I was joking around this week about how children take certain things SO. SERIOUSLY. When you’re a kid, little lessons and tidbits of information stick in your brain and take on disproportionate meaning. You spend hours of your life agonizing over hypothetical scenarios. One small scene in a book or movie sears itself into your memory and you become convinced, CONVINCED that catastrophe is right around the corner. And then you grow up and wonder why the heck anyone cared. So, in no particular order:
THINGS THAT SEEMED WAY MORE IMPORTANT IN MY YOUTH THAN THEY HAVE TURNED OUT TO BE
“Stop, drop, and roll!” How many times have you caught on fire in your life? I’m still riding comfortable at zero. And yet all through elementary school we were drilled the three steps to survive the day we all inevitably burst into flames. And it was inevitable. Step too close to a candle, a Bunsen burner, a gas stovetop, and you were done for. If you panicked and forgot those steps? Forget it, man. You’re dead.
“Duck and cover” was similarly blasted at us during semi-annual earthquake drills. I’m not sure how our flimsy particle-board school desks were supposed to save us from collapsing infrastructure, but we dared not run outdoors for fear that a chasm would open in the earth and swallow us up.
Incredibly specific first aid
Science classes were the major culprit for this. In science class I learned that at any moment I might splash chemicals in my face and require 15 seconds at the eye washing station, or I might eat something out of a test tube and be required to vomit it back up. A thermometer could burst and give me mercury poisoning. You never know!
Every loose dog had rabies. Every hole in the ground held a deadly snake or spider and only the correct antivenom could save you. If you broke your arm you could use two boards and a long cloth and make a sling. Where were the adults in all these scenarios? I don’t know, but I was ready to survive on my own Lord of the Flies -style.
Oh, and of course everyone had to know the proper way to tape a cup onto your face just in case one of your fellow students shoved a pencil in your eye. Pro tip: never take out the pencil!!
I have never in my life encountered quicksand, and I don’t anticipate it happening in the future. But according to the books and television programs of my youth, quicksand could strike ANYWHERE, ANYTIME. And everybody knew that if you struggled or tried to dig yourself out? Well guess what, buster, you’re sinking even faster. Your only hope would be some really smart guide dog throwing you a rope.
Your favorite color.1 Your favorite animal.2 I don’t care, your favorite anything. At some point every school year you were going to fill out a little quiz, or put together answers for a show-and-tell or classroom ice-breaker activity. We all agonized over getting the answers just right, and when you were getting to know a new person the string of questions spilled forth like a demon had taken hold of your tongue: What’s your favorite movie?3 What’s your favorite book?4 What’s your favorite holiday?5 What’s your favorite food??6
The question of favorite music held me in a particularly fraught, existential despair. I just could not decide what my favorite song was, and just when I thought I had it, my taste would change! In a fourth grade music class we were asked to bring in our favorite song to share, and after immensely overthinking the matter, I showed up with my Best of Harry Belafonte cassette tape, queued up to “Day-O.” As we went around the classroom playing pop song after pop song, I realized my Caribbean-influenced calypso music did not fit in, and my skin crawled with embarrassment. Had nobody seen my favorite movie, Beetlejuice??
That was clearly a panic choice because if I had been honest it would have been something by Madonna. My music crisis reared its head again in high school when we were instructed to do a presentation analyzing song lyrics. This time I stuck to my true love and went with an Aerosmith song–but at the last minute I panicked again and picked one sung by Joe Perry. Oy.
It was absolutely essential to self-classify in every respect. There could be no hesitance about any aspect of your appearance or identity (which, joking aside, could be a true identity crisis when you didn’t fit into socially acceptable binaries). Even the most mundane of personal features had to be measured and cataloged.
I’m 5 foot 4 inches tall! My eyes aren’t quite green or brown, they’re hazel! I’m half Italian, one quarter Polish, one eighth English, and one eighth Irish!7 I am nearly thirty and one quarter years old! I’m a Sagittarius and most of it applies except for several small aspects that I will describe to you in detail!
To be honest this little bit of childhood obsession never quite wears off, does it? Our classification priorities shift and our understanding of the potential categories gets a little more nuanced. (Unless you are trapped in a perpetual adolescence and never engage in self-reflection, but your call, bro!!)
That’s why I can confidently declare that I am an ENTJ personality on the Myers-Brigg scale. I’m an archivist (it is different than being a librarian AND I WILL TELL YOU HOW SO). I’m a cat person and I look best in Winter colors.
Oh, and I definitely would have been placed in Ravenclaw.
4 Too many to choose!
6 Macaroni and cheese
7 Translation: I’m a white girl who makes her own pasta sauce.