Dateline: March 1st, 1994.
I sit cross-legged on the big meeting rug in the middle of my 1st grade classroom. My teacher calls this “sitting Indian-style.” Political correctness came late to the elementary schools of small town central Ohio.
My teacher, Mrs. Aufdencamp, a sturdy woman in her mid-50’s wearing orthopedic shoes as she hovers over the class, is well-known as a stern task-master. She bellows my name. I stand up, clumsily.
She asks me to go up to the classroom calendar and put today’s date on the board. I hesitate.
On the wall to my right hangs a giant calendar made out of pink, purple and red construction paper for the month of February. Apparently February is the color of lipstick. In a box to the right of the calendar is a stool holding a shoebox. This is the box of dates. One date is left in this box. February 29th.
But there is no February 29th.
I may be young, but I am aware of certain inalienable truths. There is only a February 29th once every four years and it only happens in years with both a presidential election and a summer Olympics. This year there are winter Olympics and a World Cup. That’s not quite cool enough for an extra day.
I protest, “Dearest educator, I beg your pardon, but today is March 1st.” My memories are far more deferential and eloquent than real life.
She sneers and I swear I see a puff of smoke emanate from her left nostril. “Foolish child! Of course it’s not. Your wise and beneficent teacher would never make a mistake. Now PUT UP THE DATE!” She may have actually said, “Um, I don’t think so,” but my version is way better.
I fell to my face, supplicant before my beloved yet simultaneously terrifying teacher. I was scared, but I had to fight for what I knew to be right. “Oh fair one! My liege! I must insist. You are making a grave error. Please do not force me to lead my fellow astray.” I may have encapsulated this erudite argument in the phrase, “It is too, March 1st!”
In my mind’s eye I can see the rage boiling in her eyes at my six-year-old insolence. She strides to her desk with a menacing stare that probably never actually occurred and rifles through her purse until she pulls out her trusty check book. She flings open the book, checks the date, and begins a slow and dangerous exhale. She knows that I am correct. I am the victor. I have vanquished my foe.
You would think that my classmates would lift me on their shoulders for saving them from their mistakenly-dated fate, but alas no congratulations were given. Simply an acknowledgement that it was indeed March 1st. Game over.
Or so I thought, but parent-teacher conferences wait for no man and while I forgot, my foe remembered.
On the night of the parent-teacher conference, my parents returned from their meeting with serious looks. They walked in, had me sit at the table and said that we needed to have a talk. My teacher has informed them that I am argumentative and often disruptive. She believes that I have a problem with authority.
Of course, she was right. Well, she still is right. I was argumentative, and I still am. I also have a well-documented problem with authority. I may have neglected to tell you about the other run-ins I had with this teacher where I was less right and less victorious. My memories like to be glorious.
I look at my parents and I protest, “But, but, did she tell you that I was right?”
She did. That wasn’t the point.
That was the first time I remember being right and discovering that it wasn’t so important. It’s a lesson I keep learning and it’s a lesson that I continue to forget.
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Ben Howard is an accidental iconoclast and generally curious individual living in Nashville, Tennessee. He is also the editor-in-chief of On Pop Theology and an avid fan of waving at strangers for no reason. You can follow him on Twitter @BenHoward87.
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