Sometimes I think my whole adult life I’ve been searching for the eight-year-old me. The eight-year-old who was so confident, creative, and sure back in 1956. That little girl who wrote stories about collies and Army men and nuclear war, who made up plays with her marionettes, held circuses in her backyard, directed plays, and painted the paint-by-numbers sets sent by grandparents.
I wanted to be an archaeologist and live outside Cairo, dig up ancient tombs, and carefully brush sand off of mosaics and painted sarcophagi. I remember sitting in Principal Virginia Gerling’s office and paging through a huge book on excavating Egyptian artifacts. I wanted to sit under a canopy swathed in white cotton in the Valley of the Kings with my whisk broom, paint brush, and dental tools picking at dirt surrounding golden statues. Where’d that little girl go?
I think that confident little girl started shrinking back because of the brassy popular girls in junior high school who were so mean and reckless. I hid from the popular boys who played football and shoved people around on the volleyball courts and got into fights after school. My teachers never talked about cliques and confidence and popularity and teenage development. What an opportunity missed! Here they were, these educated adults who’d chosen to teach junior high schoolers, and they never talked about junior high schoolers. Mr. Alds, Miss Christy, Mr. Puterbaugh, they talked about behaving in class, not talking too much, and grades. How they could have facilitated deep discussions of developmental stages, adulthood, parents, peers!
My third grade teacher Miss Guthrie told my mother once that I was the most creative student she’d ever taught. My mother passed on this information some 50 years later. Knowing that my beloved Miss Guthrie had said that about me might have given me a little stamina to help steer me through the ambivalence of high school and college and my parents’ divorce. By that time, I’d left behind the confidence of my eight-year-old self. And what were you doing when you were eight years old? Who were you, and what did you think you’d be doing now?
I have an opportunity to give my eight-year-old self a new chance. A chance to paint and write and maybe swathe myself in white cotton under a new desert canopy after all.