Happy to Be Me| August 24, 2021
“Baruch Hashem, but Tammy seems to be drifting in a different direction. I’m worried,” said Mom sadly
I detest the first day of school.
It’s ruined before it begins. Listen to the typical exchange between my new teacher and me.
“Tammy Sacks?” she says as she goes through the list of names.
“Here,” I say, as I raise my hand.
With an arched eyebrow she asks, “Are you the sister of Fraidy Sacks?”
“Yes,” I answer quietly.
“If you’re half as special as she is, I’m sure it’s going to be a super year.”
I make some acknowledgment, and then stew in anger. I mean, hello world, just because my older sister is a major genius in everything and possesses stellar middos, doesn’t mean I’m a carbon copy of her. I’m Tammy, and my grades range in the low 80s, I’m late about three to four times a week, and I’m highly disorganized. Therefore, when the teacher makes her “cute” comment, I’m ready to disprove her.
Needless to say, it’s a recipe for disaster.
My parents are mega-frustrated with me. One night, when they were sure I was asleep, I overheard their conversation.
“What’s going to be with Tammy?” asked my mother. “Her teacher has called me no less than six times, and the last one was threatening.”
“What, they’ll prevent her from going into eighth grade?” asked my father.
“I hope not. The crux of the problem is, how do we get Tammy to shape up? Bribes don’t work, not even an offer for an outfit from Zara.”
“Don’t worry, Fraidy seems to be sailing through high school without a problem.”
“Baruch Hashem, but Tammy seems to be drifting in a different direction. I’m worried,” said Mom sadly.
I cover my ears and pull the blanket over my head. Did I have such a bad name? Is there no hope for me? Even my parents have to mix in my angelic older sister. Maybe I should drop out of school!
Mom and Dad seem to have some sort of protekzia, as I’m not kicked out. So I find myself trying to fall asleep the night before the first day of eighth grade.
Somehow that relaxed state eludes me. Questions assault my brain from all directions. Will I have a teacher who doesn’t know my famous older sister? What kind of year am I going to have? Will I last the rest of the term?
At some point my alarm clock wakes me up, so I must have fallen asleep.
I adjust the collar of my new uniform, and slide into my shiny new flats. Mom kindly prepares me a yummy roll with the works.
As I approach school, my heart beats faster. When the dreaded attendance rolls around, I await The Comment. Sure enough, Mrs. Lang begins, “You must be related to Fraidy Sacks,” but then adds, “what a special family you come from! I look forward to having you in my class.”
I sit with my mouth open. She appreciates Fraidy, but doesn’t worship her! That’s a welcome change.
Then my new teacher adds, “There’s an empty seat up front, please sit there.”
My mind spins like a washing machine. What should I do? Leave Malka, Leah, and Judy? Without them, classes will be mega-boring. Before I can come to a decision, my legs seem to develop a life of their own and they take me to the front row.
As the clock ticks closer to lunchtime, my imagination works overtime. Does Mrs. Lang sigh when I don’t attempt to answer the math review? Is she waiting to see me act like a Fraidy Junior?
At the lunch table, my fancy roll gets only two bites. I listen with half an ear as the gang tears apart our new teacher.
“She seems the super-strict type,” begins Malka.
“Right, her honey-laced voice will soon turn into bitter stings,” Leah says.
Judy takes note of my silence, and says, “Hey, how are you going to survive in that nerdy seat up front?”
I bite my lip. “I don’t know, I honestly don’t know.”
Late at night, I reflect on Mrs. Lang’s comment. You come from such a good family. Hmm, finally it isn’t all about Fraidy! Maybe she’s a different breed from the previous teachers.
When the alarm rings the next morning at seven I automatically reach to turn it off — but my new seat! How can I possibly slink in late with everybody’s eyes on me? Despite my sluggishness, I splash water on my face and achieve the impossible: I’m in my place before Mrs. Lang walks in.
Without the chevreh’s running commentary, I manage to pay attention. And of course, I act like a super-sleuth to see if Fraidy’s ex-teacher exhibits even a grain of comparison between me and my older sister.
She almost falls into the trap on the day our history tests are returned. By the way, that subject is totally not my forte. But Fraidy — she practically lives in the Middle Ages, or Renaissance, or whatever Age she’s learning. She received stellar grades in this subject, while my test has a big red 71 on the top.
“Tammy, your test,” Mrs. Lang says with a half-smile. I scrutinize her face and wait for her to say, “A pity you didn’t do as well as Fraidy used to.” Yet to my delight, it doesn’t come! Mrs. Lang, you got a point!
Weeks later, she scores again when she returns my halachah notebook. She could have easily criticized my sloppy penmanship or short notes. Instead, she writes on the first page, Love your attention to detail. Keep up the good work!
I mentally make a thumbs-up for good ol’ Mrs. Lang. Despite what the chevra says, she’s the kind of teacher who makes you feel fuzzy and warm. In fact, her lessons are interesting. Maybe there’s hope for Tammy Sacks!
By some miracle, I strive to succeed for several months. My ladder of success nearly collapses when my friends make a proposal at lunchtime.
Judy begins, “Chevreh, we have a problem.”
Everybody looks up, curious.
She continues, “I don’t need to remind you, but tomorrow is our major Tehillim test. There’s no way I’m going to get a passing grade even if I study all night. I suggest we take the day off. I hear that makeup tests are tons easier, and we’ll have more time to prepare. Whaddaya say?”
Malka reacts first, “Judy — you’re tops! How did you know that I’m in the same position as you?”
Leah gives a high five, “Count me in, fabs idea!”
I cringe as three pairs of eyes stare at me. Believe it or not, since I devour Mrs. Lang’s Tehillim lectures, I’m not worried about the test. But this is my chevreh! We’ve weathered challenges and fun together for the past six years. What now? Their stares seem to scream, Teacher’s pet, we know you have to live up to your title. I actually wonder what Fraidy would do, but, hey I’m not her! I feel a strong pull in both directions. Finally, I shrug, and say, “I’ll think about it.”
Judy smirks, and says, “I’ll call you tonight.”
When my friend calls me, I surprise myself and answer, “Sorry, Judy, count me out of the plan.”
“Tammy! I wondered if you would lower yourself to say that, but I was pretty confident that you would opt to stick with us. Whatever. Do what you want. By the way, don’t expect us this Shabbos. Bye, and enjoy the test tomorrow.” She finishes in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
I hang up and sit on my hand to stop it from shaking. I’m beginning to have second thoughts. Good friends are hard to come by. But how can I let Mrs. Lang down? She actually believes in me!
The next morning I find myself functioning on autopilot, and by eight o’clock I’m at my seat.
I ace the test, but my friendships fail. My high grade should soothe my lonely social life, but it doesn’t.
To my astonishment, I receive a call from Judy later in the week. “Boy were you spared. That Mrs. Lang is one tough teacher. The makeup exam was 100 times harder. You made the right choice, Tams.”
All I could answer is, “Thanks.”
As I hang up, I realize that I don’t have to live up to my older sister, or to my friends. Yet I do have to live up to myself. But you know what, I’m finally beginning to realize that it’s not so bad. I’m happy to be me.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 875)
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