By Kat Kiefer-Newman
Do you remember writing those horrible gradeschool essays “What I did for my summer vacation”? I always hated those because we rarely did anything at all. I would sit and listen, hours and hours, it seemed, while my classmates elaborated on trips to the coast, to the desert, to the mountains, to Disneyland, to Mexico, to Canada, and on and on. Me, I sat home and watched reruns of Brady Bunch.
Now I was lucky, in my neighborhood there were nightly games of hide-and-go-seek after a hot afternoon of street football. That wasn’t so bad. We also had the occasional water fight, when our parents weren’t home, anyway. That isn’t the stuff I wanted to put in my school essay, though. I wanted to tell tales of moving to my Grandfather’s and playing with the local goat herd (I was a big Heidi fan back then); or I wanted to explain how a tornado swept my house up and transported me to another realm (Dorothy was another favorite); or even how I was secretly a mermaid, but that I had traded my voice for a pair of legs, which I was now using to tap under my desk with as I stared in frustration at the blank paper (Anderson’s “Little Mermaid,” of course, another favorite read from the local library).
Back then we had one movie theatre in town. It was a screen that pulled down behind the stage in the Air Force Base auditorium. They showed one movie on Friday nights, Saturday nights, and sometimes a matinee of that movie on Sunday. If it was a good summer vacation I got to see a movie every week. That was the highlight of my essay.
Now, I stand at the front of my classroom, on the other side of the desk, and I look out over the tops of heads bent studiously over their lined paper. They write for me “What I did for my summer vacation.” It’s a wicked circle of torturous self-reflection, I know. These stories are very different from the one I would have told, or even did tell, back in gradeschool. And when I read how this student worked extra shifts to try to buy insurance, or that one lost her job because her car broke down, I will think about how I whined so much in my 10-year-old self-consumption.