Recently I went shoe shopping, a quick stop on a way to a conference event. I couldn’t find shoes that fit for my size eleven boney-long feet, but I did buy a pair of multi-colored polka dot socks. The brand said simply, “Happy Socks.” Who doesn’t need a pair of those?
I paid the cashier, tucked them in my purse, and headed to a little tapas restaurant with the thirty minutes I had before the conference started. I didn’t have tons of time, but I wanted to stop as I’d heard rave reviews about this place. Everyone said the brussels sprouts were amazing.
I peeked through the large oak door smiling. The hostess smiled back. “I’m eating tapas alone,” I said as I shimmied up to the bar. The bar tender smiled. He took my order for the brussels sprouts and turned on his heel. To feel less awkward sitting there all alone, I took out my pen and began to write.
I smiled at the cover of my notebook as I turned the navy blue cover. I was only bold enough to buy it because it was in the three-dollar bargain bin at Staples. The soft cover sported small gold dots and the bold words “Brilliant Ideas.”
When my food arrived, I did the thing that you’re not supposed to do and took a picture of it to post on Instagram. But it was more than just pretty food, the lemony-garlic flavor from the brussels sprouts lived up to the hype This was straight-up yummy.
Even with their yummy taste, the portion was large. So as I wiped the corner of my mouth and tossed my cloth napkin on the bar, I tucked a tiny to-go box in my purse–on top of my notebook and new socks–and said, “thank you!” to both the bartender and hostess.
I almost skipped as I walked along, just in time for the speaker. What a great night this was shaping up to be.
As I entered the event, my sunny mood evaporated. The entry table had women, all in hard core awesome professional wear with heels that seemed to go up up to their knees. Even their ponytails looked intimidating. I froze at the name tag table, in my casual teacher wear. I watched as each woman wrote her name in swoop cursive and dropped her business card into the large glass bowl for a drawing.
I had written in my journal at the restaurant how proud I’d been of myself, to just do something that I wanted to do, to really just go for it and be myself. In the midst of these women, the earlier thought felt childish. I felt far from home as I shuffled by the large bowl without a card to drop in.
I slipped into one of the middle seats, and read on my phone as I waited. During the session, the speaker began to focus on writing. She asked us to get out some paper. I smiled at the chance to take out my notebook for the second time that night. As I reached in to my purse, I felt the wetness of the edges of the pages, and pulled my hand back quickly, hoping that the strong lemony-garlic smell wouldn’t be noticed by the women sitting close around me. The brussels sprouts had spilled out in my purse, all over the notebook, all over my new socks.
Luckily the woman sitting beside me offered some extra paper as I quickly zipped my purse back shut. As we began to write, I couldn’t shake my disappointment. “Why is it,” I wrote, “that when I dare to think, for just a minute, that I might have one idea for a notebook labeled ‘brilliant ideas’ that a mess always ensues? Why is it that when things just start to go right, they always turn wrong again? Why can’t the socks just be plain ole’ happy socks?”
Something about the happy socks being unhappy, broke my stress and caused me to giggle. I brought my hand up to my mouth, as those around me wrote silently of their brilliant business ideas. I am not a business woman. I will never be a high heel gal. I am a farm girl who likes notebooks and teacher pants. I am a cardigan-wearing, book-loving gal who spills brussels sprouts and sometimes makes a mess of things. My “brilliant ideas” will never be pristine or just right, but they are mine, nonetheless.
Later that night I threw away that notebook. I walked along the big city street, below the big buildings, comfy in my teacher clothes, as I munched on leftover brussels sprouts–straight out of the container oozing in my purse.
I think to be a teacher, or to succeed at anything really, we need to accept that our “brilliant idea” notebook—no matter how pretty it’s cover, how cost-effective it’s price, how slick it’s pages—will get trashed. It will never live up to our perfect hopes, but what if the patina is what adds to it’s preciousness?
Part of the teacher paycheck comes in stories, part of what we get out of this life are tales of ridiculousness, of things going so wrong–so that we can notice when they go right. May we dare to wash up our happy socks and try again tomorrow, in search of yummy brussels sprouts and new beginnings.