a story from Gail
My blond braided pigtails were perfect. The hairclips on the ends matched my dress of purple and blue plaid. A large sash tied into a bow in the back and the petticoat gave a swish to the skirt as I walked. It was the first day of first grade. All little girls wore dresses in those days. My dress, however, was home sewn by my mother, one of the finest seamstresses around She created a complete wardrobe for me, making every attempt to flatter my frail, skinny frame. In spite of my fine clothes I was terribly self-conscious about my thin-ness. In addition to that I had constant “kidney problems,” as they were called, which caused an urgent need and sometimes uncontrollable urge to go.
The other little girls only saw the perfect braids and pretty clothes. So it was no wonder at recess that one of them flipped my skirt up over my head as I leaned over the water fountain. Embarrassed, my reaction was swift. I grabbed her hand, turned, put it into my mouth and – chomp. I bit her.
I was taken back into the classroom alone. What must my mother have thought when she was informed?
At home I quickly learned that I would be visiting the “skirt flipper” at her house to make my apology.
Guilt was a new experience. Not that I hadn’t been guilty before. This was just the first time I was aware of it.
It hit me as we drove up to her house that this little girls’ mother probably didn’t make her nice clothes. There was no driveway, no garage. We parked on the street. The house was a duplex of clapboard, paint peeling around the screen door. No sidewalk, no shrubs, but plenty of weeds. Everything screamed, “We are poor!” Even as a six-year-old I heard it.
Oh, how I wished I hadn’t over reacted. What was I thinking? Biting? I didn’t ever bite anyone. The “Skirt Flipper” probably didn’t realize the jealousy that prompted her actions. She couldn’t possibly imagine my feelings of low self-worth which were well hidden under my pretty clothes.
The seed of being unworthy is planted at a young age. Our culture reinforces it at every turn. We attempt to cover it in varied ways-fashionable clothes, cars, jewelry, careers, education.
In her infinite wisdom, Mother handled the scene graciously.
“I am sorry,” I said to the child. I meant it. I was sorry I had bitten her. I was sorrier that I had lost control of myself.
“It’s okay.” No extended visit. We left.
How awkward. No words were spoken on the way home. None were needed. Humility is a hard lesson learned. Mother taught by example and I loved her for it. My heart grew tender that afternoon.
I’ve never bitten a soul since.