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Life Lab

21 Days of Exploring ID_NTification - Day 1

“At least I don’t pee in the bed” I said right to my older sister's face in response to her telling me that I was a crooked toothed, chapped lip dog.

Growing up with my siblings was an exercise in humility. We made sure each other knew what faults we had in our looks, our intelligence, our style, our humor, our hygiene. If we had a flaw, it was pointed out, highlighted, exaggerated and yelled from the rooftops. There were the go-to put downs like the brown pigment of a birth-mark in my younger sister’s eye. Peanut-butter eye we called her. My siblings got plenty of mileage from my chapped lips and my sister was skinny while my brother had bumps on his booty.

In the heat of an argument or even a physical fight, no shortcoming was too small to pass up. I’m not sure how “normal” this was in other households but we were 4 kids who were all about one year and one month apart in age and shared a bedroom which had a top bunk and bottom bunk for the girls and another set of bunk beds for the boys. When you are almost literally on top of each other most of the time, tempers will flare.

I’m not sure my brothers, sisters and I ever verbally gave each other a compliment growing up. It’s not that we didn’t like each other, I’m pretty sure we all loved each other, but the idea of pointing out what was amazing and wonderful about each other, never crossed our minds. That was someone else’s job. Our job was to make sure we didn’t get to big for our britches and to keep each other grounded and humble. And of course if the neighborhood kids tried to take over our jobs, we’d have to put them in check because if you messed with one of us, you’d have to mess with us all.

Of course when the weather allowed it, we played outside with each other, cousins and neighborhood friends. Everything from schoolyard games like “Red Light - Green Light, “Red Rover” and “Crack the Whip” to Tackle football, Jacks and Hopscotch. We raced each other, played baseball, basketball, tetherball and Four square.

I loved to read and was that kid that couldn’t wait till my turn to read a few sentences out loud as the class did a round-robin reading exercise.

These experiences and interactions helped me figure out who I was. When it was hard to tackle me in our neighborhood football game, I walked away feeling fast and nimble. The way our neighborhood librarian complimented me each time I checked-out two or three books, I felt smart. The cues I got from my teachers gave me intellectual confidence. I loved school and got a kick out of being smart and athletic and adventurous until I began to wonder if I actually was.

Daily school bus rides from my neighborhood to a school in a neighborhood across town somehow transformed me from a Leonardo Da Vinci loving Renaissance 4th grader to a "I missed the bus again" ditching 5th grader. The school we were bused to was full of messages that I was not enough and the only way too drown out the noise was to not expose myself to it so I’d cleverly create excuses not to go to school.

My siblings, my neighbors, my teachers and community members were all shaping who I was and some of this molding I allowed while rejecting the influences of those who couldn’t identify with me. I find it interesting that I could deal with every flaw verbally thrown into my face by my siblings but the simple feeling that people gave me that I was less than who I was, provoked me to take actions to avoid being in their presence. Maybe it was because I did have crooked teeth and my lips were chapped that I could accept those facts shouted at me from my siblings but the game of smiling in my face while otherwise silently dismissing me was unacceptable and I learned then to do what I could in my power to control who and what I allowed into my laboratory.

If not a series of experiments, what is growing up and discovering who you are. We are like scientists testing this and tweaking that to determine what our purpose is on this planet and those 5th grade lessons I began the process of learning, still help guide me to this day. Just because folks have teaching degrees don’t make them teachers and just because I have crooked teeth don’t mean I can’t smile!

I remain grateful!

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