Today’s writing prompt comes from The One Minute Writer: Write about your school recess as a child. Well, it just so happens that I have a famous recess story, and by “famous” I mean “I’ve told it so many times that I should have the syndication rights revoked.” This story is my offering into conversations where people try to one-up each other on the worst things they did as kids. There are always worse stories than mine, but my story shows an early rebellious streak against the forced structure of my life.
I wasn’t a bad kid. I was a weird kid, an angry kid, an introspective kid, and a creative kid. In fact, in school I was well behaved and studious. I was on the honor roll and got straight A’s, and I was also very quiet. When you’re a quiet kid who, for the most part, follows the rules and doesn’t stress the teachers out, you fall into an “I don’t have to worry about this one” category and teachers don’t pay you much attention. They project onto you their ideas of what a “good kid” is, and they move on. Most people do this when someone they meet doesn’t volunteer information about themselves; they fill in the blanks with their own truths so that the person makes sense to them. The projections can work for a while and everything makes poetic sense, but eventually I will do something so far outside someone’s realm of experience that they will be visibly frustrated at having to completely redefine me. Just like that time in third grade when I began committing felonies.
For the most part my elementary school recesses were pretty unremarkable. We played tag, we played four square, we jumped off of seesaws while our counterweight was still in the air, kid stuff. There was even that one day that kid brought his spelunking gear and demonstrated his skills along the side of the twisty slide. At some point in third grade my best friend and I decided to divide the week of post-lunch recesses into “nice days” and “naughty days.” There were only two “naughty” days per week because, statistically speaking, we were mostly good kids. Even at eight years old I had some anger issues, and this schedule seemed to be a structured way of acting out. On naughty days we would do things like knock on classroom windows, moon them and run away, kill slugs with salt packets, or stand in front of the locker where the kickballs were and argue with our peers that they could not use them. On “nice” days we would do things like kiss the recess monitor’s ass, play like normal kids, or give back some of the things we had stolen from other kids.
Oh, did I forget to mention that most “naughty” days involved stealing food from our classmate’s lunchboxes? At our private Christian school, there were two stone ledges where the kids deposited their lunchboxes during recess. No one guarded these ledges because they didn’t see a need. It was a Christian school after all, and we were just a bunch of eight year olds with moral compass blueprints bulldozed into our impressionable brains around every corner. Even so, my friend and I helped ourselves to the contents of the unguarded lunchboxes without a second thought. We couldn’t believe the treasures we could find inside rich private school kids’ lunchboxes. These brand-name, factory wrapped treats were better than anything we had access to. It all looked especially shiny to me compared to the carefully counted carbohydrates and bland protein grams of my diabetic diet. We ate well and way outside of my meal plans for those four or five weeks before they caught us.
I think this activity appealed to me because I felt like the world owed me big time. Not only were most of my peers’ families fairly wealthy and lived more comfortably than I ever will, but they got to eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. None of them had to count food exchanges or stick their fingers til they bled and inject themselves with needles multiple times a day. These other kids didn’t know how good they had it, so they could stand to spare a package of Gobstoppers or some brand name flavored tortilla chips. My eight year old logic was impeccable, though I don’t think my message really came across like I hoped.
We had been caught stealing (insert Jane’s Addiction song here) and we got sent to the principal’s office. Going to the principal’s office in a private Christian school is a surreal experience. You expect yelling, disappointment, detention, but instead there is so much mercy, and compassion. The principal told us that we were thieves, and stealing was wrong. I remember feeling shame, because a.) I was not actually a sociopath in the making, and b.) it had never occurred to me that I was doing anything wrong at the time. I felt like I was making things right in my world. A sort of Robin Hood for lower-middle class juvenile diabetics, stealing from the pancreatically functional and giving to myself! I guess stealing is wrong, and they were right to punished our asses, but my pancreas Karma was still lopsided. I accepted the murder with kindness from the principle and the punishment from my parents, and I sat through my third grade teacher’s disillusioned rant about how she “thought I was one of the good kids and now this! It’s like I don’t even know you anymore!” (You probably never did, lady.)
Sometimes I still like to feel like the world owes me. It feels a lot like self-pity, which is delicious in small doses. I have certainly found more productive and less self-destructive ways to deal with my anger as an adult. I’m proud to say that I have not stolen food from another human being in at least six years. A lot of adults say that they wish recess still existed for them, but I think that’s a bad idea. We are too smart now, and if we got it into our minds to have “nice” days and “naughty” days, we’d likely end up in prison.