by Kathleen Schaefer
Guess how much your mother weighs. That is the kind of assignment that my kindergarten teacher thought would be cute to assign to little kids who think anyone larger than they are weighs at least 500 pounds.
“Your child refuses to participate in class activities.” Those are the reports my parents received regularly from my preschool years and through elementary school. The complaints weren’t frequent, usually only one came a year, but they were consistent.
One time, my preschool teachers decided to make the children create their own recipes. The kids, all with barely enough life experience to know what a recipe was, happily wrote up a nauseating mixture of ingredients to be beaten into dough and baked at temperatures found on the surface of the sun.
I always had a stubborn sense of dignity, even as a four-year-old with just enough life experience to realize I am being mocked, but not enough to change the situation. Refusal became the only solution I possessed. It never bothered my parents much, as these reports constituted as the only complaints they received about me.
But eventually I realized it bothered me.
The traumatizing experience of my teacher moving my bunny from the “great day” box to the “good day” box—her endearing way of reprimanding first graders—wore off quickly enough, but my irritation at the continuance of these episodes did not. So the next year, when I sat staring at a blank sheet of paper with an infuriatingly mindless prompt, I forced myself to write. For the piece of writing itself, it was the kind I wanted to crumple up and destroy before anyone could read it. But it was enough to avoid my annual scene of obstinacy, and enough to let the episode disappear in the blur of the day’s further events.
There is a time to accept that not every task assigned will have a real purpose and meaning. About half way through my elementary school experience, my parents stopped receiving complaints about my lack of participation. I just sat in class and completed the assignments, regardless of their merit.
I still considered the projects worthless, though fewer ridiculed little kids’ inexperience. I still held that smug sense of superiority which kept me from enjoying any kind of unreasonable activity. I only stopped believing that my stubborn refusals were practical solutions.
It is too easy to go through life only knowing what you will not do, but never really finding what you love. I can never evade the endless train of worthless activities. All I can do is create the opportunities I will enjoy, the ones that can make even those useless assignments a little more bearable.