When I was about nine, my neighbor Kevin and I were dangerously sitting on our knees looking out the back of our school bus, waving to the line of cars behind us. Kevin, a well known prankster, was issued a citation by our bus driver. I was not.
It didn’t seem fair at the time. In fact, I remember saying to the bus driver, “I was waving out the window too,” in case maybe she didn’t see me. I felt weird that I hadn't been reprimanded.
“Do you want a citation?” she asked.
I imagined the shame that came with carrying a white piece of paper home, the disappointed look on my parent’s faces as I handed it to them, the punishment (what if they took away Small Wonder viewing?!). I shook my head, and watched Vicky try to be a real girl that night. But I thought about how unfair it felt that that I got off scot-free. Even though I benefitted, it didn’t feel good.
The citation didn’t seem to irrevocably change Kevin’s life. He has a career, a wife with great style (I scoped her wedding shoes), and a child. But how did not getting one change mine?
I was quiet in elementary school. To keep us busy, Mrs. K, a fourth-grade substitute (who’d caught me cheating on a spelling test the year before—phew, I’m not perfect after all!) read each of our name’s meanings. “Alicia,” she said in a big voice. “Simple and seemly.”
“What does ‘seemly’ mean?” Kevin had asked.
“Polite,” Mrs. K responded. “Calm.”
I remember the way Kevin nodded. “That’s about right,” he’d said.
That day on the bus, I learned I could get away with things others might not. It was a rare example of what I’d now chalk up to female-privilege, or perhaps “typically-demure” privilege. It gave me permission to move through the world a little differently.
I think about that a lot these days, especially as I consider privileges I don’t have: being heard when I’ve spoken up about pain or discomfort, feeling safe to walk alone in the woods. Sure, I’m not the most privileged…but I’m not the least.
In tiny ways, every day, in ways I can’t begin to see, I’m more privileged than many. And there’s a part of me that wants to point out, of course. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t still a part of me that doesn’t want a citation, and just wants to watch Small Wonder in peace.