Midlife woman letters

Back in Time ~ Letters of a Midlife Woman

This letter was written as an assignment for a writing class through Wesleyan University. It’s part of a collection of letters, including this one to my father, written in midlife to different people at different times of my life.


Simple Rights

May 1, 1968

Dear Mrs. Clark,

I’m writing to tell you that you are a terrible third-grade teacher.  A horrible, very bad person. I’ve sometimes wished you were dead, but then I take it back because I know I’ll get in trouble for even thinking that.  But do you know how much you have ruined my life? I am only 8 years old but I sometimes wish I were dead, and that’s ALL YOUR FAULT.  

Why didn’t you let me go to the bathroom when I BEGGED you for permission?  I’m a good girl.  A good, obedient student.  I’m not bad or lazy.  I don’t ever break the rules.  I REALLY had to go use the bathroom. But you wouldn’t let me.  And then you made me stand in front of the whole class to lead the Pledge of Allegiance!  I REALLY HAD TO GO TO THE BATHROOM, MRS. CLARK!  But you know that now.  Because I couldn’t hold it one second longer and I peed myself standing right there in front of the whole class, holding the flag I wished could make me disappear. Wanting to wrap myself up in it and hide. 

Right in front of Eron Monroe and Barbara Kelly and Adam Brooks, sitting in the front row with John Russell and all his weird minuteman drawings that he shouldn’t have been doing.  

Girls can’t wear pants to school, so the warm pee just ran down my bare thighs from under my homemade orange plaid corduroy pleated skirt, over my white scratchy knee socks, and into my brown saddle oxfords that I hated anyway. If it had been a different day, I might’ve been wearing thick tights to hide the marks on my legs from the buckle end of a belt. Maybe the tights would’ve soaked up more of my shame than my socks did. Instead, my pee made a bigger and bigger puddle that turned the light oak floorboards dark around my too-big 8-year-old feet. I tried very hard to keep holding the flag up and not let it drop down and drag in any of my pee on the floor as I just stood there, frozen. Now, when I think back about this in my head, I imagine me mopping up all my pee off the floor with the flag. Then throwing the pee-soaked flag right on top of your head as you just sit at your big wooden desk by the window, not rescuing me at all.  

Third grade

Of course, everyone howled. I was already not popular, with my long skinny brown legs, big feet, overbite, and thick pearlized pink cat-eye glasses I picked out to look glamorous – but that just make my eyes look 10 times too big.  And so now that I’ve also peed on myself while leading the Pledge of Allegiance standing in front of the whole class, well, my life is ruined.  More ruined.  

I am bullied and teased every day still.  No one will play with me at recess. The girls all hold their noses and giggle on the playground when I come near.  The boys throw pebbles and broken twigs at me while I sit by myself on the bench behind the rusty monkey bars. I try to ignore them all, pretending to count the chips of paint, patches of rust, or missing bolts on the monkey bars. Even Barbara Kelly, who was my friend, stays away from me and teases me with the others now. A group of them followed me home once, throwing rocks at me and laughing and calling me Pee Pee Pants.  This is ALL YOUR FAULT.  

Third grade shouldn’t be this miserable.  I kept telling you what was happening to me – what is still happening to me – but you never did ANYTHING.  I told my mother too, but she didn’t do ANYTHING EITHER.  She’s been too riled up about everything going on right now with Negroes and our simple rights to care even one tiny bit that her own Negro daughter’s simple rights are being trashed on every day of her life. She’s from Alabama, but we’re in Cleveland now so she ought to be paying attention to what’s happening to ME. Where’s MY simple rights movement?

I hate her too sometimes. Just like I hate you. There is NOBODY on my side. There is NOBODY protecting me.  When I saw Mommy sobbing her eyes out last month after Martin Luther King got shot in that motel down south and died, I thought, “Good. I’m glad she’s crying. I’m glad she’s sad. Now she knows what it feels like to feel hopeless. Heartbroken.” She was all folded over on the living room floor, kind of on her knees but not, with little flecks of the beige carpeting stuck to her black stretch pants that show how bony her knees are. She was just kinda rocking back and forth there on the floor in front of the black-and-white TV on the stand. I was going to tell her she was sitting too close to the TV, like she always tells me and my younger brother and sister, but I thought better of it right then. 

Martin Luther King got assassinated (that means getting killed by someone who doesn’t like what you are doing) on my sister’s birthday. She turned four the day he died. Good thing Mommy had already made her birthday cake before it happened. My sister is too little to know about Martin Luther King or the other simple rights people they keep showing on TV and in the Life magazines we get. But I know. I didn’t hug Mommy when she was crying. 1968 is a bad year for ALL of us. It’s the worst year of my life.  

I wish you’d get assassinated Mrs. Clark. And I’m not taking it back this time.

I TAKE IT BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m never sending this letter.

The End

Your Student,

Natalie W.


When I became a teacher in my second career, I taught third grade. My class always took frequent bathroom breaks, and I never refused a child's request to go to the bathroom. I remembered the importance of paying close attention to the emotional health of young children.

Do you ever look back from where you are now in midlife, and wonder how things might have been different if you’d paid attention to what you already knew about yourself when you were young? Just last month, when I was packing up my house after selling it, I found this “book” I’d written at 11. I was struck by my prescient self-awareness in fifth grade.

Self-publishing in 1971
“Marie gets hurt mentally easier than Angela. She is not hesitant to argue if she feels strongly about something, even if it costs her her friendship with others.”
Guess who “Marie” is.
“She really does not want to get married at all.”
Dang, girl, you knew what was what 50 years ago.

I wrote here about what I would now tell my younger self. But this is what I’m wondering now: What would you want your younger self to tell you now in midlife? Let me know in the comments.


All images are my own, except for the featured cover photo from Pexels Free Media Library.

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38 comments

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Jennifer❤ You’re so right about our tough exteriors. My biggest job in my journey to authenticity in midlife has been to love the little girl that will always be there, too.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Natali❤ Kids can be cruel, and it’s worse today with social media. If that episode had happened today, children would have pulled out their iPhone 13s and shot a video of it to post on YouTube or TikTok.

      Telling the truth is a good message to remember!

      Like

  1. I would tell my younger self that normal people can handle confrontation without flying off the handle. Confrontation is not always a negative, high drama event.

    I love this post. Very vulnerable. My 4th grade year was horrible, so I feel for your 3rd grade self. Big hug to her and you.

    Your 11-year-old self was quite the Sage… 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I wish I could hug this 8 year old (pee, brown skinny legs, and all). I will send you a hug instead. My school years were awful, and some of the teachers were pretty mean to a little girl that could have used some help and kindness. Like Bitchy said, it helped with toughening up, but also with building walls. If I could talk the little girl that I was, I would say go easy on the walls.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh thank you dear❤ Hugs back to you🤗 You are very wise. Wall-building is a direct result of pain, and your little-girl advice is so important. Thank you for your kindness, and lovely comment!❤

      Like

  3. My younger self would tell me don’t continue to be like me and never ask for any kind help or solutions to anything that might be bothering you. I would thank my younger self for thinking of me and tell him, I don’t hesitate, these days I do my best to be as proactive as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Writing letters, like this, can be cathartic and help us heal from past trauma. What a terrible teacher! So pointless and cruel to put you through that. I had some wonderful elementary teachers, but my third-grade teacher was very mean too. She used to tell us how stupid we were. Teaching is a privilege that some people should not be allowed!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear girl, so sweet and so brave.

    I experienced a handful of moments like that in third grade too. What is that about? Two incidents involved a school bully and a neighborhood bully – both boys – who felt the need to physically let the new girl in school and the block know they were in charge. The days came when the inevitable showdown (life-defining) for me came. I knew it, couldn’t tell my folks, had no support from the other students. You know, new meat! Any way both showdowns ended with me fighting for my life, scratching them up with my famous fingernails.

    I was scared to death…about being punished for fighting by the school and my parents. Neither happened. Guess what? This lioness🐅vanquished those two young lions🐅🐅. They never picked on me ever again.

    Somehow, those victories did not make me feel safe or good about what I did. For the rest of my life I have never had a physical fight with anyone. But I can definitely “read the room”. It has saved me in my adult life to not get embroiled in petty dramas that can turn dangerous.

    I know it has influenced my response to people, places, and things to this day but I lived to tell the tale♥️. Roarrrrrrrr.

    Wow! You are really packing it up and getting out of here! I’ll spill a bit of wine on the plaza for you when I make it across Spain to Santiago de Compostela next year.

    Like

    • Good for you, Shirley, for roaring! I used to imagine me kicking some ass and feeling victorious, but never had the nerve to do it. Wish I had💥.

      So excited for your trip to Spain! I will just be starting the residency visa process next year. Fingers crossed…

      Like

      • Fingers crossed. You are doing it… one more step 👣at a time. You’ll get there (again) when you get there! 🇵🇹

        You’ll be there before I finish walking 🚶🏽‍♀️those 500-plus miles on the camino.

        Like

  6. This is heart-wrenching and powerful at the same time. I believe the “Mrs Clarks” in our lives serve a purpose, teach us something maybe resilience, sense of self, etc., but importantly we find our voices. Look at that little girl, now! She inspires. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for these beautiful words, Khaya ❤. Yes, you are right about the growth and discovery and voice we find through negative experiences and people. Thank you for sharing your voice! I’m so grateful we connected here❤💫

      Liked by 1 person

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