Pebbles Flintstone [Her first words ever]: Yabba. Dabba. Goo.
When I was in high school, I worked hard to cultivate my image.
Gotta look right, dress right, act right, talk right, right?
Since the beginning of history, when high school girls began tying dinosaur bones into their hair and fashioning off-the-shoulder shifts from mastodon hides, we've all shared the same need to fit in.
But my biggest concern was neither my intricately feathered haircut nor the cut of my hand-bleached Levi bell bottoms. Both were immaculate; I made sure of that.
What I most worried about was being too smart.
I snuck my mother's favorite locket out of her jewelry box to wear for the photo without asking permission. Did I think she wouldn't notice?
It's true. At least in my day, girls who put obvious effort into being good students had a certain reputation, if you know what I mean.
Uptight do-gooders who concerned themselves with playing by the rules and getting patted on the head. Serious girls who served on Student Council and stayed in the classroom after the bell rang to clarify their homework assignments and make small talk with the teachers. Over-achievers who would rather collect gold stars than have fun.
And I was bound and determined not to be one of them.
Now, I didn't necessarily mind being smart. I couldn't help it if I remembered the difference between the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas, reveled in the tools of the Paleolithic era, or read aloud with dazzling accuracy. Smart came naturally to me and I was moderately proud of that fact
What I could not tolerate was any hint that I was trying to be smart.
I'd say that my hair, clothing, and make up stand the test of time pretty well. But I'm not so sure about those skinny little 70s eyebrows.
Math and science were especially tricky because a) they came particularly easy for me and b) they were the two subjects at which girls were definitely not supposed to be smart.
So I came up with a plan to handle this touchy scenario.
I signed up for only the very basic classes in those boys-and-nerd-girls-only subjects.
The bare minimum college prep requirements.
No fancy Advanced Placement courses or high-powered electives, thank you very much. I filled in my schedule with gym and Spanish, which served better my quest to portray myself as a fit, active young lady with an eye for adventure and fun.
And you know, I have no regrets. My life played out just fine, thanks to an academic counselor at Michigan State University who sat me down near the end of my freshman year and said, "Look, with the top grades that you're earning in your math classes, you have a lot of options. Doors will always open for women who are good at math. Choose a major in business or engineering."
The boy in my life at the time was studying accounting and convinced me to give it a try.
And that's exactly what I did. I tried.
Without shame, I tried hard to do well in those intro to accounting classes. I eventually earned grades that blew that boy straight out of the water, and it turns out I was just fine with trying to be smart after all.
Another version of my patented crooked smile, which seems to come bursting out of me whenever a camera points my way. But you know, I've come to accept that about myself too.
Looking back, I do feel a bit sorry for the self-conscious high school version of myself, so afraid to follow her own path. If I could take her aside, I'd give her a hug and whisper in her ear, "Stop worrying about what other people think and simply be yourself; that's all that matters."
Until I find the time machine to whistle me back through the decades to the Stone Age of my youth, I have landed on another outlet for sharing my newfound passion for trying.
and hopefully, inspire
teenage girls who are studying math with me.
Yes, of course I teach boys too. But it's interesting to observe how they rarely need the same sort of support to embrace their inner mathematician.
Despite all the talk nowadays about women in STEM, our culture still sends teenage girls some ugly subliminal messages about math, and I make it my business to make sure my girl students know that
it's okay to be smart,
it's okay to try to be smart,
and it's especially okay to be smart at math.
Wait. Girls who study hard and do well at math are way more than okay
They're yabba dabba do!
* * * * *
Most evenings, after my high school day was done and dinner was coming together, my brothers and I would gather round our trendy portable color TV to watch an old episode of The Flintstones. It's hard for me to image my teen years without them: overbearing Fred, lovely and level-headed Wilma, Dino the darling dogasaurus, and sweet baby Pebbly-Poo.