I'm way younger than my four older siblings, so many of them got stuck babysitting me during their teenage years. The other side of that is that I spent a lot of time seeing what my future as a teenager might be like. Which might sound kinda cool, but in real life it just consisted of being frightened by all the complicated things they had to navigate and master and that I'd never be ready for.
My brother showed me algebra when I was seven. I was just learning whatever it is we learn at that age -- subtraction? But with numbers, people! Because math is done with numbers, not letters. I seriously thought he was playing a prank on me until he brought out his algebra book.
And then he asked my dad (who hadn't gone to high school) to help him with factoring. My dad was really good at "how stuff works" when the stuff was building furniture or fixing machines or just logically figuring something out. But of course he'd never been taught algebra. (This wasn't a traumatic thing, he just reminded my brother that his math ended before algebra began.) So the idea that my brother was doing math that didn't make sense to begin with was compounded -- first by the idea that he couldn't understand it on his own, and then further by the idea that there was no one who could help him. That's the kind of thing that I witnessed a lot as a kid.
My sister's high school Home Ec class had a day when they could bring a younger sibling to school. Actually, I'm just guessing that's why I was dragged to school one day -- I have no idea, really, how I got there or why I wasn't in my own school. All I know is that one day I was on an enormous giant-sized campus with 2,000 people walking by. The whole place was terrifying, but my sister promised me a cookie.
Okay, background: although huge cookies are pretty standard today, they didn't yet exist in the marketing world. Or any world. I'd never seen or heard of a cookie larger than two inches in diameter. Imagine, if you will, a hamburger magnified three times. Or a quart-sized glass of milk. Wouldn't that freak you out? Yes, yes it would.
So she gets me this cookie. And it's -- well, it's standard size now. But if you think of a cookie with radius of six inches, you'll have the idea. The cookie was the most apocalyptic thing I'd ever experienced. I think I started crying. I remember her consoling me that I didn't have to eat it all, and that yeah, it was strangely big. I also remember her Home Ec friends gathering around and sympathizing and remarking that they too had wondered about the cookies. Oh, wait, I just realized -- if she was in high school I was probably only about 4 or 5, so I hadn't even started school yet. God, that cookie was scary.
The big cookies were still there when I started high school. No explanation or anything. They still freaked me out. But a couple of years later, a few places started selling big cookies. In that context they were okay -- it was always some specialty cookie store (which actually, was also a new phenomenon), and the cookies were always presented as this really amazing novelty item. They didn't try to act like big cookies were normal. People were expected to point and stare and laugh and be amazed.
But back to childhood for a second. I was 6 when my sister started college. And of course, I got dragged to college as well, probably on some registration or buying books errand. On this trip, we walked past the handball courts. People were hitting tennis balls against those green backboards that are maybe 20 feet high. I misunderstood and thought they had to hit the balls over the wall. To another person. Whom you can't see. There is no way that it is possible to get that good in a sport.
My sister told me she was required to take P.E., or maybe that she wasn't required to take P.E. -- I was too busy breathing into a paper bag to properly grasp what she was saying. She did end up talking me down -- somehow she managed to communicate that the tennis ball going over the backboard was an accident, not a part of the official game. Still, these are the kinds of visions that haunted my childhood.
So when a friend of Lisa's met me for lunch last summer in order to give me tips about applying to grad school, and then told me how many books she'd be required to read her first year there (which is, I've subsequently learned, more than in any other grad school program anyone I know has ever heard of), all I could think was "big kid cookie." I started worrying that even if my dream of grad school came true, there was no way I could factor the x's, hit the tennis balls 20 feet high, or finish the big kid cookies.
Which is why I was relieved to see her here on a visit this past week, looking happy and well and acting like she isn't on ... oh, wait, I forgot to tell that story. In high school, my brother had a druggie friend that my mom didn't approve of. After graduation, my brother ran into his old friend, who had straightened himself up and was then in college and working part-time. Or full-time, or something that my mother found unbelievable. She said to my brother, in front of me, "He must be on speed." So yeah, I'm glad that grad school chick didn't appear to be on speed, despite how necessary my mom thinks it is to surviving any combination of work and college.
Grad school chick even told me that there are grocery stores where she lives and they sell produce. (Hey, if you've ever visited the midwest or NYC, you'll understand my concern in this regard.) And Lisa said that, instead of the 5 classes a semester that I had imagined, there are only 2 -- although I doubt that I heard that right, because I'm pretty sure you need 36 to 54 units to graduate. Whatever. If there's one thing my childhood should've taught me it's that the future is made up of giant baked goods and there's no need to worry.