“I just want to sharpen my pencil…”

pencil-sharpener

I’m wondering how many of you remember the item in the picture? Did you use this kind of pencil sharpener at school when you were little? Some will readily recognize the item, while others will simply not have a clue. But what you need to know is this little object had a lot to do with shaping me as a person. Here’s this week’s story…

As a child, I was very, very small; not “bigger than a minute.” In fact, I pretty much stayed that way until I reached young adulthood. In college, I would eat a Whopper hamburger each night and wash it down with a pint of half and half, just to break 100 pounds! I could hold the weight for only a few days, and then I would drop back down to under 100. And oh my, would it not be nice to have that “problem” now…

Each year, on the first day of school, the maintenance man would choose the shortest, smallest child and take a measurement as to where the pencil sharpeners for each room should be mounted. Each year, up until the fourth grade, I was that child! I would go up to that pencil sharpener, in front of the entire class, hold my little arms up as if I were sharpening a pencil, and they would take the measurement. After the first time, I caught on and realized that I was being singled out as the smallest child, and it would make me so upset. You see, to me, my height, or small frame, did not matter. I always thought that I was as big an anyone else, and that I could do anything that they could do. So it came as quite a shock that anyone considered me “little,” or “small.” In my head, it meant that I was “less” than the other children, that “less” was expected of me, or worse, that I “could not do” things as well.  I DID NOT LIKE THAT!! And you see, I had been taught, loved and supported by my family for those first five years of my life to believe that I could do anything….that I was no better or worse than anyone else, and no one was better or worse than me. I kept thinking, I will just show them…I worked hard to excel in everything!! No one was ever going to “out do” me! I even tried to eat more so that I could be bigger each year (not that it worked…). And so it began…all A’s…fastest runner on the playground…biggest, fastest talker (I’m sure all of you who know me are getting a real chuckle out of that one!)…best singer in the music shows…best actress in the school play…”must” win at games…most “popular” in school…it went on and on…Most of my school life was spent accepting “challenges,” and proving people wrong…all because of that dad-blasted pencil sharpener…

My senior Chemistry class was taught by the football coach, and my particular class was filled with the entire football team. There were only three of us ladies in the class. If we won the game on Friday night, we had a party in class on Monday. If we lost the game, we had a pop quiz. Early on, the coach began “picking on” me. For the first time ever, I failed a test…and received a big, old fat “F!” In front of the class, he held the test just out of my reach, giggled with delight, and told me that I was going to fail his class. I was humiliated!! I went home and all of those old “pencil sharpener” feelings bubbled up. It had been years since I had experienced anything like that! It made me angry, and the anger prompted action. I decided that I would never give the coach the satisfaction of failing me for chemistry! I decided that he would eat his words, and that I would prove him wrong. It was a very long year, with him pushing me and making fun of me in front of the class. I aced the class, and was exempt from even taking the final exam. I had come through once again, all because of that goofy pencil sharpener…

In today’s world, the coach would have been called a bully, and certainly, rightfully so! However, because of my experience as a child, with that pencil sharpener, I was equipped to face the challenges that were thrown at me. I know it probably sounds so silly, but most of us are “shaped” by “defining moments” in life, and our response to them. I could have let the “measuring” experience defeat me, but I just could not accept an image in my head, being smaller and “less” than anyone. It just would not compute!!

I don’t think that I could have ever been a parent. Actions, words, habits…you never know which “one little thing” is going to impact a child’s world negatively (or positively), and shape their future. The experience with the pencil sharpener could have defeated me, but my parents had already laid the foundation. They had already made me strong, no matter what my physical size might have been. I don’t think adults think hard enough about the effect they have on children’s lives. A spirit can be broken, or nurtured/cultivated, so easily. We need to think! How we face current challenges, disappointments, and failures is usually determined by how we were taught to face them when we were little. I’m going to continue to “prove them wrong” every time, and I intend to always be aware of my teaching “opportunities” with children and young adults. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

My Grandpa Was A REAL Cowboy!!

WOW!! We have had some kind of cold weather here in the South!! And NO, we are NOT used to it!! One inch of snow can totally shut down an entire city, so you can imagine how we have dealt with 6+ inches!! Lots of fun, but I am so ready for Spring. Hope all of you are staying warm!

Whenever I remember my Grandpa Selman, an immediate image comes into view…a tall, fit man in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots…and usually on a horse. We lived on the property with my grandparents for much of my early young life. You can imagine how this “man’s man” handled having three little girls under his feet all of the time. I’m sure he was glad to have our little rascal brother come along later on… Although he could come across a little gruff at times, he was just a big ole’ teddy bear that was so tender, gentle, patient, and loving with us. We loved him!!

He was bigger than life to me. I can remember him pulling up a rifle from the hip and taking the head off of a snake that was wound around a fence we were about to approach. He was so good a marksman, he didn’t even have to bring the rifle up to his shoulder and aim…he just shot from the hip. The Rifleman had nothing on him!! I would follow him around everywhere and he taught me quite a lot. He taught us how to care for animals, how to respect nature, how to build, how to lay brick, how to be obedient and respectful…the list goes on and on. On this one particular day he taught me how to stand up for myself.

Some of my cousins lived across the road from our house, and, of course, they would either come over to our house everyday, or we would go to theirs. As children will do, we usually ended up arguing and getting in a fight. I would usually back down and get the “worse for wear” when those “encounters” took place. In other words, my cousin would always win the “fight.” I had no idea that my grandpa had been observing a number of these altercations. On this occasion, after my cousin had gone home, my grandpa sat me on his lap, brushing my tears away. After I had stopped crying, he sat me up where I could look him straight in the eye. He explained to me that I should not back down each time, and let my cousin “run over” me. He went on to say that the next time my cousin came over, and I let him get the best of me, that he was going to give me a spanking if I did not stand up for myself. Now, I know some of you are already in an uproar that anyone would spank a child, but you have to know that my grandfather never, ever lifted a hand to me in his lifetime. I think it would have broken his heart if he had. He would have been the one who ended up crying. Course, being a child, I did not know that he would not follow through on that promise.

So the day began, and my cousin came over to play. And sure as the world, we got into a disagreement, and the shoving began. I was about to let him win, when I happened to see my grandpa standing behind a tree observing the entire incident. That’s all I needed!! I went after my cousin with everything that was in me, and I won that day! I looked over at Grandpa, and he grinned and winked at me. A funny thing happened after that incident…my cousin never picked a fight with me again. There seemed to be a mutual respect between us from that point on.

Now, this is a childhood story, and I certainly am not advocating that people should reconcile their differences by fighting each other. However, I learned a valuable lesson that day. If you allow someone to “run over” you once, they will continue to do so. Who will stand in your defense if you do not know how to do that for yourself? Respect yourself enough to defend who you are and what you believe in. Do it in a mature, communicative, non-violent manner. There’s nothing wrong with standing up for yourself…be strong! That’s what I try to do. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…