For teacher’s pet I got in trouble a little bit growing up. Being teacher’s pet and getting into trouble in no way prepares you for the real world. They’re like, “Oh you skipped gym to reread Darwin’s Origin of the Species? That’s adorable! You passed notes in class to let someone know the Heisenberg certainty principle? I can’t stay mad at you!” Teachers do not know how to punish dorky children, and they don’t want to. I think this gave me a misguided sense of invinvibility. Now I’ll be five minutes late to work and like, “What are you gonna do? Huh?” Or I’ll be smoking weed outside a comedy club and someone will whisper, “Barbara, be more subtle.” And I’ll be like, “What are they going to do? I look like Mary from little house on the prairie with nerd glasses.”
When I was in second grade I got in trouble for the first time. I was writing a short story in class about aliens coming to earth and studying human interaction. (Which I think symbolized me trying to talk to other kids. ‘Oh yes, kickball. A normal kid game. I am also a normal kid.’) My teacher caught me writing the story and sent me to the principal’s office for the first time.
Seven year old Barbara was like, “What’s a principal?”
My teacher said, “The person in charge of the whole school, all the class rooms.”
‘Weird,’ I thought. ‘I thought this was a senate not a parliament.’
The idea that there was a guy in charge had not even occurred to me. I was really stupid for such a smart kid. I just kind of assumed everyone was responsible enough and thusly capabale of governing themselves (gross, was I a tiny republican?). I had no idea where the principal’s office was.
“You know,” my teacher impatiently said, “where you go when you’re tardy or have a sick day.”
“Why would I be tardy?” I said.
I needed another kid to take me to the principal’s office. As soon as we exited the classroom I started sobbing. With snot dripping down my face while I shook uncontrollably, I’m sure that the girl escorting me was not thinking ‘Wow, I better invite her to my pool party.’ I was a combination of book smart and completely unaware of anything. I probably had some sort of aspergers. My teachers would be like, “She’s so smart, she writes poetry and reads philosophy.” And my parents would be like, “Her, the kid that’s hiding under her desk eating her hands?”
Once inside the principal’s office, I met the principal for the first time. She took my sweat and tear soaked story and read it while I sat and watched. She didn’t sit behind her desk, as if to say, ‘See, there’s no barriers between us even though there I have a career, a husband, and you have a monster costume out of paper plates!’ She helped herself to a bowl of peanut m&ms sitting on a desk and offered me some. (Remember when you used to be able to offer a kid a peanut product without asking for all their medical records and a rectal exam?) I sat there eating candy while the principal read my story, cracking up out loud over and over again. I wasn’t sure what she was laughing at. Was the story really that funny? Was she laughing at me for being stupid enough to write this? Maybe that’s what getting in trouble was: instead of kids laughing at you, just someone bigger with a therefore bigger laugh?
Eventually she put down the story and said, “You wrote this whole thing? You didn’t copy it from anywhere?”
“Um, yeah, no, I mean I wrote it. Yeah,” I said.
“This is great. Keep writing these funny stories. You’ve got a knack for it.”
And I didn’t get any punishment other than that. I was sent back to my classroom, where I promptly cried again, this time for no reason, and stayed quiet for almost the rest of the school year. But in the back of my head the seed had been planted. I was a funny writer. I could write stories.