It seems so unlikely that maybe I am doing what politicians do so well, misremembering. But I’m pretty sure that I got elected to student council in Mrs. Lowry’s third grade class at Dilworth Elementary. The improbability of this can be explained by the fact that I was the only non-Mormon in my class, and I was never one to have a gaggle of friends around me. I was a good student, and maybe somehow someone started a rumor that I was a leader because I was the tallest kid in the class, and perhaps one of the oldest. My birthday was in October and the cutoff date to start school was September 1st. I also remember clearly that my mother advised me to always vote for myself. She said, “If you won’t even vote for yourself, why would anyone else?” Of course this is logical thinking at its best, but it was not in tune with the social norm. Not that this was the only dimension on which I was out of tune, but it might be why I was elected. As instructed, I voted for myself when none of the other candidates would have even considered it. This was Salt Lake City in the ‘50s, way before selfies.
Unfortunately, I did not turn out to be the kind of leader student council members are supposed to be. One of the jobs of the student council was to monitor the halls during recess, you know, keep an eye out for someone sliding down the banister or overflowing the drinking fountain or hanging out inside when recess meant mandatory time outside. Infractions were punished with “citations.” And just like parking tickets, these added up. But hall monitor was the part of the job I just couldn’t do. I lived to be outdoors. Recess was the highlight of every one of my days at school. And every day at school I waited for summer to come so that I could do recess all day. There were just too many fun things to do, and I was good at many of them. Because I was so tall, I had an automatic advantage in tether ball. Add to that natural blessing, hours of practice at home with the amazing tether ball my dad made by cementing a pole in a tire. I had been playing against my older sisters every night, and I was unbeatable. I was also pretty darn good at foursquare, jump rope, the tricky bars, … you name it. I was good because I had spent hours doing all these things when the rest of the kids were watching TV. I can’t remember if the rules at my house had something to do with how much TV I watched, but I can remember begging my friend down the street to go out to ride bikes after school rather than watching cartoons. I hated cartoons. Even now, the old time cartoons are just too violent. I could not understand why anyone wanted to see the Roadrunner blow up Wile E. Coyote one more time. I’ve always liked coyotes, even though they have that reputation for being sneaky, it seems a good sneaky to me. Besides, you had to be inside to watch cartoons. Not my style.
When my first day for hall monitoring came around, I tried. I stood in the hall looking official while all the other kids filed out the doors, the big heavy double doors of old-fashioned schools. Then I stared out the doors, wondering how I was going to make it through the next 15 minutes without running out those same doors. It was torture. The seconds ticked by like snails frozen in time. I couldn’t stand it. We’ve all read about the research they do with children and cookies. You know, the experiment where they put one cookie in front of a child and tell her that she can eat it right now, or if she waits, she’ll get two cookies in a few minutes. Then they leave her alone in the room. If you can imagine how challenging it is not to eat that cookie, you can understand what I was going through. The kids who wait use distractions strategies. They look away, they sing, they play games. And these are the kids who do better at just about everything the world values. It turns out that being able to delay gratification is a good thing.
There I was, alone in the hall and the only strategy I could come up with to get me through this torture of being inside when everyone else was outside was to slide down the banister. Oops! That was exactly what I was supposed to be watching for. That was against the rules! My timing was bad. Just as I landed at the bottom of the stairs, flying off the banister, Mrs. Lowry came down the hall. Busted! I wasn’t the kind of kid who liked breaking the rules and getting in trouble. In fact, I had never really been in trouble at school, but now I was. Being inside had driven me over the edge. I should have written myself a citation, but Mrs. Lowry did it for me. That landed me in the Principal’s office, for the very first (and last) time. He was willing to forgive a first offense if I reformed, did my hall monitoring duty the way it was supposed to be done. But I realized it was not in the cards for me. The next day I brought a formal resignation letter to school, abdicating my student council position. I think it was the first and last formal resignation from Dilworth student council. But, wow, I was free to play.
It’s interesting that I didn’t learn more than I did from that experience. You would think that a smart girl would learn to think about running for offices, volunteering for things, joining groups, taking on jobs that she can’t do with any finesse. But no. I guess that’s why some people have called me “book-smart.” I’ve tried not to react to that. I love books. But since third grade I have taken on scores of jobs, tasks, committees, and assignments, just because someone asked me to, and I didn’t know how to say, “No.” Thankfully, 54 years later, I’m catching on, sort of, maybe. This week I opted out of leader training for an organization I have volunteered for. I’m still not a leader … or a follower. I hate to tell people what to do,and everyone who’s tried to tell me what to do knows it’s a challenge. I’m the one-man band type. But I also just volunteered to teach a first-year seminar with a communications emphasis. I have no idea what that even means. I’m an economist by training and everyone knows that economists talk and talk and talk and say nothing – probably not the goal of the first-year seminar. But the program director sounded desperate. Maybe we’ll go outside and practice giving walking tours of the campus, or look for some outdoor banisters. I’ve been practicing.