M. Regina Cram
If at first you dont succeed, skydiving is not for you. Arthur McAuliff
Okay, heres the scene. Youre strolling around a sprawling oceanfront estate that once belonged to President Calvin Coolidge. The spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean are not the focus, however, for today is graduation day. Nursery school graduation day, to be specific. Folding chairs are neatly arranged for adoring parents and grandparents, who have come to watch their little darlings star in a splendid performance.
Im the pipsqueak cowering in the back.
My task was to recite a poem to the assembled audience. According to my parents, Id memorized it to perfection. In fact, Im pretty sure that I drove the family crazy as I wandered around the house droning the poem during the weeks leading up to graduation day.
The big day arrived. I proudly strode to center stage in my poofy dress, took one look at the hushed crowd . . . and I bawled. No amount of coaxing would quiet me down. Still bawling, I was dragged off the stage in shame.
I was a failure, at 4 years old.
The following year, I was assigned a speaking role in the kindergarten Christmas pageant. A few days before Christmas, parents gathered for what promised to be spectacular entertainment. Once again I bravely marched onto the stage, opened my mouth, and cried. And cried. And cried. The teacher had to haul me off the stage in disgrace. Again.
My first grade teacher was not about to allow yet another disastrous performance, so before that years pageant, she pulled me aside. Now, Regina, she lectured in her sternest voice, Ive heard all about what happened in nursery school and kindergarten. Youre not going to cry again this year, are you?
I was so insulted. How could she think that I, a sophisticated almost-6-year-old, would do such a thing? How rude!
And I didnt. If I remember correctly, I was awesome.
Two failures, then a success. How often life works this way.
Fortunately, childhood failures do not necessarily translate to failures in later years. Brilliant child that I was, I flunked my traffic signals in kindergarten. For years thereafter, I thought this meant Id be barred from getting a drivers license when I was older. Im happy to report that I did, in fact, get a license, and Im a pretty good driver, despite what everyone says.
While early failures dont doom us for life, they certainly can slow us down. In junior high, I wanted to run for student council but chickened out because it involved giving a speech in front of my classmates. I hadnt forgotten my preschool fiascoes and I couldnt guarantee that it wouldnt happen again.
The funny thing is that as an adult, my work involves public speaking, and I love it.
The transformation began in high school, when I volunteered to lead a Bible study for a small group of junior high girls. I didnt cry even once, so I expanded my role in college. By the time I entered the workforce, I was comfortable speaking to groups of any size. I even enjoyed it.
Ever since that time, I have been trying to get my family to cut me some slack. The problem is that my mother captured my early failures on home movies, making it rather difficult for them to forget what an idiot I was. She even recorded my tearful entry into kindergarten. I was wearing another poofy dress, and sobbing so hard that I had to be half-carried into the building by my elderly teacher. My family takes delicious pleasure in reminding me of that day. Hey, youd cry too if you had to wear a poofy dress.
Ive devised a brilliant method of retaliation. I simply threaten that during my next speech, I will tell stories about members of the family. I might even make some up. I have a vivid imagination.
Its working. After all, we all want to be remembered for our successes, not our failures. Now if youll excuse me, I have to get rid of those awful poofy dresses.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.