capital building during their lunch breaks. There was a man who sold peanuts on the Capital grounds. You could eat them yourself, but it was more common to feed the pigeons with them. With the elevated pigeon population, there was a greater chance of encountering pigeon poop at one time or another while strolling through, although it hardly ever happened.

Yesterday Mary Tyler Moore passed away. I didn’t know how much this would affect me until they played the theme to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on the morning show I listen to out of Atlanta. I couldn’t stop crying. She was such an iconic piece of my history. I can probably credit her with my split-second decision to change my major from Business Admin to Journalism, although I had no idea at the time. The ideas you’re spoon fed at childhood are some pretty strong medicine. You really never know when they’ll pop back up to say hello.

I’ve never really considered myself a Feminist by definition either. However, I DO consider myself a strong woman who doesn’t take any crap. I’ve come a long way. In my youth I knew I had a lot to learn so I spent much of it as a wallflower, observing and gathering enough information to form opinions. The downside of all of this was that I also got walked on… A LOT. It also taught me that there’s only so much I can take before I will absolutely take action… thus… my coping strategy has become my low tolerance for bullshit. If that makes me a feminist, I’m okay with that.

The negative connotations of feminism as depicted by today’s media really aren’t okay. It’s great for women to be paid the same as their male counterparts. Why should we be stuck in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant? Honestly, most of the women I know are so much smarter than any of the animals unleashed on the dating websites. I weep for all my single, smart, empowered sisters.

I’m proud to have been raised by the likes of Mary Tyler Moore and her bevy of strong sitcom sisters. To this day it might be why I prefer thought-provoking conversation to animal lust. There’s so little of it out there.

And sure, there’s plenty of good entertainment still being made, but I think someone needs to go bubble-wrap Doris Day and Carol Burnett.