Why Worry?

When it comes to the landscape of my mind, worries grow like weeds. Ridding my thoughts of fear, doubt, or anxiety does not come easily for me. I’ve always had a tendency to entertain worry. It was my first imaginary … Continue reading

My Christmas Memories

In conjuring up my earliest Christmas memories, I’m taken back to when there was just mom, dad, and me. We were living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. And I was still eager to point out that my birth had transformed my … Continue reading

The Wrong Idea

Have you ever realized you’ve had the wrong idea—be it about a person or a situation? I have. Especially as I was growing up, I kept learning that some of the logic I’d used to figure out the surrounding world was faulty. I was recently reminded of this when one of my Facebook friends shared the following exchange she’d had with her young daughter.

Child: “Mom, where was I when you were living with Grandma?”

Mother: “Well, you weren’t born yet.”

Child: (Frustration building) “No, Mom, when you were a little girl living with Grandma, where was I?”

Mother: “You were in my belly.”

Child: “No, your belly wasn’t big.”

Mother: “You’re right. Every little girl is born with tiny little eggs in her belly. When she gets married and wants to have a child, one of those eggs grows into a baby.”

Child: “Oh! I get it!! First I was an egg, then a chicken, then a baby!”

I couldn’t help but be amused by the child’s logic. She was trying to understand something a bit beyond her mental capacity. She was attempting to reconcile new information with what she already knew. Sure, she had the wrong idea, but who could blame her? Besides, it’s incredibly cute.

Seeing that story reminded me of some of the times I’ve had the wrong idea about things. I blame television (cartoons mostly) for many of them.

My contact with cartoons as a child was inconsistent and often surreptitious. I primarily saw them on play dates or while visiting family members. In my own home, I was only permitted to watch PBS—and I wasn’t allowed to watch television at all on school nights.

However, despite my moderate exposure to this form of entertainment, it left quite a marked impression on me. Anxiety, mostly. The majority of those fears have proven to be futile, but at the time, I took them very seriously.

As a child, I was extremely afraid of, and felt it very important to know how to escape, quicksand. That can’t be blamed entirely on cartoons, but it seemed that a lot of characters in stories and shows met their untimely end walking innocently through a jungle and then happening into quicksand. I didn’t stop to consider the high unlikelihood of encountering quicksand in the concrete jungle of my urban environment, but I was afraid of it nonetheless.

In no particular order, other things I feared to an unrealistic extent were scorpions, poisonous snakes, and falling anvils. Cartoons definitely undermined my confidence in the cranes I occasionally saw hoisting pianos and other large furniture items up and through open windows.

Eventually my childhood logic was overtaken by mature understanding, but until then, there were matters I completely misunderstood. Some of the things I had the wrong idea about were sexual.

Wet dreams: My mother told me that wet dreams were when you peed the bed while you were sleeping. In hindsight, I cringe when I consider how many times I could have claimed to have had a wet dream during my childhood. I can only hope that being a bed-wetter was so sufficiently embarrassing, that I didn’t discuss it and therefore had no cause to use the incorrect moniker.

Rape: When I was very young, I was aware of a news story about a rape victim. During the attack, her face had been slashed—cut with a broken bottle, I think. So for the longest time, and I can’t remember how or when I had the aha moment that changed my mind, I used to think that being raped meant having your face slashed, and I wasn’t quite sure why it only happened to women.

There were other things I had the wrong idea about. I thought “eavesdrop” was “ease drop” and “significant” was “signifigant.” (That second one survived until I was in high school, believe or not.) I also had a difficult time with the name “John.” At least until age ten, I had the nagging suspicion that “Jhon” might be the correct spelling. I had no issue with “Wednesday” or “Oedipal,” but to this day I’m still not completely confident about “rhythm.”

Most frightening of all was my first lunar eclipse. I couldn’t understand why no one was panicking. Everyone explained how the earth’s shadow would cover the moon, rendering it dark. No one took the time to clarify that this effect would not be permanent.

Children constantly have to change their understanding of the world to make room for a flood of new information. As an adult, it can be difficult to adjust. As a child, I was certain I knew whom to trust. Now, I’m more stubborn, and it’s less clear who makes a reliable source.

New knowledge often leads to change. In the past year or two alone, I’ve had to revisit and revise or reinforce my views on racism, feminism, sexuality, and faith.

I sincerely hope I continue to learn as I continue to age. I don’t want to loose my ability to recognize when I have the wrong idea about things. I don’t ever want to be so stuck in the quicksand of what I think or feel that I can’t move myself to see what’s delusion and what’s real.

Playing Outside

After years of playing competitive indoor volleyball, two nights ago I finally got a taste of taking the game to the beach. It was a good night for trying new things. Like taking a dance class, playing beach volleyball has been on a short list of things I’ve been meaning to do (but not trying very hard to do) for a while.

It was a nice night for playing outside. The early evening air was warm without being too heavy or hot. The sun set in a popsicle shade of orange—it’s colorful light reflected and complemented by the glassy skyline of Manhattan.

I wish it hadn’t rained, but that’s the chance you take when you play outside. Indoor sports are less affected by the whims of the weather, but they’re also devoid of fresh air and direct sunlight. There are no natural breezes in a closed gym. There is no flowery aroma hanging in the air. Light bulbs and fans and air conditioning units are poor substitutes for the sun and wind.

We played despite the rain. Getting soggy made me feel silly. It became difficult to take the game as seriously once the volleyball had become slippery. Diving meant getting wetter and sandy. I felt like a child—playing to win, but mostly just having fun. It reminded me of how much I had enjoyed Physical Education when I was young.

PE was always a high point in my academic day. I love learning, and I’ve been blessed with a lifetime of great teachers, but I can’t sustain hours of static attention without interludes of movement.

There was less to worry about in the gym versus the classroom. My mind could make mistakes. It could forget the right answer or find a concept confusing. My body, however, couldn’t betray me. There weren’t any wrong answers in motion. On days I didn’t feel pretty, PE reminded me that I was strong. On days I didn’t feel confident, PE reminded me that I was fast and capable. On days full of tests and stress, PE gave me fun and success.

PE was a welcome invitation to play and compete. I loved winning—especially if I had to work for the win. I loved being part of a team. I enjoyed devising strategies for dodge ball or capture the flag, racing towards a teammate’s outstretched hand in a relay, or making a shot (or a save) in floor hockey.

PE was a period for releasing stress. It was a time to play. There was nothing serious to worry about—just games. To this day, when I put on my athletic wear, I divest myself of life’s pressures. I want to win, but losing doesn’t ruin my day. It’s just a game—or a bike ride/run/walk in the park. It’s called recreation for a reason. It’s supposed to be fun. And that’s what I found the other night on the beach volleyball court, fun—fun playing outside—playing a game both familiar and new. We were getting wet and loosing, but we were enjoying ourselves too.

Collecting

As an only child for seven years, I collected imaginary and inanimate friends. Barbie dolls, stuffed animals—I surrounded myself with anything I could use as a stand-in for a human being. I even tried making them opponents. What else is an only child to do with all the board games she’s been given? But winning looses its luster when you’re playing against versions of yourself most of the time.

I used to be a collector—a saver. I’ve collected Barbies, rocks, stuffed animals, porcelain figurines, and (in my adult years) the US Mint’s state quarters. As a child, my most prized collection was my family of Barbie dolls—though, given the male to female ratio, perhaps it was more of a harem.

When I saw an article in Parents magazine about a little black girl with a sizeable Barbie collection, I immediately made it my goal to usurp her status. And so, spurred on by my desire to outmatch this stranger and her collection, I set out to amass as many Barbie dolls as I could—but at least one hundred. (I’ve always liked having goals that are round numbers.)

I never acquired one hundred Barbies. I think I got as far as thirty-five. It wasn’t for lack of trying. The thing with Barbie-doll collecting is that it’s an expensive hobby for a child. I didn’t want to ask my parents for something I didn’t need. We weren’t rich. I received the occasional monetary gift for my birthday or Christmas, but I was never given a consistent allowance. It took me months to save up enough for one doll, and in all that time of saving, I was also aging.

I never consciously decided to stop playing with and collecting Barbies. It just happened. One day I must have simply (unceremoniously and unwittingly) played with them for the last time. My once prized collection of dolls became just a duffel bag in my closet that I’d forgot about until a major room cleaning and reorganization episode. Once my younger siblings found them, Barbie heads and limbs were separated from Barbie bodies, and that duffel bag of dolls became a duffel bag of doll parts.

Somewhere along the line I stopped being collector (or saver) all together and became more of a purger. Whereas once I kept the gift, the wrapping paper, the card, and the ribbon, now I only save things that are deeply meaningful and sentimental—or useful to me.

Now I mostly collect intangible things—things that can’t clutter a desk or mantle—good friendships and conversations, time with family, laughter, love, and words.