I had an identity crisis when I was in 5th grade.
I was a good boy at home. My parents adored me. I was a joy to my Sunday School teacher, Ms. Lilly Green. I was a blessing to my grandmother, Freda. I was a good friend to many. I was a great older brother (but let’s not bother asking the rest of the family about that, okay?).
But in school, I was a holy terror. I was a pest to my homeroom teacher, Mr. Grimes. I was obnoxious to my English teacher, Mrs. Cross. I was untrustworthy to my math teacher, Mrs. Keister. However, I was scared of my science teacher, Mr. Zeigler and so he had my full attention.
But, overall, I was, in technical terms, A Stinker. My actions were disruptive to the classroom and frustrating to the teachers. While I didn’t rally the students behind me in an effort to overthrow the class, I did act out in ways that were distracting and agitating. It was as if I were picking a fight, waiting for the showdown, daring the teachers to call my bluff.
An example? One day, Mrs. Cross was giving us a quiz. She asked the questions and we would write the answers. The question was, “What is the one state in the Union that isn’t connected to land?” I raised my hand. She called on me (and for this, I blame her for what happened next). I asked my question, “How do you spell Hawaii?” We all got that one right and I got a severe scolding.
Another day, Mr. Grimes told me to stop asking questions and coming up to his desk for every little thing; I was doing nothing more than distracting the class from the work they were to be doing. So I raised my hand and asked another question about how I was to learn if he wouldn’t answer my questions. When he didn’t answer, I approached his desk to better get his attention. Like I said, the technical term is Stinker.
The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back came when I stole safety pins from Mrs. Keister’s bulletin board to stick into rubber bands to flip at people.
The edict went out that anyone caught with a safety pin and rubber band would be punished. So, I changed tactics by putting the pins into the tips of paper airplanes to throw at fellow classmates. This was clearly not banned in the earlier pronouncement. The goal was for the airplane to sail across the room and force the pins to stick in the skin of another student, or if truly successful, someone’s eye. Unfortunately, they just bounced off everyone’s clothes or missed people entirely. However, Gary Hall (the little rat) made a point of notifying Mr. Grimes and the entire class that I had the outlawed items.
Despite the fact that I dropped the incriminating evidence on the floor, stood up and leaned against the desk, spread my legs and shouted “Search me, I’m clean!!” Mr. Grimes wasn’t impressed…or fooled. He walked over to my desk, leaned down and picked up the pin-equipped plane that was on the floor at my feet. He’s had enough. He led me into the hall, asked Mrs. Cross to come and witness the event and then paddled me, hard. I wasn’t surprised. I deserved it and I knew it. I wasn’t even indignant. As I mentioned, I deserved it and I knew it. My only question was why it had taken so long to get to this point. It had been a lot of effort on my part.
But, surprisingly, I was embarrassed. I returned to the classroom with a stinging behind and tears streaming down my face, and a determination that this would never happen again. I took my seat and my life changed from that point forward. I replaced disruption with engagement. I exchanged misbehavior with attention. In short, my home and school lives came into alignment and in the end, I was much happier.
Look, deep down, I’m not a bad guy. And according to my therapist, my fifth-grade antics were simply a childish, misguided attempt to receive some much-needed attention.
However, I do believe, given one more week of concentrated effort, I could have worked out the kinks in the Paper Airplane Pushpin Delivery System of Death and Dismemberment. Unfortunately, we’ll never know…I mean, thank goodness, we’ll never know.