One of the main reasons work stresses me out when it does, is because of all the fretting I do. “To fret” literally means to gnaw, as in: The dog gnawed on the chew toy until she reached the squeaker.
I’ll admit I fret, not on chew toys, but on an important email I sent, the way I phrased an answer, the choice not to do my nails last night, the task I volunteered for etc. On my weakest days, this fretting takes up too much energy.
I’ve noticed that when I fret, a pattern of thoughts flows through my mind. A lot of them are very similar to the thoughts and feelings that inhibited my performance as a kid.
When I was little, I sat in the back a lot and zoned out or doodled Hello Kitty scenes. I remember when it rained no one could take my eyes off the window. I used to forget my homework a lot. No, I didn’t forget to do it, I would literally, actually forget to bring it. I’d somehow miss the step of throwing it into my backpack. I used to infuriate the strict teachers at my Catholic school. I got my first detention in second grade for forgetting a permission slip as I described in my post, Frazzle Dazzle.
Fifth grade in particular seemed like a year that just ran on “I forgots” and “I didn’t realizes.” The worst thing about it was that these phrases were one hundred percent true. Dress code violation and I were best friends. I could never understand why my light brown shoes violated the school code of brown or black shoes only. They were brown, just light brown.
I had this anklet that could only be taken off with scissors. It was some kind of lucky rope thing. I used to stuff it into my sock. This worked pretty well until one day all my “school code” socks were dirty, so I threw on ankle socks with my light brown Timberland-wanna-bes and stuffed that sucker down as much as I could.
Of course, recess distracted me from ensuring its position. When we came back from recess, the anklet was out. This made the meanest teacher in the world notice not only my anklet but also my shoes, my socks and my BFF necklace (not dress code). I guess the anklet ignited her scanner vision so she somehow noticed the necklace too.
It was in this same teacher’s class that I saw my Mom’s assertive, professional, maternal and “don’t mess with my sh%*” side. My mom was in her thirties; the decade I just started. She is a professor with tenure, extremely well-published and impressively organized, but back then, she was just my mom, until this incident when she became more than that to me.
“The Incident” began with Mrs. Mean-red-haired-lady collecting the vocabulary homework I had done the night before. I rummaged like a mole digging a hole through my backpack. It wasn’t in any folder. It wasn’t even one of the crumpled ones at the bottom dirty from graphite dust. I pictured it on my desk, lying there worrying why I hadn’t taken it to school with me on the date I had written on it.
What could I do? I told the truth, “I forgot it.”
Mrs. Mean-red-haired…oh eff it, her name was Mrs. Hennessy. She screamed at me that I was a liar. I had to write, “I will not lie” a million times. I missed the lesson; my hand became numb, but I wasn’t surprised. This was just another one of those times that I forgot.
For my mom, it was something else. When I told her about what happened, about why I didn’t feel like smiling, about why my hand hurt and why my face was extra red, she turned straight around, back to the classroom. I wasn’t going near that door, and she knew it, so she let me wait a few feet away from the entrance. She knocked. Mrs. Hennessy opened her classroom door as shocked as a terrorist with a gun pointed to his/her face. My mom, however, was very calm. Her long wavy brown hair was loose. She looked beautiful like a professor of mermaids. She looked strong, a lot stronger than Mrs. Hennessy ever did even on her meanest day.
I heard bits and pieces, “… to accuse a child of lying?! She did do her homework. I watched her. She is not a liar.” At the time, I was amazed, in awe of this woman who made my sandwiches and my ponytails, who carried my Carebears lunchbox as proudly as she did her briefcase.
Now, I deal with the Mrs. Hennessies on my own, but sporadically, during my days full of fret, I feel like my anklet is showing or that later on, I’ll find out some deadline was yesterday and not tomorrow.
Though I haven’t been punished or accused of being a liar since elementary school, on my toughest work days, I expect that it’s coming, that I’ve worn an inappropriate outfit, or that something important has slipped my mind. When I am fretting, I try to remember my mom, in the doorway, speaking firmly with Mrs. Hennessy, when I learned that I really didn’t do anything wrong
To be continued in Part II with tips on how to conquer those work days filled with fret.
This post is dedicated to my Mom, whose birthday is Wednesday. XO
I’m so pleased to announce that three of my poems, “Slots,” “Scraping” and “Make a Decision” have been published in Barking Sycamores Literary Magazine Issue 13. Barking Sycamores is dedicated to neurodivergent literature and its craft. I’m so honored to be a part of this project. Barking Sycamores Issue 13
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