When I was in elementary school, we had a sub who called herself “The Viking Lady”. She always came to school dressed head to toe in all the necessary Minnesota Vikings garb: a hat, a jersey, and blindingly bright shoes. She breezed through the hallways, a vision in purple and gold, her spirit beads swaying as she went. Sometimes, if you were lucky, she’d wink at you as she passed, her violet eyeliner twinkling in the light. Best of all, she always had candy on her person, hidden within some secret fold of her jersey, that she tossed to children throughout the day.
Truly a modern day hero.
As benevolent as The Viking Lady was, she had absolutely no tolerance for mess. If a student got out of line, she was quick to rebuke them, and the sharp look of disapproval on her face was enough to quiet even the rowdiest child. Despite that fact, we were constantly pushing her buttons. Children who were usually saints turned into non-stop talking machines in her presence. Something about a middle-aged women dressed entirely in Viking’s memorabilia really got us hype.
One day, The Viking Lady made us a promise: any child who could make the journey from our classroom to the cafeteria without talking would get extra candy for the day. This immediately got my attention. If I am fond of candy today, at age seven I was obsessed. I imagined myself confidently walking out of school at four, my cheeks and pockets filled with candy, rich both in sugar and the rise in self-esteem that can only come from being a winner.
I caught sight of my face in the reflection of my pencil tin and realized right then and there that there was nothing I wouldn’t do for that candy.
As with most things in my life, I took it too far: We began our voyage through the halls, my face stony and my shoulders stiff, like I was afraid to even move lest the soft rustling of my shirt rob me of my chance for candy. I took tiny, deliberate steps, positioning myself directly behind the Viking Lady, or more specifically, her candy-laden pockets, eyes quite literally on the prize.
Then, in the background, a noise: a muffled snicker from one of my classmates. Then, a barley concealed whisper from my side. I bristled; didn’t my classmates know how important candy was? Didn’t they know they were ruining their own chances of obtaining that delicious, delicious, candy? Why would they sabotage themselves like that? Who raised them???
It was too much for my tiny third-grade mind to handle.
I swung around to face my peers, my eyes darting wildly to each of their faces, and loudly (and obnoxiously) whispered, “QUIET.”
Everything stopped. My classmates froze and The Viking Lady turned to face me.
“Kiana,” she said slowly, the disappointment clear on her face, “I thought we had an arrangement.”
I swallowed down my fear and boldly gave my reply: “I was only telling the other kids to be quiet! I was helping you!”
“The only thing you’re doing is disrupting the class! I haven’t heard a peep out of anyone but you this whole time. No candy for you!”
And with those cruel words, she spun around and continued walking, like she hadn’t just plunged a yellow-sneakered foot directly into my heart. My classmates (softly) jeered at me as they passed, their smiles so wide they bordered on inhuman. My candy-loss made me feel slow and unsteady and I started dragging my feet until I was lagging behind everyone else.
When we finally reached the cafeteria, The Viking Lady opened her pockets to my classmates, allowing them to have their pick of her treasure, while I silently stewed at my table. I looked down at my plain ham and cheese sandwich and wondered where I’d gone wrong.
You might be wondering, dear reader, why I felt it necessary to tell you this story. Maybe, you might think to yourself, this is a cautionary tale. Maybe Kiana’s goal is to tell us about how much she has grown since then, and how now she minds her own business and works tirelessly everyday to better herself.
HA HA! You’ve severely overestimated my capacity for change! Not only do I still do things like this today (just on a more “adult” scale), I am arguably worse now than I was in third grade. At age 21, I still feel a need to control others, to steer them down the right path and force my help on them until they begin to walk it. Worse yet, sometimes these compulsions are still candy-related.
I let my desire to “help” others ruin my life. When the people I love don’t do what they’re “supposed” to do, I get so, so stressed out. I spend all my time thinking about them and how, if they would only listen to me, things would be so much better. I used to blame them for this, but now I see that it is really more my fault than anyone else’s.
I’m just now realizing that I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have so few answers, it’s actually kind of laughable. And while I want the best for my loved ones, I can’t make them do anything that they don’t want to. They are independent people with their own dreams and desires, and just because those might be different from what I originally planned for them, it doesn’t make them bad. Just different. And that’s ok.
I have spent 21 years whispering demands at people, and now I’m determined to stop. I will always be there to offer help and give advice to others when they want it, but I won’t force myself on them, and I’ll support whatever they decide, just as I’d hope they would support me if they ever stumbled upon my shockingly large secret candy stash.
Live and let live,
PS. I’m still mad about that candy!!