Friday, August 19, 2011

Who Am I?: Part II

Up until 1992, things were moving along smoothly in my life. It was my mom, dad, my older brother John, and me. We lived in Joplin, Missouri, and for all intents and purposes life was good.

So. So. So. Cute.
And then, mom got preggo with my little brother Joseph, and he entered the world on March 18, 1992. His arrival necessitated a lot of things, like a new minivan (that would proceed to catch fire about three times over the next ten years) and a huge choice: little brother or the dog. My older brother and I had lived our entire lives with a dog, Precious, but once the little brother was coming, my parents insisted that the dog needed to go. Precious had only snipped at one person, and that was my grandmother, and she was probably asking for it, but the dog went and the little brother arrived. John and I came home from school to find a neighbor from across the street (who doubled as a babysitter) at our place waiting for us. She whisked us off to the hospital where we met the little bundle of joy, who was named after the same grandfather from which my middle name comes. I was immediately in love with the kid, probably a result of that little girls like babies mentality. My older brother wasn't as stoked and attempted fratricide. I'm only half kidding, really. When I was a kid and we lived in Iowa, my brother shoved me down some steps in one of those rolling, bouncy things that are no longer made, and when Joe came along, John just happened to let him roll off the bed while we were watching him. From the beginning, I took on a very protective role with my little brother. Being 9 years old when he was born, I felt a duty to be a big sister like the other big sisters I knew around me who had siblings closer in age -- but better.

I have more pictures of Joe than anyone in my family in all of my old albums. Remember: I started taking photos when I was in kindergarten, thanks to parents who understood that I was uber into photography. I have pictures of Joe on his favorite little red stool, laying on my day bed, playing video games, sitting in his car seat, and just posing in general. I was in love with this kid. He changed my life, my purpose, my everything. But he also was really annoying. I mean, he destroyed my Barbie Dream House on a daily basis while I was at school and he was constantly in my room for no reason. I loved him, but he was the typical annoying younger sibling for whom I felt more than responsible.

We are geeks. Like my mushroom 'do? | Fifth Grade
When I was in elementary school, I ran around with a very specific group of friends, so specific, in fact, that the teachers and even the principal of Stapleton Elementary School in Joplin had a name for us: The Magnificent Seven. There was Jessica, Jennifer, Allison, Kendall, Annie, Chelsea, and me. We were peas in a pod and we did everything together. We bought BFF necklaces, we had sleep overs, we swooned over the same boys in class, and by fifth grade our friendship was so solidified that we managed to start our own little newspaper/zine that we sold. The zine had lists of all the hot boys and profiles about each of us, and with the money we made we ... embarassingly ... purchased a plaque and balloons as a fifth-grade graduation gift for our teacher, Mr. Eaves. We were ridiculous, it's true, but we were besties, for life. We had plans, big plans, to be friends forever. We were in charge of the fifth-grade class aviary, for pete's sake!

During fourth and fifth grade, I left Stapleton to go to one of the other elementary schools for what was called the Enrichment Program. In fourth grade, it was a relief because Mr. Smith, our teacher, was a little loopy, what with making us watch Little House on the Prairie and having "parties" so frequently that I got sick of eating cheese and crackers. (Pretty sure he was later arrested for indecent acts with a child.) At Enrichment, we learned how to program computers, dissect a frog, and do gigantic projects that culminated in an end-of-year project presentation at Joplin High School (z"l). Fourth grade was wombats, and fifth grade was origami. I was such a nerd. But from what I remember about elementary school, it wasn't incredibly challenging. I was in a special reading group in the early grades because my advancement left me bored in class and, well, I was loquacious, as one teacher noted. I needed constant stimulation. Thinking back, I probably would have been given ritalin or something had they not known what to do with me.

Sixth Grade | That shirt? It's from the Sears
womens' section. Beginning of the end for me.
But then middle school arrived. Sixth grade. A bigger school, more people, and some of my friends were going off to different schools, private schools. But Joplin wasn't big. I remember it being about 80,000 when we lived there, so I wasn't worried about losing friends. Thus, in 1995, I started at South Middle School, not knowing what my parents were cooking up for the family at that point. I was still in the Enrichment Program, but this time around it wasn't so much challenging as it was entertaining. We visited a Taxidermy Shop and went to this small donut hut for Coke in glass bottles (what a novelty!). The rest of school was frustrating and kind of a bore. My friends were making new friends and I was dressing in all black. The only class I really enjoyed was art class, and my mom still has some of my works up on the wall at home. Sixth grade was hard for me for many reasons, most of which I can't pinpoint today. I remember being more overweight than I had been in the past -- or, at least, for the firs time it bothered me. I was taller than all the other kids my age (for the first and only time in my life), too. And then?

My parents told us we were moving to Nebraska. Nebraska? What is in Nebraska? My friends aren't there, our house isn't there, our town isn't there. What about Benito's (my favorite Mexican restaurant of all time)? Dad got a promotion, they told us, and he would be a regional auditor based in Lincoln, Nebraska, and we were moving on August 1, 1996. In the midst of middle school, in the midst of an image crisis that left me eating nothing but a Kool-Aid burst at lunch for an entire year, I was angry, but naive. I imagined my friends would come visit and that I'd visit them and everything would stay the same. That was partially true, but only for a few years. Of all of The Mag Seven, only one friend has kept in touch with me regularly over the years, and that's Jessica -- but not in the way we once were friends. Only 350 miles away, a six-hour drive, one would think that things wouldn't change that much, but they did.

Chloe's on the left, Joe on the right. 
As an aside, I have to mention the role of baseball in my childhood, because it's summertime and, well, summertime in my world in Joplin meant one thing: pickles. Okay, that sounds weird, I know, but let me explain. My father coached and played on his job's softball team, and my older brother started playing ball back when he was Tee-Ball aged. Every summer, we were at the field pretty much every single day, with either John or dad playing. I was lucky that Jessica's dad was a big baseball buff and so she also was always out there with us. As kids, we used to wander around during the game picking up trash and when the bag was full, we'd race back to the concession stand for a free treat. Sometimes it was a Chick-o-Stick, but usually, it was a gigantic pickle. Other kids got ring pops or the dip sticks that go into powdered sugar, but I stood by my two options. When Joe was born, he came to the field in a stroller and as he got to walking, he would run around the park, too. Oddly enough, one of the other kids his age was born the day after or before him (I forget) and her name was Chloe. Back in those days, we thought Joe and Chloe were going to grow up and get married, what with their summer baseball romance and all. After we moved to Nebraska, Joe and Chloe would send each other little letters (of course, our moms were the ones doing it), but that, too, stopped. But that was life for me in Joplin: Baseball, baseball, and more baseball.

In Nebraska that all would change. Football was the word of the day and my brother hopped on that bandwagon early. My friends would change, my ambitions would change, everything would change when we moved to Nebraska. I was a different person the moment we settled into our house in Lincoln and I started school in Fall 1996 at Goodrich Middle School.

But that's for another installment ... stay tuned for the move to Nebraska, in which I stop wearing black, get into Nirvana and the Spice Girls, fall in love with JTT, start over again with friends in high school and ... oh wait. I haven't even mentioned my religious upbringing in these posts. But that's okay, y'all can find that in other posts.