Though my last post addressed the contents of my childhood journal, the real theme of it was, of course, my bad handwriting. Or rather, my Bad Handwriting, because handwriting as bad as mine deserves capitalization. My Band Handwriting has always been something of a family joke, but I don’t think it’s so funny. Just look what I have to work with when trying to plan my week:
Disorganization? Nah…it’s just my Bad Handwriting. And I can’t change it because, really, I’m the victim here–of a glory never quite tasted.
See, back in the second grade, Good Handwriting lay right at my feet. Back in the second grade, my dream of fine penmanship almost came true. But back in the second grade, I was also under the the wicked tutelage of one Evil Mrs. Young. She hated being a teacher, and I’m pretty sure she hated me. (I don’t know why; I had jeans with a gray mouse embroidered on the back pocket, and sometimes my mom french braided my hair for school.) I knew Mrs. Young hated being a teacher because she never answered our questions with words, only with an eyeroll and an exasperated sigh. I wondered if she hated her own kids and we reminded her of them. She seemed like the kind of woman who would hate her own kids. (Not to be rude, just saying.) The good news was that Mrs. Young was just youthful and pretty enough that she didn’t really terrify me. Until the day of the D’Nealian Test.
Once a quarter, the second grade class was subjected to a standardized D’Nealian test. D’Nealian, for those of you born after 1977, was the coolest part of my childhood–besides the pilot episode of Silver Spoons. (and btw: did you know that Ricky Shroder was baptized Mormon as an adult? Whoa. As if the church wasn’t true enough already.) D’Nealian was a cross between print and cursive, meant to bridge the gap between the two. D’Nealian was beautiful: slanted but smooth, swirly but restrained. Most importantly, D’Nealian determined, in Mrs. Young’s class, whether or not you were “ready for cursive.” Pass the test and you were on your way to adolescence; flunk the test and you were stuck scribbling like a baby while your friends poised their #2 pencils with an elegant maturity acquired only by their mad D’Nealian skillz.
I really wanted to pass that D’Nealian test. Like, worse than I wanted to win at four-square. Worse, even, than I wanted a red oversized sweatshirt that said “Esprit” on it. (That’s saying something.) I wanted to master D’Nealian so I could go on to learn cursive, and I wanted to learn cursive so I could get out of the proverbial playpen and sit at the proverbial grownups table. (I also wanted to learn what proverbial meant.) (I still do.) (Someday.)
And so I practiced my handwriting, and I practiced hard. I filled sheet after sheet of ledgered “dittos” (remember those?) with such heavy, meticulous D’Nealian that you could turn the paper over and it looked like a sheet of Braille. I left a few holes in the pages here and there, but such was the price of my determination. After weeks of applied study, a bright spring morning dawned with the announcement in class that today–today!–was The D’Nealian Test. Upon hearing the news, the very instruments my fate rested on–my two hands–shook with the task before them. I clasped them together on my desk, damp and tight, unwilling to let their weakness betray my fear to the Evil Mrs. Young, who stood right before my front row desk. I would not let that woman break me.
I sat up straight–someone might have poured water down my back, so stiff was my spine–turned slightly to the left, and crossed my ankles in the Ideal Handwriting Posture that had been demonstrated to us time and again. Frozen in position, I watched Mrs. Young walk up and down the aisles, carelessly dropping the dittos like feathers on desk after desk. I dared not look up when she came to me; what if we locked eyes and I absorbed her bad luck? Instead, I simply pressed the downturned page with a moist finger and slid it closer to me, turning it face up to assess the situation. One full ledger at the top, filled with capital and lower case Ks, Ps, and Ts, then four blank ledger lines beneath it, waiting expectantly to be filled with the expert arcs and dips of a cursive-ready second grader. I took a breath and dug in, arcing and dipping with the controlled enthusiasm of Picasso to canvas. After twenty long minutes of toil, our time was announced “up” and I rested my pencil on my page. Then, in signature second-grade style, I rested my head on my desk. My work here was done, gone out of my own literal hands and into Mrs. Young’s proverbial (!) ones.
An hour later, during silent reading, she called me up to her desk. I shuffled quietly to the back of the room, nervous as a cat. Private desk time with one’s teacher was rare back in my day; the last time I’d had any was when I’d peed my pants in the first grade. (I told everyone I’d spilled 7-up beneath my desk. It didn’t go well.) I neared her perch as she pulled my D’Nealian test from a drawer. The single page that was my destiny wavered in her hand and my stomach folded over on itself.
“Jennifer. I have your test here.” I nodded. (Politely I thought; a little kiss up at test time never hurt anything.)
“I just wanted you to know that your test is right on the verge of passing. I’m not sure about it yet. I’m going to have to think about it. I’ll let you know.”
I nodded again and pressed my lips to keep from screaming. Was she kidding?? Did she not understand the weight of her words? She might as well have said, “I think you may have been adopted, Jennifer. I’m not sure about it. I’ll let you know.” But of course I couldn’t say any of this to my formidable teacher. I was like Queen Esther before the king, with eventual beheading a real possibility. So I just nodded my head again (politely) and whispered:
But, as you may have suspected with the context clues, it was not okay. Because, whether I passed the test or not (and I honestly can’t remember if I ever did), my Handwriting Confidence was, in that moment, forever crushed. The humiliation of being proverbially (!!) “on the verge” would stain my penmanship attempts forever. It was then, staring down the Evil Mrs. Young (i.e., hanging my head and shuffling back to my desk) that I vowed to never, ever take any pains with my D’Nealian–or printing, or future cursive–again. My laborious efforts had been weighed, measured, and found wanting. I was taking my bat and going home.
And this, my faithful readers, is what I now have to show for that indignity. Check out my blogging ideas for the week. Can you see what a mess my mind is?
Notice how often I crossed out “Bad Handwriting.” (I feared the emotional fallout.) And if you think this is bad, you should see my grocery list and the sticky notes on my bathroom mirror, reminding me to make a grocery list. I know It’s All Wrong, but in my defense, please see my Standard Line of Defense (i.e., It’s Really Not My Fault.) Then whose fault is it, you ask? The Evil Mrs. Young’s, that’s whose! For real. (Not proverbially.)