An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…
“You tried on ten pairs of socks every morning before deciding which pair you would wear” ~ Mom
I hate socks. I hate the way they feel on my feet, the way they bunch up in my shoes, and how the seams rub against my toes when I walk. Socks make me hot. When I’m overheated the first thing I need to do is rip them off—now.
To make matter worse my mother liked to buy thin nylon socks trimmed with lace. Not many materials irritate me more than scratchy lace. The thin nylon socks made my feet sweaty. My feet slid around inside my hard patent leather school shoes. They were not good shoes for a clumsy kindergartener.
When I finally found a pair of socks that I could wear, they usually did not match. Mom insisted that I just didn’t like any of the socks, but if that was the case then why did I need to try each pair on? Why did I need to see how they felt on my feet? Wouldn’t I have just flat out refused to put them on because I didn’t like them?
By the time I was dressed, and my three year old brother was in the carriage, we were rushing to make it to school on time.
“You could not make Jeannie move fast.” ~ Mom
Every morning the three of us set out to walk the five blocks to school. We headed up the avenue in the opposite direction of Grandma’s fabric store. We walked past the pork store, my favorite candy store, which was still closed and covered with a steel shutter, past the bagel store, the Becker’s carpet shop, and across 61st street with the crossing guard waving us onward.
“Jeannie you’re going to be late,” mom said. I had stopped short in front of the side entrance to the school. My mother turned to the right heading toward the schoolyard where the kindergarteners entered, and I turned left.
“You can still go in through the schoolyard,” mom said.
I said nothing, stayed the path, and marched around the corner heading for the front entrance; Mom followed.
I stepped inside the door just when the bell rang.
“Good Morning, Jeannie.” The woman’s voice said from the small desk that sat just to the left side of the entrance. I kept walking.
Mother was still wrestling my brother out of his carriage when I started climbing the towering steps. When I reached the first landing I stopped and stooped down.
“Hurry up, Jeannie. Your late,” the woman’s voice came from below.
“I have to fix my shoes.”
When I was satisfied with my adjustments, I continued my assent to the first floor, and marched to the main office.
I walked straight passed the ladies behind the desk, around the counter, past the school secretary, and into the principal’s office.
Mr. Hiler was a huge man; he towered over me, his head reaching almost to the ceiling when he stood up.
“Hello Jeannie,” he said walking out from behind his desk. He handed me a small piece of paper all ready and waiting for me. I hopped up into the seat in front of his desk.
“She still won’t come in through the school yard,” mother said. She was slightly out of breath from toting my brother up the stairs on her hip.
Mr. Hiler smiled; mother did not.
“Why won’t you come in through the schoolyard?” he asked.
“She just wants to be late, “mother said.
“I have to see Mr. Hiler for my late pass.”
“You wouldn’t need a late pass if you went in the other way,” mom argued.
“I need to see Mr. Hiler for my late pass!” I said in a slightly louder voice than before to make my point clearer. Mom’s face turned red. Why does her face turn that color?
“It’s alright, Jeannie can come to see me whenever she likes,” Mr. Hiler said. “Now off to class, Mrs. Divine is waiting for you.”
I smiled, and walked out of his office scowling at my mother as I went by. Why didn’t she understand? She knows I have to get my late pass.
To my mother, I was just being difficult; I wanted to do things my own way. I had a mind of my own and no-one was going to change it—ever.
This scene played itself over and over again. The leaves dried up, snow fell, flowers bloomed, and days changed. My patent leather shoes changed into snow boots, and my boots to sandals, but the routine never changed. I marched to the front entrance, up the stairs to the landing, fixed my shoes, walked into the office, ignored the ladies, and drifted into Mr. Hiler’s office to retrieve my late pass. Then, and only then, did I go to see Mrs. Divine, my kindergarten teacher.
Mr. Hiler’s words, Jeannie can come to see me whenever she likes, proved troublesome for years to come.
Looking back I now know my morning sock routine was due to tactile sensitivities. I needed to find a pair I could tolerate. I know this because I am the same today about my socks. But what about the rest of my routine? Was my pause to fix my shoes on the landing born from the socks and shoes being irritating? Why did I only fix them on that landing—every single day without deviation for the entire school year?
I could not stray from that routine. I suspect that it was the routine I adopted on the first day of school, and that was how every day of school thereafter had to go. Yes—I was late on my first day of kindergarten because of the rocks in my socks that no-one could find.
As an adult I find myself adhering to very similar patterns of behavior. If I unpack boxes from a move and put something away it is very difficult for me to move it. That becomes its place, and it always lives there even if it is not where I want it. It is important for me to unpack and arrange my things thoughtfully the first time because wherever I place the toaster is where it is going to stay. That initial placing, the initial routine becomes set in stone.