The most stressed out period of my life was the year I spent in Mrs. Lemieux’s third grade class. Yeah, you read that correctly, third grade. Like clockwork, I came home every day after school and cried. The crying caused full blown migraines, and I’d have no other choice but to lay down in a dark room with a wash cloth draped across my forehead so that I didn’t barf all over the place. My parents couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. My mom spent hours talking to my teacher and sent me a greeting card in the mail that promised, Everything is going to get better. Thinking the migraines were because I couldn’t see the chalkboard, they even took me to an optometrist to have my eyes checked out. The conclusion was, “There is nothing wrong with your daughter’s eyes. We think the headaches are stress related.” Duh.
I had been duped! Second grade was a walk in the park! We studied dinosaurs, we watercolored, we learned the Star Spangled Banner and we played outside. The end. I excelled at second grade. I was awesome at second grade. I even remember thinking second grade wasn’t challenging enough. I approached my teacher Ms. Saunders one day and demanded to know, “When are we going to learn cursive!?” Ms. Saunders was caught off guard, and probably wondered to herself, How can learning about the Palaeosaurus not be enough for you? But instead sweetly laughed and said, “That happens in the third grade.”
“Excelllllent,” I evilly replied and rubbed my two hands together like Mr. Burns on the Simpsons. (Ok, that didn’t actually happen because I never saw the Simpsons until middle school, but for our purposes we are going to pretend I was a badass).
I was very excited between the summer of second and third grade. I had gelled bangs, I could sing our national anthem, and dammit, I was going to learn cursive. Nothing could stop me!
On a scale of one to ten, I’d say third grade was about two million times harder than I had expected. There was so much homework! There was so much reading! There was so much less recess time! I had it good the year before and didn’t even know it.
My desire to learn cursive turned out to be the biggest challenge of them all—a classic case of be careful what you wish for. It started off easy enough. Mrs. Lemieux would draw a letter on the board and in our little notebooks with predetermined dotted lines, we would do our best to copy it. “A” was a synch for me because, duh, my name started with that letter and I was obsessed with finding out how to write my name in cursive. “B” also didn’t give me much trouble because it meant I could learn how to write my brother’s name in cursive, too, and of course hold that over his head when necessary. But by the time we got to the middle of the alphabet, I was struggling.
There were so many letters that made no sense to my little brain. Why would anyone give a lowercase “m” three humps when it only has two in print?! And couldn’t giving “n” two humps be confused for “m,” especially for us people who barely can read our own handwriting?! And who the hell came up with the cursive “z”? That is some sort of hieroglyphic shenanigans right there.
The letter I had the hardest time with, hands down, was the lowercase “p.” I always seemed to screw it up! I would tilt it too much, or forget to close the loopdy-doop thing below the line, or forget the squiggly piece that started it. I’d bring my booklet up to Mrs. Lemieux for approval and each time she would say, “You still don’t quite have the ‘p’ correct. Go back and try it again.”
What was this hellish prison I was stuck in?! Take me back to second graaaade! [cue headache].
My classmates at our four-corner desk quad would see me in tears, with my hands on my head, starring at my practice sheet and that goddamn “p.” A few of the girls were really nice and would show me how they drew it, hoping I would catch on. But I honestly don’t remember any eureka moment where I got it right and jumped for joy. I have to assume I did because I moved on to 4th grade – but it’s very possible that I should not have and that you are reading the work of a cursive criminal.
I do have to say there were a few redeeming qualities to third grade:
- We watched Voyage of the Mimi…a lot. Starring none other than Mr. Ben Afflick himself, VOTM “was a thirteen-episode American educational television program depicting the crew of the Mimi exploring the ocean and taking a census of humpback whales.” We learned everything from navigation, to drinkable water, to sea animals. VOTM even taught us that when someone gets hypothermia, you both need to get naked and get into a sleeping bag together. How our third grade jaws dropped during that one. (Note: I did NOT enjoy the Second Voyage of Mimi, because during Episode 1 they revealed one of the characters was an amputee and showed her putting on her fake leg. Terrifying.)
- We had pet crawfish. While other kids in neighboring classrooms got to snuggle up to fuzzy, adorable, baby ducks, my classmates and I were given crustaceans with pinching claws. Looking back, it does seem kind of weird that kids in land-locked VT had pet crawfish…but in 1993 at Flynn Elementary School, it was just another day in paradise.
I picked out a female and gave her the most appropriate name I could think of: Francesca. Francesca only pinched me a couple of times, which was actually something to brag about considering how often the boys in my class had crawfish dangling from their hands as they screamed for help. I remember two things about Francesca: 1-she smelled really bad and 2-you could tell she was a female by flipping her over and studying her legs.
I don’t know what happened to the crawfish in the end. I think we let them go down by the river, or maybe they were shipped to Louisiana where they belonged. I do remember that when our unit on VOTM and crawfish came to an end, Mrs. Lemieux threw us a big party and brought in cooked lobsters for us to try. It was the first time any of us had ever had something so expensive and delicious. She let us each take a piece of the lobster shell home as souvenirs. (Again, why she thought giving 8 year olds smelly fish parts in June was a good idea was beyond me…) I wrapped a lobster abdomen up in a paper towel, showed it to my mom, and begged her to let me keep it. I think it lasted a few hours before the smell of rot was enough to make me chuck it myself.
- I fell in love with writing. When we weren’t getting attacked by crawfish or cringing each time our teacher drew another new cursive letter on the blackboard, we wrote stories. We would work on our stories for what seemed like weeks and then we would hold “An Author’s Tea” and invite all of our family members to hear us read them. The majority of my stories were centered around my cat Midnight who had an affinity for chasing and eating bumblebees, and sleeping on my head and drooling into my ear. I also wrote about time travel and secret passages–an obsession I had that last well beyond third grade (thanks Babysitter Club books).
But third grade was also my first and last bout with plagiarism! I guess the creative juices just weren’t flowing one day when I decided to copy Danielle Bombardier’s story about The Boy Who Didn’t Like Cake. The plot was simple: there was a boy, and he would eat almost anything, except he didn’t like cake, and how could anyone in the entire universe not like cake? Yeah, how could someone not like cake, I thought to myself. What would be even crazier is if he didn’t like ice cream! And so my story entitled The Girl (see what I did there) Who Didn’t like Ice Cream was born.
When Danielle found out I was essentially stealing her story and changing a few parts, I remember her squeaky little voice protesting in anger and saying, “Heeey! That’s my story. You just changed a few parts.” And I pulled a Vanilla Ice and was like, “No, no. It’s different. See YOUR story is about a BOY who doesn’t like CAKE. MY story is about a GIRL who doesn’t like ICE CREAM. Completely different.” Maybe Mrs. Lemieux, thinking that I couldn’t handle another cursive “p” incident, took pity on me because she let me write my story anyway.
Though it was challenging, I think third grade taught me some valuable lessons: 1). Crustaceans make better meals than pets; 2). If at first (or second, or forty-third) you don’t succeed, try, try again; and 3). Cursive is some straight up useless bullshit and you will only use it in third grade.