Thursday, 12 November 2015

Trust Me, I'd Rather Be Knitting!

There was this kid in my elementary school who was a total, well, loser. 

Before any anti-bullying crew jumps with all its might to crucify me, let me tell you that I too, today - the mother, the volunteer and myself a member of a ferocious anti-bullying crew - wouldn't have called him that. But in the cruel world of growing up in Serbia in the early 80’s, when my math teacher caught me chewing gum in grade 5 and for punishment made me spit it into her hand (!?) only for her to solidly embed the pink wad into my long hair so close to my skull that a big chunk needed to be cut off, yeah, that kid was a sorry loser. He was mean and feisty, deliberately insulting the other kids yet with nothing to show for it.  He was by far the shortest in our class, tragically non-athletic and also a really poor student. Where is he now? Just wait!

I don't recall the exact chain events that led to it, but one day my favourite teacher Madame C - who had taught us French for the three previous years - the only young and really cool teacher I ever had (she took my BFF and me to a Classics Nouveau concert when their tour went through Belgrade in 1982!!!) mocked the boy. In front of the entire class. To the hilarious roar and approval of all the 7th graders. I remembered that he actually 'deserved' it, but my stomach churned and my mind screamed at the injustice of it. 

Without thinking, I shot up. I asked the teacher why she had taunted him. I told her it was unfair: she was the adult; he was a child. She was the teacher; he was the student. 

If she was surprised at all by the outburst of a red-faced student activist, this teacher didn't show it. She nonchalantly shrugged and forced a short laugh: "Ha! All right - seems like we have a volunteer!" with menacingly careful enunciation.  "As of today, you will share a desk with him!"  N o b o d y  wanted to share a desk with him. I mean - nobody! My BFF looked at me in disbelief as my shaky hands picked up my belongings to prepare for the dreaded move away from our fun table. 

The aftermath? My mom came home after a subsequent parent-teacher meeting and told me in chosen words: "Kid - you're screwed! You will have to study for this class like no other - your only chance of survival is if your French mark is 100%!" And it was. As for the boy - I wish I could say that my unexpected kindness changed his ways and made him a more social and pleasant being, but that didn't happen. He continued to be a total jerk to everyone around him - especially me - just to make sure I didn't think he was now obligated to treat me any better than the others. Today he is a judge at the highest court in Belgrade. Dial 1-800-SIGMUND!

Throughout my life, despite throwing myself into the study of botanics and chemistry and other noble things, I frequently ended up being that voice. 

If someone's pushing people and cutting the line, you'll hear me. A mother is oblivious to her child being aggressive in the playground, I speak up. A hit and run of a homeless person? I am the one who manages to snap a photo of the license plate, noting the time, day, make and model. My testifying got the poor woman a year of physiotherapy and massage treatments and a luxurious doggy day care for her only companion. If I witness the injustice, no matter how tough or tricky the circumstances are, I will say something. After all, my mother's entire career has been as a successful lawyer who often represented women pro bono. If not by proximity, I would have had to get some of her justice-league gene through breast milk! 

Please don't get me wrong. I do not plan, plot nor enjoy being the designated Joan of Arc. I am fully aware that in centuries past women like me have been burned at the stake. Even today, elsewhere in the world women’s voices are silenced in the worst ways possible. Trust me, I'd rather be knitting! But for some reason, I have often found myself in situations where saying nothing would have made me an accessory and an accomplice. That simply can not happen. Not to me. 

And that's not all. Somehow, it seems that the whole world conspires to nudge me into this braver version of myself. The non-fiction addict that I am, the right books and articles drop into my lap. And then the right people to discuss those ideas with. 

From Malala Yousafzai  to Cheryl Sandberg and numerous life and business coaches, trailblazers and she-heroes in between, the message has been sinking in at every turn and every milestone. It certainly shows up at every obstacle. The Universe has made sure I hear it. It also made sure I will lose sleep should I attempt to neglect it.

The more popular choice, the safer choice, the boring choice, the keep-your-gaze-down choice, the "this-too-shall-pass" choice, the "It's a Man's World" choice - these have simply never been an option for me. When nagging starts, I am put into places and situations that make it all but impossible to retreat. I am compelled to make sure my voice is heard. Could I simply be born this way?

What follows also has a pattern. At the exit of the whirlwind I feel elated and glorious yet utterly exhausted. I get thanked and revered and celebrated. I also get silently hated and scoffed at and plotted against - not everybody will be a fan of each outcome. Before the courage is mustered to go deep and face the truth it is convenient to find someone to blame. How about the one with the loudest mouth? Somehow since my grade 7 incident, that loudest mouth has often been, well, mine. 

Do you believe in the infinite wisdom of the Internet? As it happens - I now do! In the past little while, I've randomly seen/received all of the quotes with which I have adorned this blog post. I call them Quotes Internet Wants Me To See #QIWMTS

Just as I was getting ready to press this 'publish' button, the one displayed at the end showed up. All right Universe - challenge accepted! Let's learn how to do this! 


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