Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Blue Bear

     It’s never too early to teach your child to be true to herself despite what others may think.
When I was five years old and in a traditional kindergarten class, I remember being given a bear to color.  Back then, we didn’t all have our 128 color boxes of crayons to take to school, so I was also given a crayon to use – a blue crayon.  Usually an agreeable little girl, always willing to please, this crossed some line in my mind.  Color a bear blue?!  Where has this teacher been that she has seen blue bears?  I already knew that there were white bears, brown bears, black bears, and even bears that were sort of yellow, but not blue.  I sat demurely at my table the entire time everyone else was coloring.  Because I never made a sound or disrupted anyone (a typical gifted girl), I guess I flew under the teacher’s radar.  When she came around to collect the colored pictures, though, she looked at my blank page with my name neatly written on the top in blue crayon and said, “Nancy, you didn’t color your bear like the other children.”  I shook my head in agreement.  After all, I had not been asked a question that required an answer.  She had just stated the obvious.  Unwittingly, though, I had done something wrong because the next thing I knew a note was being pinned to my blouse for my mother.  
When I arrived at home that afternoon (having taken the bus all by myself from school to the end of the road, and then walked the quarter mile up the road to my house – all without the aid of a parent or guardian or police officer since those were simpler times), my mother saw the note pinned to my blouse and asked what it was.  I honestly told her that I did not know.  She looked skeptical, but took the note off and read it.  She then did her best to suppress a smile, but I could see it teasing her eyes.  The conversation went something like this:
Mommy:  Were you supposed to color a bear at school?
Nancy:    Yes.
Mommy:  Did you color the bear?
Nancy:     No.
Mommy:  Why didn’t you color the bear?
Nancy:     Miss Ross gave me a blue crayon.
Mommy:  So why didn’t you color the bear with the blue crayon?
Nancy:     Bears aren’t blue.
Mommy (outwardly smiling now):  Did Miss Ross ask you why you didn’t      
              color the bear?  
Nancy:     No.  She just told me that I didn’t do it and I already knew that.
Mommy:   Well, don’t worry about it.  You’re right.  Bears aren’t blue.  Run 
                     along and play.
Of course, this being the early 1960s, the next day I found myself sitting in my classroom next to my mother and across from Miss Ross after school.  They were treating this “incident” as though I had tried to burn down the school.  Serious faces looked at each other as Miss Ross said that she hoped we could nip this defiance in the bud.  She had never known me to refuse to comply with an assignment and didn’t want a trend to develop.  My mother, an equally serious expression on her face except for the quick wink in my direction, asked my teacher if she had asked me why I had not colored the bear.  The teacher said, “Of course I did.  What kind of teacher do you think I am?” to which my mother calmly replied, “We think you’re a wonderful teacher, Miss Ross,” referring to both her and my father’s opinion of the teacher.  My father was not at the conference, though, because he was at work.  This raising children thing was a mother’s job in the 1960s.  My mother continued, “What was Nancy’s reason for not coloring the bear?”  Miss Ross thought for a minute and became a little flustered, saying that she was embarrassed but could not remember my answer.  My mother turned my way and said, “Nancy, tell Miss Ross why you chose not to color the bear.”  I timidly said, “Because, Miss Ross, bears aren’t blue.”
Thus, with those six words, my potential reputation as a deviant was erased, and a new one was put firmly in place.  I was now known as the brainy one, the wise guy child.  Watch out for this one.  She’s tricky.