Even forty years later, I’m still traumatized by memories of Mrs. Gladwill.
Normally, I’d feel really guilty calling someone out by name but 1) I’m not the only who has scars inflicted by Mrs. Gladwill and, 2) She’s dead. She died in 2008 at the age of 94. I know this because my mother sent me a link to her obituary. My mother, who is a very wise woman, knew I needed closure.
There’s no need to go into all the details of why first grade was difficult. There are just too many of those details, such as:
Watching fellow students have their ears twisted;
Sitting in class in fear of having “accidents” because, instead of giving permission to use the bathroom, Mrs. Gladwill gave lectures about “not planning accordingly”;
Having my desk put in the corner of the room so others couldn’t cheat from my papers.
But my worst memory, by far, is Valentine’s Day.
Back in the early 1970’s, before there were strict dietary guidelines in schools, Valentine’s Day parties were one of the celebrated days of the school year. Preparation began well before the actual day. By the beginning of February, letters were sent home with both the names of classmates and a list of snacks, such as cookies, cupcakes and candy, that parents were asked to contribute. We used that list of names to painstakingly address a card for every single classmate – whether we liked the person or not. But we did pick out “the best” cards and candy (every card had to have candy) for our friends.
In school, we decorated mailboxes (shoeboxes covered with construction paper) in which our Valentine’s Day cards were to be delivered. The actual celebration was to be a festival of sugar and giggles.
The day before the big Valentine’s Day party, I could no longer hide the fact I couldn’t swallow. I’d begun to worry the day before at school when eating lunch was a painful challenge. At breakfast, while I was trying to somehow swallow a spoonful of Cheerios, my mother took one look at me, told me I looked like a chipmunk and declared I had the mumps.
I wasn’t just devastated. I was horrified.
Mrs. Gladwill simply did not tolerate illness. Every day, after she took attendance, she would take a piece of chalk and scrawl the names of the absent on the blackboard. In the eyes of first graders, having your name on the blackboard was equivalent to the adult version of being forced to wear a scarlet letter. Walking into the classroom and seeing your name on the blackboard was the ultimate walk of shame.
Being diagnosed with mumps was not only a sentence to take that walk of shame, but it also meant I was going to miss the Valentine’s Day party. In the eyes of a six-year-old, life couldn’t have been much worse.
That Valentine’s Day was probably one of the longest days of my life as I spent every minute imagining all I was missing. Finally, sometime after 3:00, I heard the squeal of the school bus’ brakes as it stopped in front of my house. When my brother came into the house, he didn’t call me chipmunk or tease me for missing all the festivities. Instead, he handed me the shoebox I had so painstakingly decorated only a few days earlier. But now, it was full of Valentine’s and candy. I spent hours reading and treasuring all of the cards, even the ones I knew weren’t heartfelt.
A few days later when I returned to class, my name was one of many written in dark chalk on the blackboard. Apparently, some nameless person (me?) had come to school with the mumps and shared the virus with everyone else.
Eventually, attendance went back up and our class returned to the same, miserable status quo. But I didn’t. That Valentine’s Day taught me a lot about love:
1. Love is about the memories we treasure because, even though they sometimes grow out of difficult situations, they remind us of people and challenges we’ve overcome.
2.Love is about finding a song that will mean something to you at any age. For me, the Rolling Stones got it exactly right. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you just might find, you get what you need.”
3. Love is about having a family whose support will always make the worst day a little bit brighter.
4. Love is learning to treasure all the small gifts, even ones from people who may not realize that they were giving anything of importance.
5. Love is about taking care yourself, even when others will try to make you feel as though their needs should come first.
Most of all, I learned that Valentine’s Day is much more complicated than cards, or candy or having just one special person in your life. It’s about recognizing and acknowledge everything that makes you happy.
And, over the past 40 years, I’ve been immensely blessed with people, memories and circumstances that make me happy.
Which, is why, even though I may not entirely succumb to the sappiness of Valentine’s Day, I certainly embrace the sentiments, and the lessons, it’s taught me.
Being a very practical person, I’m extremely fortunate to have a pragmatic daughter. Unlike many of her peers, she’s shown little concern about romance and relationships. Other than incessantly listening to Taylor Swift songs and keeping tabs on Taylor’s love life, she just doesn’t seem to care.
And while I hope that doesn’t change, I also know that, eventually, it will.
I can’t imagine that she’ll ever be the type of person who feels incomplete without a significant other, but I do know that she will start dating at some point.
And that also means she’ll have her heart broken.
But before that happens, I feel obligated to share ten lessons I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) about love:
1. You can’t truly love someone else unless you love who you are. And who you are is an imperfect person who makes mistakes, gets mad and will sometimes say and do very stupid things. Love yourself anyone. How you handle your mistakes and flaws is more important than trying to hide them.
2. Love is only genuine when you are being true to yourself. Don’t pretend to enjoy something when you don’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compromise. You should. Love requires a great deal of compromise. But compromise doesn’t mean you should pretend to be someone you’re not. If you do, you’ll wind up being miserable.
3. Love isn’t a competition, and you can’t make someone love you. You will always be loved for being the unique person you are and not because you are prettier, smarter, funnier, sexier or nicer than someone else. Therefore, you should never worry about what others are doing to attract attention or affection. Being yourself is enough.
4. You don’t fall in love. That indescribable feeling of “falling in love'” is usually a combination of infatuation and physical attraction. Love is something that is grounded in mutual respect, grows slowly and doesn’t necessarily bloom as much as it thrives.
5. Love isn’t about romance. It’s about experiencing someone at their very worst and realizing that walking away would still be more devastating than dealing with a tough situation.
6. Love is about having passion in your life – but not necessarily in the way you might think. Never invest so much of yourself in a relationship that you don’t have time for everything else you love. Be passionate about a hobby. Be passionate about a cause. Be passionate about your family and friends. And also be passionate about your love.
7. True love means you aren’t worried about what other people think about your relationship. If you spend time worrying about what others are thinking or saying, you likely have concerns yourself. If you’re confident about your relationship and the integrity of your significant other, you won’t care what others say. Always stay in tune with your inner voice and be honest with yourself.
8. Love means saying you’re sorry. Unlike the quote “love means never having to say you’re sorry” made popular in the 1970’s movie “Love Story,” love means that you’re willing to let go of your ego. Admit when you are wrong or when you’ve said or done something hurtful. And when you are in a relationship, you will say and do hurtful things at times.
9. Don’t expect love to always feel exciting and new. Just like life, love can sometimes be dull and boring and predictable. Relationships are like roller coasters: sometimes they can be difficult and sometimes they can be easy and fun. But being able to work together during the uphill battles is what makes the downhill ride so enjoyable.
10. People do change, and that can affect your relationship. Our experiences shape who we become. The person who you fell in love with several years ago will probably be different from the person you know today. And you will be different too. Many times, you can join hands while you grow. Sometimes, you drop your hands and grow apart. Often, the decision is yours, but sometimes it isn’t.
As I share these lessons with my daughter, I realize that I could add so many more. But I figure one for every year of her life is enough for now. Besides, she often doesn’t listen to me anyway. Despite that, I do want her to hear one message loud and clear: even though she will ALWAYS have her mother’s heart, I hope she is also able to follow her own.
I never grew up with really warm and fuzzy feelings for my grandfather. The strained relationship was more than just a matter of not clicking. It was more an issue of two head strong people who were so sure they were in the right, the other person had to be wrong.
When I first began complaining about him to my mother, she tried to convince me he had a lot of great qualities. And, if I look at the matter objectively, I can see that he did. As a child growing up in Oregon, he and my grandmother made sure that, even in their seventies, they travelled from Michigan to visit us twice a year. No matter what. Even after my uncle died in a plane crash, they still made the trip via air at times, which I now realize was extremely hard on them.
And when it came to matters of giving gifts of money or material possessions, he went beyond the call of duty to be fair.
But when it came to matters of who he respected and held in high regards, I never measured up. Not because I wasn’t smart or determined. I was both. What I didn’t have was the ability to keep my mouth shut, a natural respect for my elders or, most importantly, a Y chromosome. And nothing was ever going to change that. And therefore, nothing was going to change about my relationship with him. Or so I thought.
But time and perspective have a way of altering our views. Admittedly, when my grandfather died of Alzheimer’s in 1998, my relationship with him hadn’t changed. But now in my mid-forties, I’ve bumped along the path of life long enough to accept some of the hard lessons it teaches.
And one of the toughest for me was recognizing how much I am like my grandfather.
Granted, I think I could teach him a thing or two about tolerance and about not taking life too seriously, but other than that? I’m definitely his granddaughter. No doubt about it. I’m no scientist, but I have no question that the helix of DNA he passed on to me carried the genes for being outspoken, strong-willed, and impatient. That same blue print is also completely missing the genes for being calm, detached and deferential.
I may not care about the same things he cared about, but I don’t think that matters. At least not to me. Granted, my conservative grandfather is probably rolling over in his grave at some of my beliefs and loyalties, but that’s all right. What’s shaped my passions and values isn’t part of the DNA. I get those from my life experiences and the choices I’ve made.
But in remembering my grandfather, I realize there was one passion we shared. And, even though there may be no scientific proof, I’m pretty sure it is an inherited trait. I’m positive that there is a gene for undying love and compassion for animals, particularly dogs.
I know my rigid, self-controlled grandfather was beholden to the pull of the “dog gene.” His absolute adoration of dogs above people is only matched by my own. When my children or husband comment about how I love dogs more than I love them, I smile. I know I should be denying it, but instead, I think of my grandfather: a man who would fly or even drive a couple thousand miles to visit his daughter and grandchildren. Or so everyone else thought.
But even as a young girl, I knew differently. When he and my grandmother would arrive at our house, it wasn’t me or my brother that would make his face light up. It was the sight of our lab/German Short hair mix, Charlie Brown, that would make his eyes twinkle and his usually stern mouth break into a smile. And, if you look back through family photo albums, I think there are more pictures of grandfather with Charlie Brown than there with any of the rest of us.
I never saw my grandfather get enthusiastic about much, but he was always enthusiastic about animals. And even though a lot of things about my grandfather bothered me,that never did. And now I know why.
Because I was exactly like him. I still am. And, now, I appreciate all the traits he passed on to me.
Now, on this Valentine’s Day when we are supposed to let those we love know, I don’t have the opportunity to tell my grandfather what I’ve learned. That I loved his passion for animals, and, after all these years, I know I also loved him for that passion… not as much as I love my dog, but I still loved him.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Grandpa.