Scenes from a Neurotic Childhood: Blue Jeans, Hot Dogs, and Other Dangers

The world is dark right now. The tax bill the House passed would cripple me–and many other others–financially, net neutrality is fighting what is very likely a losing battle, and the White House decided to gut the State Department because they haven’t done enough to put the future of the country and globe at stake. Also, it looks like my home state is about to elect a pedophile.

What I’m trying to say is, let’s take a break. I’ll tell you another story from my neurotic childhood. And then we’ll all sip some tea and take some deep breaths and remember that we can fight fear with love and hope, whether it’s the individual fear that snakes through our crazy brains, or the corporate fear that’s taken over our country and putting us at each other’s throats.


Come closer, child: I’ll tell you a secret.

For six long years, I refused to wear jeans. First grade until middle school. Prime jean wearin’ years. But I stuck to shorts and stirrup leggings, and believe me: the time for stirrup leggings had already come and gone.

What drove this jeans aversion? Did I want to ostracize myself? Was I following my own Holly Golightly star, dancing to the beat of my own fashion drum from an early age? Was it because I couldn’t stand the touch of certain fabrics and cut the tags out of all my clothes because they were torture devices? (well yes, actually, but in this case–irrelevant). Nay, brethren and sistren. NAY.

It all started with a very cute pair of white jeans and . . . a flowered belt.

I feel toward that belt like the Scooby Doo villains feel about the gang–if it hadn’t of been for that meddling belt, it would all have been FINE.

But alas, the belt.

The belt was my mom’s idea. My mom chose most of my school outfits because otherwise I would’ve dressed myself in the same two outfits every day: the turquoise and silver t-shirt and shorts with dancing cats, or the pink pioneer dress my grandmother made.

We can’t blame her for the belt.

On the day in question, sometime in first grade, my mother dressed me in white embroidered jeans with a flowered belt. I’m sure it was cute.

But then.

First you have to understand: I didn’t like to ask to go to the bathroom because you had to get a bathroom pass, and I was always afraid a teacher would stop me and ask what I was doing, and I spent a lot of time planning how to explain myself so I wouldn’t have to go to the principal’s office and possibly receive a paddling, and it was just ALL VERY COMPLICATED, okay?

That’s why I waited so long. Too long.

I finally asked my teacher, and of course she gave me permission. I hurried out of my (trailer) classroom and rushed to the (trailer) bathroom. Made it to the stall! But as I fumbled with my belt, horror dawned: I couldn’t get the belt off.

I had never actually worn a belt before (remember, I’m six), and in the high-stakes crisis of imminent pee, my spatial problem solving skills (never great at the best of times) were severely limited. I tugged at the belt as precious seconds ticked by. I finally got it undone, but then there was ANOTHER barrier – the double-buttoned jeans.

It was too late. I stood in the freezing (trailer) stall and realized I had to deal with the unthinkable. Wetting one’s pants was a dishonor reserved for kindergarteners and the weird kid that sat in the corner. Grade school wasn’t for kids who wet their pants.

I remember the walk of shame back to the classroom, and the grim determination that arose on the way: I would never wear jeans again.

And I didn’t. For the rest of my elementary school career, I refused to wear any type of pants that required more than elastic to stay around my waist.

I made a similar resolution a few weeks later, when I choked on a hotdog at lunch. I ran to the teachers’ table, and as I choked and choked, one teacher said, “She’s throwing up.” Thankfully, my own teacher realized what was happening, and jumped up and gave me the Heimlich. But that was it. Hot dogs went on the NOPE list, too.

Anxiety can give you a pretty long NOPE list. Danger, it screams. Danger is everywhere.

And so we add to our NOPE lists, hoping they’ll keep us safe.

But here’s the clincher: every item on the NOPE list makes your life a little smaller. A little more pinched. A little less . . . free.

And the worst part is this: all those rules can’t keep you safe.

The best things in my life have come because I scratched things off that list. Some of the things I feared the most came true, despite all my rules to keep them at bay–and I’m still here. Those things I thought would be the end of the world? They weren’t. That’s incredibly freeing. In fact, the smaller my “NOPE” list gets, the more freedom I have.

So go do something on your own “NOPE” list today. You probably won’t pee your pants or choke in public. And the freedom is worth it. I promise.



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