When I mention the fact that I went to a girls’ school for high school, I get a full range of responses, varying from an “Oh, really?” that means, “So that explains it” to an “Oh, really?” that means, “I pity you.” While I was still young and inexperienced, these responses bothered me. I would hide in my room, rock in my chair and cry to my cats. But my high school soon taught me to stand proud. Now when someone implies that there’s anything wrong with single-sex education, I shout “NO!” at the person loudly and forcefully, knee them in the groin, then crush his or her instep with my heel and run away. Nobody can tell me my four years at an all-girls’ school didn’t fully prepare me to deal with the real world.
It isn’t as though I spent four years looking around and wondering, “Where are the boys?” (Although I did that at the prom.) On the contrary, I liked the fact that I could sit at a table full of girlfriends at lunch every day and not be afraid to say what was on my mind for fear that I would be mocked, ignored, or asked on a date. I could walk the halls without fear of having my looks or figure judged; just my clothes and shoes.
It’s a magical experience when a teenage girl realizes that she, along with a pack of malicious, giggling friends, can make life a living hell for a young, nervous, twenty-three year old male graduate student who is trying to teach them history. Looking back, Mr. Capazzola, I feel your pain. Sitting in a small, dark, enclosed space with a class of fourteen-year-old girls who are watching a documentary film on the Vietnam War and hooting at the shirtless soldiers, is enough to bring out the fight-or-flight response in anyone. The things we did to our teachers may have been obnoxious and cruel, but they were always subtle, which made them worse. It is one thing to turn all the chairs in the classroom to face the wrong way, but it is quite another to say to a teacher in the middle of class, “What are those little patterns on your socks supposed to be?”
It wasn’t always fun and games, though. I would read Seventeen magazine articles that advised cozying up to “that hottie who sits next to you in English class,” and sigh mournfully. Worse still were the “Is He Right for you?” quizzes which I took dutifully despite my utter ineligibility, chewing my pencil thoughtfully and making up a composite boyfriend.
What I disliked the most about the entire experience were the opportunities to mingle with the opposite sex that were forced upon us by the administration once or twice a year. These happened on designated “Special Days”, in which half the population of our ‘brother’ school came to my school, and half the population of our school went to theirs for an afternoon of mixed classes, fun and unspeakable awkwardness. I can’t imagine what kind of incestuous values our school was promoting by calling the boys’ school across town our ‘brother’ school-since the relations between students at the two schools were often much more than familial.
I didn’t find it a difficult transition from high school to college. It only took me a few weeks to stop pointing and giggling. I’m truly grateful for those boy-free four years that allowed me to devote myself to my studies and to put my education first. And now that I’m in college, I can put all of that learning stuff behind me and focus on what really matters in life: catching a man.
The night before I came back to Bard, I fell off my parents’ bed. I had been knitting while watching TV when the ball of yarn rolled off the bed onto the floor. I thought I could retrieve it without getting off the bed, leaned over too far, lost my balance and fell on the carpet. I mention this incident not to draw attention to my nonexistent social life, or as an omen having to do with coming back to Bard, knitting, or having no sense of gravity or spatial awareness (although that might have something to do with my going to Bard). I only want to illustrate the fact that I’m the same clumsy person who went off to college a year and a half ago.
It is not that I expected that going away to school would change me completely or even significantly. However, coming back home for six weeks in the middle of the school year has certainly kept me grounded. My parents were adamant that I continue my education by going away to school. They are always interested in hearing about my classes and activities. Nevertheless, while I live at home, their concerns lie in the more practical applications of my talents and achievements.
“Yo’uve learned such wonderful things in that Philosophy class. When are they going to teach you how to hang up your coat?”
It’s not just the bad personal habits I’ve kept throughout college and brought back home again that are met with disapproval. Apparently college has also failed to teach me How Not to Burn Toast, How to Remember What I Did With the Goddamn Remote, and How to Wear a Hat When It’s Freezing Out. I won’t even go into my failure to show any improvement in the field of shouting out answers to the questions on Jeopardy, even after three semesters and 48 credits at a liberal arts institution. Oh, the shame.
I’m no less annoyed when, at dinner, my sister breathes through her nose at me in that really annoying way, even though two semesters of psychology have helped me to understand that she’s being passive-aggressive because she feels powerless (and because I took the last corn muffin). Maybe if the break was shorter, I could keep up the “My education has made me a changed person” facade, but you can’t hide behind Nietzsche quotes for six whole weeks. Two weeks, tops. Eventually it’s going to come out that you can’t spell “Nietzsche” and you just learned how it’s pronounced.
“Did you know that Thoreau never did his own laundry, either? There’s already greatness in your future.” On the one hand, it’s nice to learn that you can go home and things will pretty much be the way they were. On the other hand, maybe I’ll look into studying abroad next January.
I find it hard to understand when people complain about their siblings and how much they hate them. It seems ill-advised to be on bad terms with someone who is essentially a permanent roommate for the first seventeen or so years of your life—which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Sharing a room with my little sister has taught me how to compromise in difficult living situations. It has also taught me the subtle art of passive-aggression (“Where’s my new sweater?” “I don’t know. Maybe it fell in the toilet?”). These valuable skills have served me well thus far in college.
However, unlike in college, you and your siblings aren’t matched up from questionnaires, and you can’t request a room change in a cramped Manhattan apartment because your sister plays the Pixies at an ungodly volume day and night.
If you’re lucky or spoiled, you won’t have to share a room with a sibling, but even if you don’t, she’ll still be there every morning, giving you dirty looks and shooting Cap’n Crunch at you across the breakfast table. It’s best to make peace with her as early as possible. I suggest you find some common ground. Show a little interest in her hobbies, spend a little time getting to know her, and you will be amply rewarded one day in the future when she is a wealthy accountant and you are out trying to get a job with your degree in Medieval Poetry.
My only-child friends often ask me what it was like to grow up with a little sister. I always mumble something inane about how it must have been nice growing up without one. Actually, I’m surprised at the number of friends I have who are only-children. I think I’ve always been drawn to them, especially when I was little. Only-children were the bossy, demanding, dynamic kids whom I followed blindly everywhere even though they always made me take the broken swing and be the dog when we played Family. I don’t believe that children grow up the same with or without siblings. Not being able to get into the bathroom nine out of ten weekday mornings because your little sister locks herself in to blow-dry her hair for forty-five minutes even though she’s dressed and can damn well move over and let you in to brush your teeth for ten seconds, has an enormous effect on the developing psyche of a young individual.
Then there’s the fun of getting to see all the good genes your parents had to offer turn up in your sibling. She got the straight teeth, the thick hair, and the perfect eyesight. I got the asthma and the glasses at ten. I tell you, it isn’t fair.
The best part about having a sibling is knowing that someone else out there shares my background. Although we haven’t had the same experiences outside of the family, when it comes to life at home, my sister and I are on the same page. It’s validating to know that I’m not the only one who thinks my family is crazy. There’s safety in numbers.
When I was younger, I looked forward to Halloween with all of the eagerness of a shy, awkward kid whose insecurities vanished for one night a year behind a cat-mask. For several years my costume was a hot pink, leopard-print body suit with a pendulous black tail pinned to the rear. In my mind’s eye, I looked fantastic, sleek and mysterious, though the effect was somewhat lessened by my Velcro sneakers. Pictures of me in that costume, however, have not well withstood the passage of time—in fact, I wish there weren’t any. I would much rather remember that costume the way I saw it through the round feline eyes of its pink cardboard mask which made my face sweat and my breath echo in my ears. The feeling of anonymity that costume gave me was a drug more potent than Hershey’s. When I was decked out in full pink leopard regalia no one knew that I was the only person in my class who still couldn’t tie her shoes without making two bows (thus the Velcro). The fact that my sister was three years younger than me yet always got to be the Barbie who didn’t have a homemade haircut, became immaterial. Nothing could touch pink-leopard me.Unfortunately, my Halloween spirit has waned through the years. Perhaps this is because dressing up when you are young is more than dressing up; you assume another identity, and, rather than telling you that you just can’t wear your sequined tutu to school, for one evening every adult around you only encourages your fantasy. I believe the low point of my Halloween enthusiasm occurred during my freshman year at Bard, when I wore an orange shirt to a party and claimed to be a carrot. The shirt had writing on it, but I hadn’t bothered to turn it inside out. Several friends eyed me skeptically when I told them what I was, and asked why I hadn’t at least said I was dressed as a pumpkin. I lowered my head. That hadn’t even occurred to me.I can accept the fact that my indifference toward Halloween as of late is mainly because it is a holiday geared toward younger children and petty felons. However, it can also be argued that my decreased interest in dressing up coincided with my enrollment in a college where many choose to do so every day of the year.