Sliding down the banister is no fun when there's a newel post at its end. I learned that the hard way when I was six years old. Bloodied mouth, black-spotted tooth: the legacy of misadventure. If risk-taking turns out well, its likelihood increases. If not...
Here, an offering: At around the same age I made a mess of my room. This took work. I was by nature a tidy child. I tossed some toys onto the floor, threw a few dolls off of my bed, and waited. I needed to know whether I would be accepted as a different kind of kid.
The answer came soon enough, and it was fiercely negative. I cleaned up the room and felt both better and worse than I had before. Why go against who I was? Why go against who my parent insisted that I be?
Neat, quiet, conscientious, docile. These were adjectives teachers showered on me. I made their lives easy. After all, it's what I was born to do.
But one time a teacher distributed books as Christmas gifts. She told us second-graders that she'd hand-picked them, that no child was receiving the same book. Eagerly I unwrapped my book. Its title: Cinderella.
Ouch. I was not a stupid child. I understood the teacher's message.
Was it any surprise that Mrs. Meier was let go at the end of that year?
When I was in ninth grade, my lovely best friend Elizabeth convinced me to cut off my waist-length hair. I'd worn my hair the same way for as long as I could remember. My mother was adamant about my hair's length; I can't say why, as she had been a tomboy child herself. This time I followed Elizabeth's, not my mother's, lead. I was enchanted by the results: my hair now fell to my shoulders. It was so light! I kept running hands through it and startling anew each time my fingers met air.
Back at home I pranced into the kitchen, where my mother sat at the table. I felt so pretty that for once I was unprepared for trouble. She took one long look at me and wailed, "What did you do?" And then, the habitual frown and icy words spoken through clamped jaw: "How. Could. You."
If I'd been older, I might have replied, sensibly, "It's my hair," or, "I didn't dye it pink or cut it punk."
Instead I burst into tears. And there we were, both of us crying, one shocked and saddened by an act of defiance, the other shocked and saddened to learn that going for a ten-dollar haircut could ever be construed as an act of defiance.