Sunday, June 3, 2012

4 Odd Things That I’ve Never Done

Life is full of things we never get a chance to do. Some, like flying to the moon or winning an Olympic gold medal, are just statistically unlikely to happen to any one of us. And then there are the things we never scrape together the money or time to do, like travel around the world or become a professional glassblower. But the other day, I got to thinking about the odd little things that, due to a bend in the road, we just never do, and we don’t even realize that we didn’t do them until years later, when we discover that everybody else has heard Frampton Comes Alive! or eaten Tofurkey or whatever. These strange little turns of events came to mind one Sunday morning while I was driving past a local church. As I watched the well-dressed parishioners amble in through the church’s front doors, I found myself trying to picture what they were going to do in there. But I couldn’t, because…

1) I’ve never gone to church.
I’ve been in a few churches for weddings and funerals, but I’ve never heard an actual church service of any kind, and I’ve never been in a house of worship on a holiday, like Easter or Passover. My four siblings, all older than me, had to go to church and sit through Sunday school when they were little; my parents, though they weren’t religious, felt that this was what civilized families did in the 1950s. But my dad, who could fix or build anything, always got stuck with “volunteering” to wire the church’s P.A. system or dig the trenches for its sprinklers. When my family moved to Sunnyvale, California, just before I was born, my dad took one look at the local church—a brand-new blank box with nothing but dirt around it—and said, “We’re not going to church anymore.” That was the end of religion in my family.

2) I’ve never changed a baby’s diaper.
In fact, I’ve only babysat an actual baby once, and that was only for about three hours, during which he didn’t poop. As a youngster, I didn’t like babysitting and avoided it at all cost. I had no interest in babies; I was the youngest in my family, and also the youngest among my cousins, so I didn’t grow up around babies; to me, they seemed like some sort of alien race, slow-witted and uncoordinated. Baby dolls terrified me—the glass eyes always staring, the weird little pouty mouths—so I gravitated toward stuffed animals and model horses. To this day, my maternal instincts are still M.I.A.; I worked with kids for a while in my 20s and liked it, but I never warmed to them enough to want kids of my own. And as for babies, I’m still nervous around them; they feel like overfilled water balloons about to pop. Plus, as Elaine said on Seinfeld, “No matter how clean they look, they’re always sticky.”

3) I’ve never seen Bambi.
Or Dumbo, Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or a lot of other children’s movies from the ’50s and ’60s. This was another consequence of having four older siblings; by the time I came along, my parents were tired of kids’ stuff. They were ready to be adults again, and the fact that they had an eight-year-old child in tow didn’t slow them down. They walked right past all the kidflicks, and instead took me to see movies that I had no business seeing, like Daddy’s Gone a-Hunting, which was about stalking and abortion, and Wait Until Dark, which was about murder and heroin. Cabaret scarred me for life; even if the fascism and confused sexuality were over my head, they killed a dog in that movie, and I definitely understood that. Years later, my sister and I used to go to a local movie house on Christmas Day to see classic kids’ movies, so I got caught up on Mary Poppins, Lady and the Tramp, and a few others. And now, of course, there’s Netflix; the only reason Bambi hasn’t trotted onto my queue is because I know it will make me cry.

4) I never learned weights and measures.
I missed this part of elementary school, where you memorize how many pints are in a gallon and how many feet in a mile, because I skipped that year. My mother, a fantatic about accelerated learning, taught me to read before I started kindergarten. It gave me a tremendous head start—back then, most kids didn’t learn to read until the first grade—but it had an unintended consequence: I was bored at school, bored, bored, bored out of my mind. My mother had skipped a grade when she was little, so she thought it would be no big deal to have me do the same. But it wasn’t that easy; the school officials balked, and it took her a couple of years to persuade them. Finally, they caved and moved me from second grade to third, in the middle of the school year. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that this was why I knew absolutely nothing about quarts and acres, let alone furlongs and fathoms—they’d taught that segment early in third grade, the part that I missed. I ended up learning most of what I needed to know through grocery shopping. But I still don’t know how many feet are in a mile. And I’ve found it doesn’t matter.

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