A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Revisiting: Let’s ‘Tend Like

I spent the month of April re-reading the 800+ posts I have published since 2005. On Saturdays in May I will share with you some of my favorites. This particular piece was posted on May 3, 2005.

Remember playing “‘tend like” when you were little? You know, “Let’s (pre)tend like you’re Batman and I’m Batgirl.” Or, “Let’s ‘tend like you’re the dad and I’m the mom.” I remember it clearly, although I was much more likely to play Batman and Batgirl than I was to play house. I still remember how my cousin and I used our superpowers to fly off the high end of our grandmother’s porch with our mulit-colored towel capes, secured by clothespins around our necks, flying in the breeze behind us. I eagerly await the day when my two youngest, who are already bestest buddies, talk well enough to express their own games of ‘tend like.

I think it is assumed that we will outgrow our pretend games once we become adults. Reading one of Reverendmother’s recent posts made me realize how that just isn’t true for me. I still play ‘tend like, sometimes on an regular basis! I’ve been doing it for years.

Back in the days when I taught high school, I remember beginning each school year with a heavy-duty game of pretend. I was always scared to death, but I was determined that I would never let the kids see it. I pretended to be confident. I pretended to be knowledgeable. I pretended to be prepared. Most of the time I fooled my students. Sometimes I even fooled myself.

Then there was the year I taught in a juvenile prison. Boy-oh-boy did I ever do a lot of pretending that year. I remember our very first day with the students. The new prison wasn’t completed yet so all the teachers had to be transported two hours away to the place the kids were currently housed. We were late on the first day. Not good. It meant that our students beat us to the classrooms. It gave them the upper hand, as if they didn’t have it already. Anyway, when we arrived we were escorted by guards to our classes. As we walked down the sidewalk outside the building, we could see into the windows of the individual rooms, all filled with girls who looked much like hungry tigers ready for buckets of raw meat to be thrown in to them. In one classroom, the window was raised and one of the students was leaning out, writing obscenities on the window sill. I saw her. Worse yet, she saw me see her. It was my first test. Would the new teacher stand her ground, or would she back down right away? What did I do? I played a hardy game of ‘tend like. I pretended to be a tough, fearless she-woman. I ordered her to erase her graffiti and stood strong until she actually did. I was scared to death, fully expecting her to fling herself out of the window to pummel me to the ground. I won round one. There were other rounds to follow.

There was the time that one of the girls decided to “stand me down,” as they used to say. In other words, it was an eyeball-to-eyeball stand-off where at least one participant acts as if she’s about to knock the other’s block off in order to see who would flinch first and who would be established as leader of the pack. I had no real desire to be leader of that particular pack, but I knew better than to back down. And so I stood there, eyeball-to-eyeball with Brandi, convinced that I would be going home that day with a black eye or a bloody nose. I distinctly remember one particular thought that kept flashing through my mind: “Why did I have to wear my glasses today instead of my contacts? They’re gonna make this hurt so much worse.” I pretended to be strong and prayed my shaking was all internal. Praise God, she actually backed down. Who would have guessed that I was so good at pretending?

I’ve pretended a lot of things in the intervening years. I pretended to be happily married when I was miserable. I wanted to hold on to that dream image of what my married life would be like until I couldn’t keep it up any longer.

I’ve pretended that things folks have said didn’t hurt my feelings, when beneath my best actress smile my breath is taken away by the power of the blow of the words.

I’ve pretended to have a working knowledge of many things, from computers to gardening, when I really only know the very basics.

I’ve pretended to be confident and unafraid when our contact didn’t show up on time to meet me and Anna at the airport in Guatemala. Internally, I was berating myself for not studying Spanish harder before the trip as I frantically processed our options.

I’ve pretended that I’m not afraid when a really bad thunderstorm blows through that frightens my children.

I’ve pretended that I know what to do when one of my kids busts a lip, or splits open a forehead, or slams a toe in the door. I have no clue. All I know is that Mama’s kisses, a loving lap, and ice seem to help a lot.

I’ve pretended to know what I’m doing as I enter into a church member’s crisis, when inside I know that for the entire time I was enroute I was screaming at God, “Why me? I don’t know what to say! I don’t know what to do! Surely you meant to send someone else, someone who could actually help!!!”

Sometimes on Sunday mornings when my own spirit feels withered and empty, when I think my sermon is a dry and uninspired mess, or when I am so angry with some pre-service antics or gossip that I have encountered, I still pretend to be the spiritual leader that my people expect me to be. God knows I’m not, especially on those days, but I pretend anyway.

For a long time, I felt like a fake. I know me pretty well. I know that what others believe about me isn’t always true. I know how to put up a pretty good front. Is it fake? Is it dishonest? Am I a phony?

Or am I just showing up with the best I have – hoping, praying, trusting that the Spirit will fill in all my many deficits?

The jury’s out on that one. I change my mind about it on a regular basis.

Regardless, ‘tend like is my game and I have a lifetime of experience playing it. Am I alone, or are you a player, too?


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