Posted on June 1st, 2011 by Jen Lockard
I felt safe with my little clique of girls. We were (mostly) quiet, each of us scary good at one thing or another, and just intense enough about it that we frightened off the advances of burgeoning boyhood puberty. Not that we were all that interested in them yet, but we had our small crushes that we kept safe within the confines of a cabal fortified by thick books and smarts.
Like most girls of our ilk, we’d read the odd Judy Blume puberty novel if it got a lot of buzz, but we preferred the classics and pre-1980s animal novels like “Lad, a Dog” and “My Friend, Flicka”. It was a book in the latter genre that showed up in C’s book stack first, with its cover showing a peaceful looking rabbit, illustrated in autumnal colors. The illustration impressed me so much that when the teacher yelled at the class I would imagine I was that bunny and tear all over the field beyond, kicking my heels up in joyous freedom.
The book soon moved to M’s books, then to L’s, and finally we were acting out a version of this lapin fantasy every day under the big oak tree during recess. The names sounded so familiar and yet so exotic: Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig, Blackberry, Pipkin, Dandelion, Silver, Violet. The game went on forever, and we were always looking for a new place to light because of any little thing: the wind, girls outside our clique getting too close, boys running past, and definitely older kids.
For some reason I didn’t care to read the book, but I was aware that what started as cute little air sniffs and lolling on the grass in the sun slowly evolved into decidedly us-against-them physical play. Eventually I wound up being the same character over and over, and was getting frustrated with playing a game where the same three people came out on top each time (I was not one of those three). One day, someone said something cutting about why they thought I was a good so-and-so, including examples from the book, and I am not proud to remember how bad I was at hiding my hurt feelings.
It was about this time that we got cable and I discovered that the book had been made into an animated movie. I vaguely remember being extra secretive about watching it one day after school before my parents got home, so I can only assume that I’d been told I wasn’t allowed. I had no idea what I was taking on by disobeying them.
Let me just call out my uber square prepubescent self by saying that while I laughed at the Cheech and Chong records my classmates played during art class (still can’t believe our teacher allowed that!), I was terrified by the psychedelic aspects of the movie. Art Garfunkel singing “Bright Eyes” still makes me involuntarily squirm, but as a child with absolutely no personal or artistic frame of reference for what I was seeing, it was ultimately enough to drive me from the room. Add some shocking bunny-on-bunny violence and you have the perfect anxiety storm.
Then again, to blame the level of heebee jeebees I got while watching the movie entirely on the psychedelic gore wouldn’t be honest. What got me was that we six or seven girls played this out over and over again, with nearly the same consequences. I don’t mean that anyone was scarred, blinded, or left for dead during recess, but that the tension I felt in watching that movie was nearly the same as that I felt on the playground with my friends. Forget it being a parable about appeasement and fascism—for me, Watership Down was all about girls working through their aggressions, and learning firsthand how qualified I really was to be a good so-and-so plunged me into a pubescent funk.
I couldn’t talk to my parents about this movie because they’d know I’d disobeyed. I don’t remember talking to my friends about it either. Instead, we began to play basketball but were thwarted when the boys said we weren’t allowed to use the court. I got into a physical altercation with one of them, which, didn’t end well. For him. But that’s a story for a different day.
Posted on November 2nd, 2010 by Jen Lockard
When I was 10, I got a science kit for Christmas. It was another in the list of things my father bought on a whim in the hopes that some hidden genius-level talent would reveal itself. The kit was full of all kinds of semidangerous chemicals, a microscope, a vial of brine shrimp (Sea Monkeys for you unscientific types) and the piece de la resistance: a frog in a vial of formaldehyde.
As I breathlessly said I was going to do one of the experiments right now, he ever so thoughtfully said, “Not without supervision, and I’m too busy to help you today. Maybe tomorrow.” Tomorrow became tomorrow became tomorrow… you get the picture. As an adult, I understand how time slips so quickly away, but then, when days were everlong and yawned in front of me, I didn’t understand at all. I pestered him about it for a while but eventually I gave up and moved on to entertaining myself elsewhere. The science kit found a home next to the unicycle, the stilts, the juggling clubs, and the ceramics wheel, each covered in its own layer of sad dust.
I spent a lot of time goofing off in Mrs. Kelly’s science class the following year, laughing at the bad boys cutting up in the back of the room. I should’ve felt more sympathetic towards her but I didn’t because, as her class was constantly disrupted by our pubescent hijinks, she spent a good deal of time humiliating us in front of our peers. What’s more, being the know-it-all child of an aerospace engineer and a nurse anesthetist placed me perpetually on her bad side. However, a casual comment about the frog dissection we’d likely do in high school brought my shenanigans to an abrupt halt, prompting a series of questions about how one would go about doing such a thing. Looking back, I’m sure she assumed I was either a budding serial killer or thought I was just trying to divert her from the lesson, because she ended her answer with something along the lines of “but we don’t have anything to dissect, so it’s pointless to discuss.” I mentioned the frog and that I’d bring it in tomorrow; she noncommittally said that would be fine.
The next day I sacrificed my frog in his evermore cloudy vial and waited. And waited. And waited. I thought she’d forgotten so I reminded her; she told me she’d not forgotten and would I please sit down and be quiet. I slunk into my chair and brooded over adults and their conflicting messages about science and trying to better oneself. Whatever that meant.
One day shortly after that as classes were changing, Mrs. Kelly pulled me aside. She said that if I was still interested, we could dissect the frog during recess. I asked her if I could bring a few friends who were also interested; she agreed. I still remember that recess as one of the best times of my young academic life—right next to the time in kindergarten when a classmate’s neurosurgeon father came to show and tell with a brain in a bucket. Mrs. Kelly took her time, pointing out each thing as she encountered it, and when we ran out of time at recess, she said we could come back in the following day to finish it up. The next day I was back, but with fewer friends. We finished up that frog, and while my feelings about her were no softer than they were before, I had a bit of respect for the old gal. I think she had some for me as well, and encouraged me to follow my dream to become a veterinarian.
It wasn’t until recently that I considered what happened next and, for the very first time, saw it for what it was.
A few months later, Mrs. Kelly asked me if I’d be interested in coming in that very day to dissect a pig heart. The following year it was lungs, followed by a kidney. In eighth grade it was eyeballs, a pancreas, and some intestines. I feel a little sheepish for not seeing it at the time, but she was encouraging me in ways that my parents didn’t have time for and fostering a life-long fascination with the sciences. She might not have been the smartest teacher I ever had, but she was definitely one of the best because she took the lesson outside of the classroom in a way that engaged my special interests. I continued to repay her at the time with the casual cruelty so popular with the young, but if I saw her now I’d definitely give her a big hug for giving me such a wonderful gift.
Posted on August 4th, 2010 by Jen Lockard
As a person of a certain age, I can remember when sport wasn’t so casual in its character building agenda. When I was in sixth grade, my relay team was chosen to represent our school in the interdiocesan races. I wasn’t a strong runner, but at five inches taller than every other kid in my school, the PE teacher hoped my stride would hold the lead my ridiculously fast teammates obtained in the first three lengths. Her hopes were dashed when I not only lost our two-length lead, I finished the race dead last. To make matters even more colorful, the crowd—students and parents alike—actually booed me. There was no everybody wins trophy, no consolation trip to the local pizza joint, and my mother’s response to my burning lungs (and shame) was, “Well, you’ll try harder next time.”
Posted on May 12th, 2010 by Jen Lockard
I became a larcenist sometime during my second year. While I don’t remember what success tasted like at the time, I clearly recall planning the job and caching the booty for later retrieval. It was likely the adrenaline rush of doing something so wrong for a payoff that was so right which burned those memories into my brain, and I relish them to this day like a veritable criminal…