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The wounds of childhood

I was reading a touching post in Fat Doctor’s blog about her
son – how she wanted to protect him from mean kids who would inevitably hurt
him at some point along his school career.
She spoke about how painful child vs. child cruelty can be, and how some
of us carry those wounds and insecurities into adulthood.

I was a bookish little girl, pudgy with pale skin, freckles
and braces… unathletic but enthusiastic.
Our gym teacher liked to begin each class by appointing two team captains
and allowing them to choose teammates one after the other until everyone had
been assigned a team.  So whether we were
going to play softball, floor hockey, basketball, or any other sport, it always
began the same way, two captains vying for the top athletes to build a team
that could crush the other.

The outcome was predictable.
The top “jocks” were usually selected as team captains, and they
proceeded to invite their favorite friends to their team, followed by the
mediocre kids, and finished with the chubby or clumsy kids at the end.

I was usually chosen second to last.  But there was one little girl who finished
last every time – Tina Appleberry.  She
was book smart like me, but although she wasn’t chubby, she had poor eyesight
and thick glasses and was rather uncoordinated and fearful of balls.  Most kids didn’t like Tina because she was awkward
and unattractive.  And I used to watch
her facial expression as she listened to the reticent team captain calling her
name last… because there was no one else to call.

Tina was a sad girl, and the years of being selected last
for sport teams had taken a toll on her.
She lacked self confidence, she was easily embarrassed, and she fully
believed that she wasn’t worth much at all.
I felt so badly for her… and shared her pain.  Being second to last wasn’t that much easier
– and I loathed gym class.  I would try
to get my parents to write as many excuses as I could think of to get out of
it, so I didn’t have to suffer the humiliation of my peers testifying in unison
that I was nearly the worst person in my grade at sports.

One day we had a substitute gym teacher.  She clearly had no idea who the jocks were or
what the pecking order of kid selection was supposed to be.  I was putting on my sneakers in the corner,
wishing that I could be invisible, when she walked up to me and announced that
I would be a team captain that day.
There were sighs and snickers as I followed her to the middle of the gym
floor and stood next to the class’s top jock, Johnny Tanner.  The rest of the class lined up in single file
in front of us so we could see our range of choices.

The teacher told me to choose first.  I surveyed the children lined up against the
wall, eyes fixed on me, eager to see who I’d pick first.  I paused.

“I call Tina Appleberry,” I said.  And you could have heard a pin drop.  Tina almost fell over in astonishment.  She slowly walked towards me to stand by my
side, lopsided pigtails and all.  I
smiled at her, she smiled back.  The
other kids didn’t know what to make of my choice – some thought I was stupid,
others thought I didn’t understand the rules (that you choose your favorite kid
first).  But that day I knew that I had
won a small victory – a victory that outweighed the sum of all gym game
outcomes in grade school.  And I can only
hope that Tina remembers that she was not always chosen last –and that her childhood
wounds are a little less deep because of that day.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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2 Responses to “The wounds of childhood”

  1. FatDoctor says:

    I think I speak for all the Tina Appleberrys out there (and I am one): Thank you. :)

  2. Amka says:

    That took me back some years. Skinny, uncoordinated, bespectacled and almost always chosen last. But at least I could run faster than them…

    But to you, it is clear that you had an essential ingredient for a good doctor from the beginning: compassion.


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