For many, kindergarten conjures up fond memories of finger painting, playdough and sing-alongs. Not me. Instead, I’m haunted by two moments of spectacular mortification. Both involved bodily fluids — some mine, some not.
The first incident happened during art class. To minimize the mess caused by a room full of five-year-olds armed with paintbrushes, Mrs. Long had helped us into kid-sized smocks, tying the strings behind our backs.
As I splattered gobs of red and green onto my canvas, I suddenly felt a fierce urge to pee. Intent on finishing my painting, I fought my biological needs for as long as I could, squirming under the growing pressure. But it soon became clear that if I didn’t find a toilet immediately, my creative juices wouldn’t be the only fluids flowing in the classroom.
Abandoning my paintbrush, I asked if I could go to the washroom and hurried down the hall. However, when I arrived at the urinal, I discovered another problem. I couldn’t get my smock off. Nor could I hoist it up above my pants to access my fly.
Now, the sensible thing to do would have been to run back and ask Mrs. Long to help free me from the apron. But even at that young age, I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t do something on my own or risk embarrassment in front of my peers.
So I opted for the second option — and straight up peed my pants.
Talk about suffering for your art.
You’d think that would have taken home the blue ribbon for my most traumatizing experience in kindergarten. But then there was the day one of my schoolmates vomited his guts out at the back of the classroom. With twenty rambunctious children in her charge, Mrs. Long didn’t have time to clean up the mess and left the puddle of puke with the promise to deal with it later.
Before long, my attention shifted away from Billy Barfbag, as I realized that it was almost recess time. Mrs. Long continued her lesson, but I was focused squarely on the clock above her head and the minute hand’s steady march toward the bell. I may have been at the front of the class and furthest from the exit, but I had every intention of being first to the monkey bars.
I sat coiled like a spring, quivering with anticipation. And then, what seemed like an eternity later, the minute hand hit its mark, triggering the triumphant clanging of the recess bell.
I exploded from my chair like an Olympic sprinter at the sound of the gun. Before my kindergarten comrades had even closed their colouring books, I was racing to the back of the classroom towards freedom. Giddy at my head start, I rounded the last desk and headed for the door.
Of course, that’s when it happened. Suddenly, my feet were no longer under me. My view of the door became a view of the ceiling as I landed in the pool of vomit with a sickening squelch.
I lay on my back for a moment or two, winded and drenched from head to toe in my classmate’s barf. Once again, the right thing to do would have been to accept that I had slipped up (literally), found myself in a sticky situation (also literally) and needed a hand.
Instead, I clambered to my feet and just kept running — too mortified to stick around and too proud to ask for help cleaning up my clothes.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t have a lot of schoolyard chums to play with that day. Nobody likes a kid dripping in regurgitated breakfast.
I’m still not great at asking for help. I hate the idea of being a burden or not being able to take care of something myself.
But my kindergarten catastrophes taught me that there are times in life when you need to swallow your pride and admit you need the support of others. Because if the alternative is spending the rest of the day covered in urine or vomit, letting go of your go-it-alone stubbornness is probably the right call.
No one is an island. There’s strength in numbers. Two heads are better than one. Whatever your preferred cliché, overcoming obstacles happens by having the right people by your side.
It’s a lesson I was reminded of twenty-plus years later. When I finally got up the nerve to tell people about my cancer diagnosis, I was immediately surrounded by an amazing team. Family members visited and called to wish me well. Friends donated blood and joined the national bone marrow registry in hopes of being a match for my transplant. And my co-workers not only took over my projects at the office, they found time to put together a CD filled with motivational music.
Then there was the medical team waiting for me at Princess Margaret Hospital — my doctors, nurses, lab technicians, social workers, pharmacists and more.
Indeed, as I packed my bag for my month-long stay at the hospital to kick off my chemotherapy protocol, I was grateful to have more than a coin flip to count on.
Who’s on your team?
Take some time to identify some of the key players who can help you on your journey. Who do you know who can provide you with motivation? Expertise? Distraction? A listening ear? On the flip side, who’s getting in your way of achieving your goals? Be mindful of negative people who might be draining your mojo.
Once you’ve identified your teammates, talk to them. Whether you formally invite them to be part of your journey is up to you, but it’s important to know who you can turn to when confronted with an obstacle.
Below are some of the roles various team members can play. Bottom line? Build a team that’s best equipped for the challenge at hand.
THE INNER CIRCLE
The Rock — Your Rocks are the people in your life you can depend on, no matter what. They’re the ones who will drop everything to help you. The ones you can freak out on and not worry it’ll ruin your relationship. The ones you can call at 2 a.m. to come get you after your car breaks down. They’re also the ones who will tell you straight up when you’re acting like a total jerk and the ones who’ll be more than happy to give your butt a swift kick when it needs it.
The Motivator — Finding your way through tough times can be exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally. When the tank is running low, seek out your Motivators: the ones who always have a supportive thing to say. Positive energy is contagious. One coffee date with a Motivator can reenergize you for days.
The Distractor — Some people will tell you to weed out all distractions and focus on the problem in front of you. However, although hard work and focus are critical, sometimes you just need a break. At those times, having someone you can go see a movie with can be exactly what you need.
The Pro — Who are the experts you’ll need on your team? If you’re starting a new business, it could be your web developer, banker, partner and accountant. If you’re facing something like cancer, it could be your doctors, nurses, acupuncturist and pharmacist. If you’re preparing for a marathon, it could be your personal trainer, physiotherapist and nutritionist.
The Mentor — Do you know someone who has experienced what you’re going through? Whether you’re looking for a new career or dealing with the loss of a loved one, find someone who’s “been there, done that.” Not only for advice but for inspiration that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.
The Unbiased Ear — As great as friends and family can be at listening and understanding, your personal relationship and history means there will always be certain biases and baggage between you. You may be more willing to open up to professionals who can provide a more neutral and objective point of view — be it counsellors, therapists, support groups or the person on the other end of the crisis hotline.
THE ONES TO BE WARY OF
The Buzzkill — Also known as the Naysayer, Party Pooper or Sad Sack, the Buzzkill oozes negativity from his pores. Dissenting opinions and constructive feedback can be helpful, but watch out for people who are doggedly pessimistic.
The Blocker — The Blocker has a knack of derailing your efforts. It could be the co-worker who doesn’t pull her weight or the micro-managing boss who doesn’t give you any creative latitude. It could be the friend who’s an expert at convincing you to go to an all-night kegger when you have an exam the next morning. Keep Blockers off your team whenever you can.
The Biscuit — A Biscuit is someone who crumbles under pressure. When dealing with a big challenge, you want people on your team who know how to handle stress. For example, your mother may be the sweetest person in the world. But if she’s breaking down and yelling at your doctors every time you go in for a check-up, you may want to recruit someone else for your next appointment.
Next: Chapter 3 — The Great Burning: What a million paper monsters taught me about things going up in smoke