Roll Call

I’ll never forget roll call on that first day of 9th grade English class.

Immediately after my balding, bearded, charismatic teacher in rounded spectacles—whom I’ll refer to as Mr. G—read my name from the roster, and I meekly said, “here,” he looked up at me, walked toward my desk located five rows back along the wall, and announced, “Class, I’d like you all to meet the younger sister of one of my favorite students.”

Yep, that was my debut into English class that first year of high school.

Mr. G was one of those teachers you wanted to please. His big, Carpe Diem personality towered over his petite physical stature. If he saw something special in you, a kernel of greatness—well, that was really something.

Chairs and tables in a classroom

That sister he was referring to as a favorite was two grades above me. She’d been the only one of my slew of siblings who had him as a teacher up until that point.

It didn’t surprise me she was one of his favorites. She’s smart, vibrant, outgoing, and makes things happen. I’m no slug or dummy, although sometimes it’s an uphill battle for the left side of my brain to keep up with my right side, but I would’ve preferred to eat a whole Serrano pepper than raise my hand and ask a question in front of the whole class.

I loved and admired my sister. Still do. So much, as I do all of my eight siblings. Each of them astonishes me with their plethora of God-given gifts and graciousness. I’m not kidding. But because this particular sister is the one right above me in birth order, it was her shadow I felt most often in.  And I spent much of my childhood painfully envious of her.

No fault of hers. She didn’t try to overshadow me. She was simply being who she wonderfully is. And, as a matter of fact, she looked out for me in the hallways with the ferociousness of a tiger. If anyone dared pick on me at school (which happened in minor ways a couple times), she was fully prepared to turn them into mincemeat.

Regardless, I felt doomed to failure in English class after roll call that day. The bar had been set, and in my juvenile mind, there was nowhere for me to go but down. Fortunately, however, it was not math or science class—my nemeses, my torments. It was English class—a subject in which I could hold my own, a place where I had some chance to shine.

Determined to prove myself worthy in Mr. G’s eyes, I poured myself into topic sentences and paragraphs and transitions and analysis of the classics. I even raised my hand in class from time to time.  In spite of my efforts, I never did become one of his favorites. That’s not the vibe I got from him anyhow. But on the last day of class, when he called me up to his desk to hand me back my final paper—which, I’d like you to know, had a big fat A marked on it with black felt marker—he said to me, and I’ll never forget it,  “Kid, I’d put money on you any day.”

That put a spring in my step, for a little while at least. Despite his quirkiness, Mr. G was a good guy and a tremendous teacher. But, 30+ years later, now that I’m a mother of a 9th grader and two future 9th graders, wanting nothing more than for my children to soar, I wish I hadn’t placed my worth in someone else’s grip like that. I am who I am,  and I wish I’d known then that was enough.

There are few things more gratifying in life than looking back and realizing you’ve made progress. Eating a gooey, chocolate chip, oatmeal cookie rates pretty high, too, but its bounty is rather short-lived in comparison.

Progress comes in many forms, of course. The type of progress I’m thinking about today is progress in our perspective.

Although perspective is intangible, not something we can cross off a list, there is a very practical test to measure its progress. If what bothered you yesterday no longer bothers you today, or if a particular negativity that used to permeate through your veins and brain structures—stirring up anxiety, envy, resentment or fear—now bounces off you like a ping-pong ball, congratulations! You’ve made progress in perspective (well, unless someone turned you into a mannequin. Stuff bounces off those, too).

I’m happy to say I’ve gained a little perspective since 9th grade English class roll call. I’ve since learned what a soul-zapping waste of energy it is to compare ourselves to others, be consumed by envy, or base our worth on the opinion of another. We all have a unique contribution, something we’re meant to do here that no one else is. There are lots and lots of things I don’t know, but that’s one I know for certain.

Love these song lyrics written by Susan Kay Wyatt, inspired by THE TWELVE GIFTS OF BIRTH by Charlene Costanzo.

“Every child born
Comes into the world
In a wonderous moment of glory
And the truth we come to know
As we live and love and grow
Is the gift that opens our story.”

I linked-up this post with the wonderful group of writers at Finish Your Sentence Friday, hosted by the one and only Kristi Rieger Campbell.

UPCOMING ANTHOLOGY! CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS! I’m so excited to be co-curating an exciting new anthology relevant to so many of our lives with Christine Organ. Click here.

I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom of three and freelance writer. I launched this blog Carvings On A Desk in 2015. It’s where I connect with my own voice, write the stories down, and doodle about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace. To see my other recent posts, click here.

About Julie Jo Severson

Julie Jo Severson, former PR girl, is now a freelance writer, journalist, editor, and lost-and-found attendant for two teens and a tween. This is where she doodles about past, present, future clinking glasses and making peace.

37 comments on “Roll Call

  1. Julie,
    Isn’t it amazing how much a comment from a teacher can stay with us and give us a sense of okay-ness? I had a Business Law teacher in high school that did this for me. It meant so much that he believed in me but you’re right – we really should learn to base our worth on how WE feel – not around how others see us.
    So glad you linked up this week!

  2. Hey Julie, I love those lyrics and I love the back story that came to the point of what you wish you had known. I’m glad Mr. G had something good to say. Though we shouldn’t measure our success on someone’s opinions, it sure feels good to get a positive one.

  3. Comparisons are so awful and can really sneak into your psyche. Sometimes it can be for something so minute and unimportant but it can eat away at you. I try to shake it off when it happens. We all have our own gifts and strengths and thank you for reminding us all at #blogsharelearn.

  4. ACK! I am so so so IN LOVE with your writing, Julie. I could just read you for hours and never look away.

    I love so much of this post- all of it really, but mostly I love the love you have for your siblings, the message of perspective, and how we seem to both be growing along the same introspective paths, my friend. Oh, that gives me goosies!

    “Kid, I’d put money on you any day.” <— THIS? That guy knew exactly who you were and the potential you held in your gift.

    I'd put money on you too. ANY day.

  5. Oh man it really is all about perspective, isn’t it? I needed to read this. Thank you. Received a rejection this week that knocked me for a loop and your post today caused a shift. I shall look at it differently. Thank you! Also spotted your link to the anthology call out. Very cool. I’ll investigate further. Yay!

  6. It would be so interesting to be able to go back to certain times of our life, and re do them from the perspective that we have now. I have to admit I’m still a little guilty of comparison and worrying too much what others think. I definitely need to keep progressing in that area!

  7. It’s amazing how such things stay with us. My sister was popular, outgoing and smart and I was.. painfully awkward when I started high school. I absolutely bloomed on my own, in my own time, but I thought the bar was just set, and I’d never reach it.
    Also, she did really silly things.. trouble things.. mischievous things.. which was funny because teachers expected me to do the same things, and I didn’t!

    • Yeah, my own two daughters are complete opposites. They’re five years apart, so they might have enough of an age spread to not deal with teacher comparisons. But teachers should know better to compare siblings anyway.

  8. Beautiful essay Julie! A similar thing happened to a friend of mine in Physics class. Mr. S. called role and said hello Miss Smith (alias), how nice to have you in my class, your brother (a troublemaker) was such a joy (sarcastically). She denied being related to him, confessing to me later that her brother had warned her that the teacher “hated” him. I don’t think Mr. S. bought her declaration, but he was cool with her. It was kind of funny, but I would have been terrified to lie to a teacher. But my friend wanted a chance to prove herself without any preconceived notions based on her brother’s antics.

  9. Julie, you have such a knack for honing right in on those in-the-moment feelings (whether past or present) and articulating them in a way that brings me back to those same moments! Such a gift. I liked what Mr G said to you, that he’d put money on you any day and I so appreciate how happy that made you. But I LOVE your perspective today… Amen! 🙂

  10. This is such a glorious reminder to try to be our own person, not overshadowed. I wish I could send this to my little sister. I wish it could resonate with her, but I fear the only thing it would highlight is her feeling of overshadowedness. She’s expressed in the past that she feels I’ve succeeded where she’s failed. She certainly got a bad deal at middle school, following in my notorious footsteps. I wasn’t well-liked and she bore some of the hangover from that.

    I’m glad you got your chance, that you had your moment to see your worth in your own self, that you’ve had time now to realise you’re enough, and absolutely the only one who can fill YOUR shoes.

    I hope she gets to see that one day.

    • Lizzi, what a thoughtful comment. It’s taken a long, long time for me to start coming into my own and truly believe I have something unique to offer. We probably all struggle with that on some front. I hope your sister gets to know that truth and the gift of her own story, too.

      • I’m sure you’re right, that there’s some universality to the feeling of not being enough on our own. I hope one day my sister can look back and say that she’s discovered her worth.

  11. That book – Twelve Gifts of Birth – is on my shelf right now. My Mom gave it to me years ago and it’s wonderful. It is truly a wasted effort to compare ourselves to anyone else. If only we could learn that earlier in life. Although…my daughter and I just talked about this tonight when she read a quote from a juice box of all things about being yourself because everyone else is taken. So perhaps there is hope for the future!
    Lovely post.

    • That’s so cool you have that book on your shelf!! As for the quote–what an incredibly profound little gem to find on the back of a juice box! That just goes to show wisdom can show up in the most unexpected places.

  12. This one really hit home for me Julie, especially this: “I wish I hadn’t placed my worth in someone else’s grip like that. I am who I am, and I wish I’d known then that was enough.” This is a truth I remind myself of consistently, sometimes even daily. Comparing ourselves to each other is so not helpful, yet…it all takes practice and perspective. Thanks for this!

    • Thanks, Lisa. You’re right, it does take practice. I hadn’t thought of it that way. But you almost have to consciously make the choice everyday to not compare, because it’s so ingrained in us to do so.

  13. Aha! I came from a slew of siblings, too, with one older sister, Dee. She was popUlar; I an egghead. Everyone knew Dee. My Mr. G, an award-winning math teacher, looked straight at me my first day of analytical mathematics and said, “Some of you don’t belong here.” From that moment on, I was out to prove him wronger than wrong.

    Sometimes comparisons can be motivating.

  14. So glad to visit this post today! Brings me back to the very hard years of being the oldest daughter and having a younger sister who was so jealous of me, I spent years trying to tell her how special she was was only when she realized herself, that our relationship shifted..She is a beautiful mother, person and teacher and she give gifts to so many around her. I’m blessed God has shown her who she as as a child of God! I love your many years are wasted comparing ourselves with others! visiting today from #raralinkup!

    • I love how you mention your relationship shifted when she realized her worth. So interesting. When we grow inside, relationships do shift, and it can draw us closer or nearer. In my case, once that cloud moves away, I feel more able to appreciate and be happy for others.

  15. This sentence moved me to tears: “There are few things more gratifying in life than looking back and realizing you’ve made progress.”

    Its truth rang in my head. It is one of those things that you have come to believe from the depths of your soul but never put words to it.

    Thank you for putting words to it. xo

  16. Jo, it’s amazing how our early relationships can shape so much of who we become. This reminds me how important it is to find my own place in this world. Comparing myself to others will only distract me from my God-given purpose. I’m so pleased that you’ve been seeing progress and finding your own way.
    Blessings, Marva | sunSPARKLEshine

    • Wow, what a cool thing for you to say! Was my voice in your head talking really, really fast as you read it? 🙂 I always feel the same way when I read your writing. You write just like you talk. It’s so wonderful to know you in real life now, still a little surreal even. Thanks, Nina!

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