Just Teasing?
Written by
Lisa Rivero
June 2010
Written by
Lisa Rivero
June 2010
Many people have an idyllic image of the rural one- or two-room school. The classes are small. The teachers give individual attention. The older children help those younger or less advanced than themselves. What is there not to like? The two-room school I attended from kindergarten (all two weeks of it) through eighth grade did, at times, conform to the Little House on the Prairie image. There were only two other children in my grade. I had the same teacher until sixth grade. I remember quite a lot of flexibility in terms of children being able to take more time when they needed it or being allowed to work ahead.

But what I remember most from those years is something very different: persistent, daily, unrelenting teasing. When I was in about third or fourth grade, it got so bad that the teacher had a conference with every child in the school. The topic: me. The problem with being the object of teasing in a school with only 16 students is that there is nowhere to hide, no group of fellow outcasts to join. Looking back, I see that I was ripe for teasing. I was a quirky girl who liked to pretend to be characters from my favorite books. For instance, I remember clearly going through a Heidi phase, including making myself snacks of plain bread and hunks of cheese, just as Grandpa made for Heidi and Peter (the difference being that my slabs were cut from big blocks of government cheese, distributed on the Rosebud Indian Reservation where we lived and traded to us for eggs). I wore thick glasses that did not correct a tendency for crossed eyes caused by a congenital condition called Duane’s Syndrome. But do not worry: this is no self-pity story. I was a teaser myself, often using a quick and even sharp tongue to make up for my awkwardness in social situations. I was also quite confident (read: “snotty”) and assertive (read: “bossy”). I hadn’t thought of those days for a long time until recently when, on a good friend’s suggestion, I read Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli: “And then I saw her. At lunch. She wore an off-white dress so long it covered her shoes. It had ruffles around the neck and cuffs and looked like it could have been her great-grandmother’s wedding gown. Her hair was the color of sand. It fell to her shoulders. Something was strapped across her back, but it wasn’t a book bag. At first I thought it was a miniature guitar. I found out later it was a ukulele.” This was the girl I was! Well, mostly. Stargirl is more naturally generous and giving, less self-conscious, but I know that if I had read this book when I was eight or nine, not only would I have identified immediately with a kindred imagination, I would have had a kind of informal mentor or role model who was farther along the path I wanted to be on, someone who could withstand teasing without taking it in. That is one of the reasons I write: I know that words can change not only how well we understand the world and others, but how we feel about ourselves and even the people we ultimately choose to be. Did I turn to books and writing because I was teased, as a way to deal with feeling on the outside? Or did something about my reader's and writer's interests and temperament draw out the teasing in others? I don't care about the answer nearly as much as I used to. What is your experience with teasing and being teased? How do you feel about teasing? Read the rest of this post at my Everyday Intensity blog, from which this is slightly adapted...

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