Twelve times in twelve years. And not just any twelve years: my first twelve years of life. That’s how often our family moved.
For those of you who like to keep score of these types of things, let me see if I can name them. I don’t really do this very often as the twelve-in-twelve usually just stops the conversation in its tracks. Spokane (Washington), San Gabriel (California), Mishawaka, Lake of the Woods, Plymouth, South Bend (Indiana), Harker’s Island (North Carolina), Montrose (Colorado), Ridgecrest (California), Hillsboro, The Dalles, and Central Point (Oregon). That takes me up to age thirteen where we actually stayed until I graduated. Then it was to Provo (Utah), Lake Oswego (Oregon), Littleton (Colorado), and on to Spain, etc., etc., etc.
Inevitably, this prompts the question, “Was your father in the military?” Nay, not so. He promoted our country in a slightly different way. Dad worked with a power-line company. If you live near any of the cities listed above, you may thank him for the electricity that reaches your home. Just think, “Christmas lights,” and that’s my dad. When the company finished a job, they’d move us to the next location.
And the next question that follows at this point in the conversation is usually, “Wasn’t that hard?” My honest reply is, “I never knew any other way.” To me, this was normal having to come in to a new class in the middle of a school year and catch up to whatever curriculum might have been going on at the time. Is it any wonder that my sisters and I all became very fast studies?
Usually, the classroom was a breeze. I always won the teachers’ hearts with my attentiveness and courtesy. (It also helped that I usually ended up in the “gifted” programs.) But the real kicker, was the playground. The playground is an entirely different dynamic. Der iz no love on zi playground. Either you rise to the occasion or get the snot beaten outta you.
So, to prevent ongoing episodes of consumptive pain both emotionally and physically tantamount to daily whippings in the public square, I rose. I had a method which I developed early on. I don’t remember exactly how early because I remember “la vie miserable” in Kindergarten without the method. Then I remember when I discovered how to do it: How much easier my life became in first grade! Then second! And on, and on.
So kids, I’m not saying this is fool-proof; or that it’ll change your life; or that it’s even the best way for YOU. I’m just saying that it worked for me… like 10 times out of 10 times until I hit puberty like a big brick wall. But that’s another story.
Step 1: Find, acknowledge and use your strengths to your advantage. Everyone has their own unique set of strengths. If you are young, you probably haven’t even discovered most of yours yet. But you know what you LIKE to do, and you know what you’re GOOD at doing. So, those are your strengths.
Have a heart to heart conversation with yourself and give your strengths defining names that you recognize as truth. For me, I have always been physically strong, fast and agile: a fast-twitch, precision athlete. (At least, it’s my nature to be so.) Even though I was small, that didn’t matter. It also didn’t matter that most of the boys were bigger and rougher than I. Notice I said, “rougher,” not “tougher.” Because frankly, by the age of seven, there wasn’t one playground bully who dared mess with me. I didn’t go looking for trouble. But I didn’t let trouble run me over, either. To be perfectly frank, I prayed every morning for a trouble-free day. And God heard me most mornings.
Step 2: Observe closely. When walking into any new situation, it’s in my nature to hang back a bit and just observe. As a matter of fact, when people ask, “What super-power would you choose to have?” (As if it were an option.) I think I would love to have the power of invisibility. The ideal for me in any new situation would be to just hunker in a corner—completely unnoticed—and to merely observe the goings-on. You can learn SO much from watching and listening, and not participating. The time for participation will come soon enough. (Usually too soon for my tastes.) But taking the time to observe first offers wondrous benefits later on when entering the fray of participation.
Step 3: Choose. From your observations, choose one activity that looks the most interesting, challenging and fun to learn. It’s remarkable, I think, that every new school I attended had some popular playground game that was wholly unique to that school, alone. At one school, it was “wall-ball.” At another, “kick-ball.” One school had this bizarre metal contraption—a big pole stuck in the ground with chains hanging from it—which allowed you to run around, holding onto the chain. If you got up enough speed with the five or six other kids who were on it, you’d all go air-born for several seconds before dropping down to the ground again, kicking up marble-sized gravel everywhere. I LOVED that thing! —Spent most of my recesses on it while at that school in cold-n-snowy Colorado. It’s most likely not there anymore because some poor kid probably dismembered himself on it and the parents complained. Life was always so much more fun without seatbelts and child-proof caps.
Step 4: Try, try, try, and try again. When you’ve made your choice about the playground activity you want to become a part of, know that there will ALWAYS be a learning curve. At first, you will fail and look stupid. It’s OK. Get back up, spit on your bleeding knee, and get back in line to do it again. Your knee will not go gangrene. You will not die of embarrassment—believe me, if this were possible, I would be dead. And you will not give up the fight. Keep at it.
Step 5: Stick with it. Remember those cool kids who leered at you during those first days like you were a piece of gum stuck to their shoe? Well, guess what? It’s been a few weeks now and they’re having trouble beating you in this tournament. Why? Because you have been practicing this activity the length of every recesses—rain or shine—for the past three weeks, that’s why! “Who yo’ daddy now,” you may ask?
As often as we moved and in every new school, I became the “playground champion” of whichever game I chose to learn. With this status came also a “social status” that I can’t explain. I don’t know why this worked, but it did.
That is, until junior high school. But that’s another story entirely.