Herd of Turtles

When I was in fourth grade, I got into some trouble. Enough trouble that my dad realized I needed a change. It wasn’t my grades, they were perfect. It was my inability to control my temper that got me into trouble.

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know that my parents were deaf. Along with this deafness came the inability to speak as a hearing person could. In other words, to someone who hadn’t been around deaf people before, they sounded unintelligible. To kids my age, that provided just enough of an excuse to say mean things. Mean things made me angry. Anger made me fight. Fighting got me in trouble. The worst part is, I was not a very big person and got the worst end of the fight half the time.

The one thing I learned about fighting is that the more you did it, the less you feared being hurt. Instead of one or two punches being thrown, you would fight until you won or you were broken up, usually by a teacher. Where the real problem came in for me was that during a particularly nasty fight, I was so angry that when the teacher pulled me off the kid, I swung and hit her leg. That earned me a 3-day vacation.

I think my dad suffered from a mixture of pride and frustration. On one hand, he was proud that I would stand up to mean kids, but on the other hand, he was frustrated that I had to keep standing up to mean kids. He would tell me to stop fighting when kids made fun of them, saying he didn’t need me to fight his battles. He had put up with meanness for most of his life because of his deafness and tried to get me to understand that fighting wouldn’t change a thing…those kids would continue to be ignorant and mean. He was right, of course, and I should’ve listened…but I just couldn’t.

A couple houses down from us was an insurance agent who wasted little time welcoming us to the neighborhood we moved to about six months prior. He had a couple of kids the same age as me and my oldest brother and used that to get to know us. Sure enough, my dad changed insurance to his and us kids did become friends. It was him who suggested to my dad that I should attend the Lutheran school with his kids. My dad liked the idea, but as most of you know, private school isn’t cheap. It didn’t seem like this could happen.

As it turned out, each grade at the school had two spots open for kids to attend on a grant. The grade I was in only had one of those spots filled so I was able to switch schools. Of course, even though I was good for all the academic subjects, I would be starting Fifth Grade without a real education in religion. Instead of falling behind, I embraced the studies because frankly, I was bored with the academic subjects and the religious studies gave me something new to learn.

The school was about a mile away from our house and in the morning I would catch a ride with the insurance guy and his kid who was my age. He also gave a ride to two other kids in the neighborhood, both of whose parents had bought insurance from him…imagine that? Don’t get me wrong, he was a good guy, that’s just how he made his living. The fact that he gave me a ride every morning showed he was a generous man.

Every morning was the same. We would all meet at his house, pile into the station wagon, then hear the same thing without fail.

INSURANCE GUY: We’re off like a herd of turtles!

We would all roll our eyes, even his kid, and the day would begin.

I’d love to say I never fought again, but that didn’t happen. Things did improve, however, because I only had one substantial fight in the four years I attended the Lutheran school…and it wasn’t about my parents. It was about a bully.

The problem began in Sixth Grade when this bully became my classmate. He originally was supposed to be in Seventh Grade but was held back. He was about a foot taller than me and outweighed me by at least 30 pounds. Unfortunately, he was also one of the kids that rode in the car with me every morning. His idea of fun was to pinch my leg and say over and over again, “Are you gonna cry?” Of course, I never did. I put up with this for about a week before something happened on the playground.

I was running to the baseball diamond with the other kids when the bully grabbed my arm and then swung me as hard as he could into the backstop fence. I bounced off and hit the ground. Then the anger came. I jumped up and hit him as hard as I could in the stomach…I had to bring his face closer since he was tall and it worked. He doubled over and I went to town on his head. By the time the teacher broke it up, he was bleeding pretty well from his nose and, yes, he was crying.

The only thing that saved me was that the teacher saw the fence incident and even though nobody approved of my reaction, I didn’t lose any school time over it. I did, however, have to learn extra bible verses. It was worth it…the bully never bothered me again, nor did any other bully at that school.

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