Uncle Josh tells some stories about a story
Today’s Gospel reading was the introduction to John the Baptist. James+ did a great job of tying the gospel reading to stories we tell about ourselves, and the stories that he described as “worn smooth” from multiple retellings. John the Baptist was trying to tell a story, and the local muckity-mucks kept trying to pin this story into a familiar mold: Are you Elijah? A prophet? The Messiah? John says no, no, and no (in that order).
James+ also challenged us to think about the stories we tell, as parents, about our kids, and realizing not everyone in the congregation has kids, kicked it back a generation and asked us to recall the stories our parents told about us. Those stories we tell about others define a part of them. Parents tell stories about their kids, which sets up expectations for the kid. On the other side of forty, I’ve taken over some of those stories, and worn them smooth. I’m sure there are lots of details I pass over.
For example, one story I tell about myself is about how I was kicked out of Kindergarten. It’s a hell of a hook, but even in my preferred version, I was not kicked out, I left. Getting “kicked out” is the Kindergarten teacher’s version of the story. Getting pulled out of that class is my parents’ story (and thus the most factual, probably). Quitting Kindergarten, or being a Kindergarten Dropout, is really my version, but “kicked out” points to one of my ugly flaws.
I live with a victim mentality. Bad things happen to me, as my narrative goes, because people don’t like me. The part I’ve worn smooth and glossed over is the bit where I insisted on being myself, and independant thinker, and (as most kids would have thought at the time) a jackass. I am a ham. I have an incredible ego that most people don’t immediately see, usually because I am constantly putting myself down and belitting myself and arguing to the whole world that I have no worth in society. I do this, in my narrative, as a defense mechanism.
So the hook of my story comes from my victim mentality.
Here is the story:
I was sitting in Mrs. Carleton’s Kindergarten class one day, and it was story time. I hated story time. I hate being read to. My mother said I would grab the bedtime books from her and Dad and read them myself. So, bored and frustrated by this experience, when the spider came along to give Miss Muffet a scare, I screamed and tried to hide behind other students. Mrs. Carleton then hit me on the head with a yardstick and said in one of those strict voices “That’s not funny!” And the children all laughed.
When I got home, I told my mother I wasn’t going back, and I didn’t.
Quick fact checks:
- As a prelude to this story, I point out that the school did not want me in Kindergarten that year, and wanted me to wait, because I was too young. I recall being the youngest member of the class (and would have been the youngest graduate in my year, but a Junior had stockpiled credits and escaped early). My next door neighbor was three weeks younger than me, and he was a whole year behind me in school.
- I also learned, much later in life, that my mother and Mrs. Carleton had issues when my brother was in her class, and had the same argument when I came in. My brother and I could both read, which irked Mrs. Carleton because we weren’t taught to read correctly and would not love reading in school. Anyone who knows me knows that my books are my most prized posessions.
- My father, according to my mother, made the decision to pull me out of her classroom because it was clear it wouldn’t end well.
- My mother took me back to a few daycare centers and preschools until I woke up and asked “do we have to visit the babies again?” and she found me a Kindergarten class across town that has often taken in “students rejected my Mrs. Carleton”.
It’s all there: My whole life. My frustrations, my propensity to showboat and be the center of attention, and the seed that planted my self defense of self-loathing. I made a spectacle of myself and paid the price, socially. People made fun of me. I insulted myself first, to take the wind out of their sails. I became an amatuer pessimest. The trio of Murphy’s Laws books became my guidebooks to life.
Now, of course, I have to ask myself why I keep telling this story. There has to be some reason beyond my own egotistical need to be the center of attention. I haven’t quite figured it out.