I think it was fifth grade. I visited a friend’s house and she had a button-maker. We spent an afternoon coloring and drawing on construction paper to create a couple buttons a piece. I had never encountered a button-making machine before and I vowed to put this spectacular device on my Christmas list (never got it).
I wanted to put a motto on one of the buttons and carefully selected blue construction paper and some special stickers (I think one was a little horse and lots of flowers). Other kids may have put the name of their favorite boy band, but I wrote in my best cursive, “I Love Life,” with artful flourishes on the two “L” letters.
That blue button was a treasure. I don’t remember wearing it on my shirt, but I think I may have put it on my pink corduroy OshKosh B’Gosh hat. I moved four times before eighth grade, living in five cities across three states. All were bipolar, cross-country moves in my parents’ fruitless search for a place they could agree on. Although I had lived in that little town with my button-making friend for maybe a year, I had made a close group of friends. My family even owned our first house, a “fixer-upper.” My mom openly regrets, “I should have never moved you guys from that place. You were secure.” I tell her, “Don’t beat yourself up about it. Forget it, Mom. I have.”
I keep a few small boxes of childhood mementos squirreled away in a faraway house that basically no one lives in anymore. A few years ago at the request of my mother I went through one box. That’s when I discovered a medium-sized blue button on the bottom. Holding “I Love Life” in my hand was bittersweet: I was a happy and innocent child who was about to be swallowed up by puberty. But for two short years, I must have had a wonderful time. In life things can be good, but I have learned that at any time things can sour. A year later smack dab in middle school we moved across country to another school where I made exactly one friend.
Schools out west were strange, foreign places for me. Instead of stately self-contained school buildings, there were no hallways. Classroom doors opened up to the breezes of cold or warm weather. It astonished me that these “schools” qualified for the label: it was more an open air educational mall in cinder block. Bright sun or stiff wind accosted you when you left your classroom door. It wasn’t normal; it was offensive.
And it was cold. Whenever I go to supposed “warm winter” places, I forget that their winters feel colder to me. No one dresses appropriately, houses don’t have proper insulation, and as a result fifty or sixty degrees at night feels chillier than it does in the Midwest. I mean sixty degrees is borderline shorts weather where I live now, whereas out west I would need long pajamas! That’s one reason I love the Midwest: I’m always toasty warm in my own home no matter what is happening outside.
The teacher I had out there was a pretty, petite woman with jet black hair. It was seventh grade and Ms. Peterson was a screamer. Because of that she will forever be ugly in my mind. She never yelled at me or even really talked to me as I wasn’t a memorable student. I did my homework, got great grades, and wasn’t a behavior issue. But I don’t respond to yelling well and as an educator myself it’s a technique I have rarely employed. It strips dignity from small people and, therefore, doesn’t work.
People ask me, “do you remember school lunches you ate?” Not really. But I do remember eating lunch with my one friend. I think we were seated at picnic tables in a large room that was open to the outdoors on all sides. I was so grateful that she was eating with me. It didn’t matter what it was that we ate, it was nice to chat with someone friendly and to be away from my angry little teacher.
I didn’t clean out that box of memories. I couldn’t part with very much. The “I Love Life” button went back amongst everything and I shuffled the box’s contents. “Here’s the box back, Mom. I don’t want to go through any more boxes.”
I know this is off-topic, but I was thinking about my childhood yesterday, I wanted to write a little something and then decided to share what I wrote with you. Just so you know, few coworkers know anything about my life as a child so this really doesn’t give away much. If you want, I can write more or if this is TMI, this is it. Please forgive my grammar and especially my punctuation.