When I was in 4th grade, my class went through a careful, deliberate, rigidly enforced process of loving each other.
Such was the climate in the mid-1970s, an era when feeling groovy was a cultural mandate.
At some point during 4th grade, our teacher, Mrs. Ring, talked to us about the notion that “sharing is love.” In order to express our love for each other, all 25 of us — a crop of nine-year-olds with disparate home lives, values, interests, personalities, and goals — would unite in love and share our feelings for each other.
To assure that only love was shared and that the sharing felt like love, the class discussed each individual after he/she left the room. On the surface, this was meant to help illuminate the subject’s virtues, in case they had momentarily escaped the notice of, say, a grubby-faced boy who actually couldn’t stand a curly-haired girl. Below the surface, this discussion was meant to teach the youngsters in the room that everyone possesses positive attributes, that such attributes gain traction if they are cataloged, and that it’s an act of love to talk about people behind their backs. Rumbling through a deeper subterranean level, down in our guts, was this lesson: if we didn’t like someone, we should tamp it down and play nice — at least while the adults were looking.
When it was my turn to receive my class’ Warm Fuzzies, I was excited and nervous. Even though I knew Mrs. Ring’s oversight would neutralize the cruelty I often experienced on the playground, still I worried. What if someone wrote something that made it past the teacher’s censoring eye but which I knew, from insider experience, was actually a cagily phrased verbal bomb? What if sharing as love decimated me?
Alternately, I also hoped that some heretofore concealed affection would be revealed through the Warm Fuzzies. I knew Daron and Brent and Paul had no time for me, a girl towering over them by six inches, a girl sporting a bra while they found Atomic Wedgies the height of amusement, a girl interested in Nancy Drew over kickball. But what if one of them surprised me — “Jocelyn, I deeply respect the way you keep your shoulders pulled back even though you have boobies” — and actually warmed my fuzzy?
Neither the worst- nor best-case scenarios came true. Those who didn’t much care for me subverted their feelings into ho-hum compliments enhanced by intricate drawings. A breakdown of their time on this loosely academic task would have seen 30 seconds devoted to sharing love and 4 minutes devoted to sketching out a shaggy monster or a marauding army of beasties. On the other side, those who were my friends wrote kind, affirming confidence boosters, formally inventorying everything they already said to me in the notes we habitually passed after school. Either way, the Warm Fuzzies contained no revelations. Whew. And maybe a little Darn.
Looking back now on this collection of carefully orchestrated spontaneous expressions of affection, I have thoughts.
- I bet every student in the class was the apple of Mrs. Ring’s eye. Not so sure her artful use of stickers was a unique or meaningful expression of love.
- Even at the age of nine, Daron was gifted at sidestepping a direct expression of kindness. Part of me — not the part that had a faint crush on him, watching from the four-square court as he chased The Popular Girls through the triangular openings in the monkey bar dome — admires his phrasing of “Everyone knows that you are good in spelling and you can jump real far” for the way it conveys his unflinching dislike of A Certain Not Popular Girl.
- Kevin and Andy totally cheated off each other.
- To put a finer point on it, the entire class cheated off each other. There’s not a whole lot of ambiguity about what was discussed when I stepped out of the classroom, is there? Consensus was reached. Jocelyn should be complimented for her hair, eyes, laugh, speed, jumping prowess, spelling, general academic aptitude, height, humor, silence, work ethic, and ability to wear glasses. Bonus points for the girl who’s co-operative.
- Kudos to Theresa for calling out my gifts as a Girl Scout. By 4th grade, I had already earned the COOKING BADGE, BITCHES.
- The extent to which physical appearance came into consideration explains much about my lifelong self-esteem demons.
- Next time I go out for a run, I am going to have to stop and clutch my sides with laughter as I recall that an entire class of kids once regarded me as “fast.” You know why everyone thought I was “fast” and amazing at jumping? We all had to complete that nightmarish Presidential Physical Fitness Test each year, and since I’d undergone precocious pubescence, I was a mighty Amazon flanked by scrawny dwarfs. You know what my superior mass couldn’t do well? Climb the rope hanging from the gym ceiling or hang from a bar in chin-up position, shaking like I had the DTs. As I imagine what an assignment of Cold Fuzzies might have yielded, the words “You are pure beat at holding your body in space” appear repeatedly in a variety of handwritings.
- We hear much about how class sizes are getting larger and larger. I do not deny this. But it’s good to remember that 4th grade classes, even 40 years ago, had 25 students in them. Somehow, my brain had been thinking we’d have had, hmmm, 20 or under.
- Much is also made these days about how kids’ grammar and writing skills have declined. It’s all that texting. The Internet. Bad teaching. Poor schools. Negligent parents. This batch of Warm Fuzzies proves that today’s complainers might want to dig into a few time capsules themselves, though. Because, guess what? Even 40 years ago, kids didn’t use apostrophes, couldn’t spell (Except for me. I could spell.), and had virtually no idea when an adverb versus an adjective should be used. Let’s face it: when the masses write, it’s always sucked. Stop the blame.
- I’m pretty sure that Angie, whoever she was, remembered me for about as long as the flavor lasted in a piece of Tropical Punch Bubble Yum.
Then again, who knows?
Maybe, to this day, Angie thinks fondly about the color of my eye and the way I never cheated when we played games.
Maybe Debbie, as she stands in the rain bending steel, reminisces about my strong, fast, nice, great, pretty, good smartness.
Perhaps Scott still cracks up sometimes, thinking to himself, “That Jocelyn, she was verry funny!”
Possibly Tiffany still marvels to herself in quiet moments, “Dang, but Jocelyn’s hair was neat — so long and straight and easy to handle.”
It could be that sometimes Jeff, as he parks his Ford Explorer in his three-car garage, still muses, “Ah, that Jocelyn. She sure colored good.”
One thing’s for sure. When Amy is unpacking bags of groceries, jamming containers of yogurt onto the sticky middle shelf while her kids ask what’s for dinner, her mind occasionally drifts back to the undeniable beauty of my “macamary.”
Most likely, at best, all those grown-up 4th graders spare a fleeting thought for their former Amazonian classmate every decade or two. They’re busy living their lives, paying bills, chauffeuring kids, working too much, ordering nachos, getting the oil changed.
But if, when, they do think of me, I hope they sense that I am sending them the adult version of Warm Fuzzies.
Hey, former classmates? Good job paying your bills, driving safely, working hard, knowing how to have fun, and being responsible.
You know what else? You look nice in all of your clothes. Your house is very pretty to. Your family is nice to. Your very polite. You have neat shoes.