In 5th grade I was chosen to be on a math competition team for my elementary school. As a kid I was in many split grade classes, meaning I would do the classwork of the next highest grade but I never actually skipped grades. This meant I was doing 6th grade math and doing it pretty well, so I made the team. The competition was held at a local high school, which had different timed sessions in different classrooms. I felt like one of the big kids having to keep a schedule and move from class to class at a high school. This brief encounter with a more structured educational environment, along with the free cookies provided at snack break, would become the highlight of my experience.
Now, I was pretty good at math when I was younger. But my anxiety would always get the best of me and I’d sort of… forget everything I knew. This would prove especially disappointing to everyone else on the math team, because the school scores were cumulative. Did I mention the math team was made up of all the really cool 6th graders? And some kids that actually skipped 5th grade? I was sorely outclassed in every way. My math performance was a disaster and I was blamed for the lackluster performance of my elementary school in the district standings.
There was an award ceremony at the end of the competition and I’d considered just calling my parents, going home, and bawling my little eyes out. But our assigned faculty member asked a favor of me. Some kids had won awards for their specific performance overall. Jamie, easily the most popular girl in school, had to leave early. If her name was called, could I walk up and accept it on her behalf? I gladly accepted the responsibility. Surely there was no way I could screw this up! I could help in my own little way! YES! REDEMPTION!
At first all the kids that didn’t win personal performance awards were called up one by one to receive a participation award. Later in my adolescence I would despise these awards for the dry fart they are, but little 10 year old Lauren was very starved for positive interactions. I tightly clutched the printed certificate in my hands and waited.
It was on to the individual performance awards. When Jamie’s name was called out as the winner for something like “Best Score”, I gasped loudly. She had won! How exciting! I ran to the stage as the auditorium clapped. I leaned into the woman handing out the awards, “I’m not Jamie, that’s why I came up earlier when you said Lauren. But I’m accepting this on her behalf because she left early.” Pretty sure the lady just stammered out ‘uh okay’ or something equally brief and dismissive.
BUT YOU SEE, in my excitement I had missed the cries of “no, wait, Lauren, no” from my classmates. During the beginning of the awards, Jamie had run to her parents who were waiting outside, told them they were wrapping up, and come back inside. She was completely available. But she had no idea I was her stand in. I had no idea she’d come in the back. So when Jamie started to walk to the stage, THERE WAS THE SCHOOL MATH RUINER rushing the stage to accept her award. Jamie was upset with me. The kids all hated me. For months afterwords I was picked on, but honestly probably not anymore than I would have been anyway.
For some reason the next year, when I was invited to a science team day, I still accepted. How did that go? As well as you could expect.