My mom, a classic hoarder, kept all my elementary, middle and high school report cards in a big binder. She also kept my shots records, my ballet recital programs, a few pictures of the embarrassing ballet costumes and some of the napkins that Billy Dee Williams used to wipe his mouth during the filming of some movie down in Chester.
“One day,” she said with a deep, prophetic, Moses-bringing-down-the-commandments voice, “you can show these to your children.”
A couple of weekends ago, I hauled out the book and presented it to the kids (mistake 1), certain they’d be honored to be offspring of a musician/ballerina/scout/French-speaking Baptist (mistake 2). They laughed at my first ballet photos (awkward with nasty shoes) and ooohed over my last ones (graceful with feathers and nice slippers). But they ignored the other good stuff and honed in on my report cards. They noted I made A’s in everything but math. Then they focused on the behavior part.
Back then, report cards had a grading system of A, S and U. A – prepare for sorority parties. S – prepare for shop classes, which was an insult back then, and U – Who the hell are you kidding? Go home and start over, girl. There also was a grid with boxes for behavior in general, attitude, cooperation, courtesy, self-control and study habits, which also used the A/S/U scale along with a system of checks. A – teacher’s pet. S – get some bail money ready because the teenage years will be rough. U – hellbent for jail and starring roles in Britney Spears songs about criminals.
When I was kid, I thought I had done a stellar job because a lot of my boxes were checked, but Mom finally set me straight. If nothing was checked, you didn’t have a problem. If the teacher checked a slot, then you needed to work on that area.
I had not been a courteous, respectful, quiet little self-starter. I was a lippy, out-of-control hell-raiser who cheerfully, effectively, promptly and readily fought authority and rules at every turn and at the top of my voice.
Some of the comments: “needs to keep her mind on her seatwork.” “she still talks too much.” “she still needs to work on her behavior.” “sure to make a U in conduct.” Making a U meant you failed; an S meant you were just doing ok. That teacher, 3rd grade, Ms. Daisy McDuffie, gave me an S—-. She had hope, bless her heart.
After all the time I’d spent in the Catholic School naughty corner staring at the crucifix, after the times I’d been sent to find my own switch, after all the welts from the belt strap – why was anybody surprised about my school behavior?
“What was wrong with you?” my younger kid asked. “That was just sad. Why couldn’t you just pay attention?”
I thought about it. What WAS wrong? Was I bored? Confused? Starved for attention? Just plain BAD? Face it. I was bad. I was the kid that very few parents wanted to see coming. I wasn’t horrible, just defiant. Always asking WHY? Didn’t care who I offended. At church meeting, I interrupted once to ask “WHY?” and got nasty stares and a pinch from my great-grandma for being insubordinate. After I wrecked my car with a friend in it (in high school), I told the friend’s dad, an Army officer, to step up and get his own son from band practice. When another friend’s parents told me my skirt was too short, I asked them why they were looking. I played with firearms. I raced cars. I cut class.
I worried every year up until college that THIS YEAR would be the one Santa threw in the towel.
The kids are still laughing, and it’s actually nice to have this part of my past in the open, even if it’s cold revenge for my Mom. We can discuss it with logic – when they stop laughing. And when they get lippy/resentful/defiant/bad/etc, I’ll add notes to their permanent records and patiently wait for grandchildren.