I don’t really remember the details of my first election. I was in second grade and had the most beautiful teacher in the world. She had long brown hair which she wore in a side, super high, ponytail…draping down to her shoulders. She wore blue eyeshadow, pink glazed metallic lip gloss, and thick pink-toned foundation. Linda Ronstadt meets Barbie. I loved her. I was her helper, her pet, she understood my strengths (running a classroom while she was out of the room) and weaknesses (reading aloud and math problems involving trains with lots of passengers getting on and off). I was elected to be president of the class, because of course I was…who needs an education when you can be president?
Way back when, before parents lobbied for the “good” teachers, we received class assignments on the first day of school. Sitting in the institutional tan and green auditorium, raising and lowering our squeaking seats, we waited. Finally hearing our name called for the walk of dread or glee depending on which class you were joining up front. I am not sure if I am making this up, I only remember it happening once. Memories are odd. Anyway, third grade was going to be spectacular, I had my favorite teacher…again. The same teacher, same thick makeup covering the scars from her teenage skin issues, the same beautiful mane. Swoon.
Once again, and I have no idea how, I was nominated to run for president of my 3rd grade class. Then two days into the election period…I was told I had to drop out. My teacher explained that I had already been president last year and someone else deserved a chance. I trusted the rules, I trusted my favorite teacher, all good.
That afternoon, over a glass of milk and some Ritz crackers, mom and I discussed the day…and that was where I met a different version of my mother. She was so calm on the outside but I could feel the fury. Every word so deliberate. “Kitkat, tell me again, exactly what she said, exactly.” I repeated the rules. “Kitkat, did she tell you that today or when you were nominated?” I told her it happened that day, right before lunch. Mom had been listening so intently, and taking such large drags on her cigarette that when she finally released the smoke through her nose…it went on, and on, and on. She kissed my forehead and started dialing her co-PTA president on the rotary phone…back in those days, dialing could take a really long time and be very very loud…the way one dialed was a clear window to their current emotion. My mom was beyond upset. It seems that the PTA board had put the principal on notice for some pretty bad stuff that very morning…and having his ego bruised by a bunch of women, he told my favorite teacher, the woman I put on a pedestal…who also happened to be his niece…that I could not be president. He took out his frustrations on a little girl.
I learned some big lessons that week. People will do what they need to do to get what they want, no matter how wrong it is. Recipients of nepotism will do what they need to do to keep their jobs, no matter who they hurt. People do not care about rules, or facts, or doing the right thing, they protect themselves at all costs. Elementary school principals who park their Porsche on what could be a play area for kids probably have their priorities mixed up. Powerful men exposed by a bunch of women can get really really mean…they also can get taken out. Parents forget their kids have ears when they are in crisis mode. And most of all, my mom was a badass and would call out every single one of these people and point out how very ashamed they should be.
I did not get to be president of the class that year and that was just fine. It is dangerous to always get what you want and the truth is, it was nicer to let someone else shine. At the end of the year I was selected to perform a dance routine…on a table in front of the stage…at a special school assembly, with all the other kids in the grade on the stage behind me. My teacher knew I would learn the routine and follow the costuming instructions. We danced to The World is Black, The World Is White by Three Dog Night. I wore my black dance leotard and white short shorts, white knee-high socks and Mary Janes…with black and white yarn bows in my shoulder length pigtails. The other kids wore blue lace dresses, plaid green and black Christmas skirts, tweed gray rompers…anything but the black and white they were supposed to be wearing…they looked really pretty but were SO missing the point of the song.
My favorite teacher stole my chance at the election, she bowed down to her bully uncle, she hurt me to the core…but she apologized in her own way…giving me center stage. I accepted her apology by showing up in black and white from head to toe…leading the grade in our politically correct dance…and making her look good.
Being gracious is so underrated. Let’s all be gracious, that way everyone wins.