Saturday, May 18, 2013

Keep Going!

Growing up, there were a lot of rules in the Harrison household.  We could only eat “cold” cereal on the weekends, and even then only before 9am (a tactic my parents used to get us out of bed on the weekends), there was absolutely no TV allowed during the week, and only a specific allotment of time for TV on Friday and Saturday nights.  We were only allowed to play on the computer or play video games for an hour a day, and of course only after our homework was completed.  Also, expected each day, every child was to practice the piano for forty-five minutes.  I was in the younger portion of the family, and the last three children were to practice an additional instrument (mine was the cello) for thirty minutes per day.  One hour and fifteen minutes of pure torture, per day. 
Did I mention I grew up in a big family? There were twelve of us.  I am number eleven; the eleventh of twelve.  Now, we were all required to play the forty-five minutes of piano as we reached middle and high school, but as younger, elementary-school-aged children, an hour was expected of us each day (barring Sunday, the Holy Sabbath). 
In the morning, my mother would enter each bedroom and wake up the sleeping children who occupied each said bedroom (there were usually two, and sometimes three occupants in each room).  She would brightly sing:
Rise and shine
Get up it's mornin’ time!
Rise and shine
Get up it's mornin’ time!
Rise! And! Shine! And!
Get up it's morning time
Of the
Children of the Lord

We would grumpily roll out of bed, and when we heard the “dinner bell” (a large, brass bell that was rung in order to call the family from all corners of the house—used for prayer time, breakfast, dinner, and scripture reading) we would stumble into the living room, still in our PJ’s for family prayer.  And that is when the action started. 
The elementary school kids were allowed to play the piano for thirty minutes in the morning, before school.  If this was accomplished, after school was over you would only be required to play thirty more minutes of the hated instrument until you were free all evening! The only catch was, we only had two pianos.  There were five or six of us at the ripe age of splitting our piano time, but only two pianos.  So, in the mornin’, it was an all-out sleep-still-in-our-eyes war for who got to play the piano. 
We would position ourselves carefully in the living room:  the grand piano was located there, and the best spot to be in the family prayer circle was in the back of the room, nearest that piano.  The older piano was downstairs, so the planning had to be strategic—either you got the good piano upstairs, or you had to sacrifice it to at least get one of the pianos in the morning.   A second catch: due to the battling of the children for the pianos in the morning, it was forbidden to have your piano books already in your hands or (God forbid) already set up on the piano, ready to be played out of by some smartie-pants who thought ahead the night before.  So, after the bell was rung, and the children stumbled into the living room for family prayer, things got serious.  Children pushed and shoved each other for the coveted kneeling positions, and after the parents selected a child to offer up the supplication to heaven we would all bow our heads, tensed and ready to spring as soon as the prayer ended.  If you were the selected orator, you had an advantage—you got to choose when the prayer ended, and therefore you were the most ready to run for your piano books, and subsequently, for the piano itself.  The other children were would peek their eyes open, and gauge the other’s reactions and future moves, as well as eyeing the prayer-giver, sizing them up and guessing what tricks they had up their sleeve, ready to jump up as soon the word “amen” was spoken.  And then, it would happen.  The child would utter the trigger, “amen”, and the living room would erupt in chaos:  children running for their books, desperately trying to be the first to get their bums on the bench.  Every morning ended in fights, and exclamations of, “I got here first!” and “Mom! Lance cheated!” or, “Mom! Trent doesn’t even have his books yet!!”.  Often, the daily morning battle would end in tears.   
After the morning action, everything settled down a bit. I, along with most of my siblings, objected obstinately to practicing the piano.  I abhorred the forty-five to an hour (plus an additional thirty on the cello) spent each day playing music.  I would often “cheat” on my time by speeding up the timer, and if I didn’t do that, I would lie down on the piano bench and wish away the seconds.  My parents were cognizant of all this degenerate behavior, and they could be heard from distant corners of the house hollering, “Keep going!” Sometimes, in the act of lying down, and with the pressure of the parental need to hear music flowing from the living room, I would attempt to pick out the tune with my toes.  
I wouldn’t ever leave the bench, though.  As much as I hated playing the thing, I couldn’t leave the thing, because I had an obligation, and again only two pianos to accomplish this expectation on.   Going to the bathroom was tricky.  You had to be quiet and quick—lest a sibling steal your piano. An empty piano bench, regardless of how much time you had left, was fair play. 
            When I was sixteen, I talked my parents into letting me quit music lessons.  I never felt such relief, and such freedom when they relented.  Suddenly I had so much extra time for activities! It wasn’t until a little later in my life that I realized what a privilege it had been to learn to play two different instruments, as well as to develop the skill of reading music.  My parents had paid for lessons year after year (ten), and I had squandered the opportunity.  I wasn’t bad at playing the piano by any means, I had learned to do so, and quite well, but I could have been so much better if I had just appreciated the prospect.  But such are the ways of maturation, and the honed ability to value your parents and their attempts to shape you into a well-developed adult that only come once you are grown.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013


          Harrisons like to identify with one another.   There are quite a number of us, and when we get together, conversations are often sprinkled with, “Harrisons are….” or “That’s because you are a Harrison”.  Common Harrison phrases include, “Harrisons are loud”, “Harrisons are smart”, and “Harrisons are funny”.  Physical qualities of a Harrison involve, “the tight hamstring of a Harrison”, and “the Iron Bladder of a Harrison”.  As a child, and an adult, I have assimilated these traits and qualities, took them as truth.  But the real truth is, I do not, and have never had, an Iron Bladder.
            It all started in elementary school[1], when the urge to urinate would overcome me in places like the playground, or the hallway.  To combat these urges I would immediately drop to the ground in a crouching position, and bending one leg, I would place it firmly in between my thighs.  I would sit there until the urge would pass, and my friends would be standing above me, “uh, Brooke, if you need to go to the bathroom, just go to the bathroom.”, to which I would reply, “I DON’T need to go to the bathroom.  I’m just resting.”  Sometimes these compulsions would attack me so quickly and without notice, the use of my hand cupped over my crotch would be in order.  At other times, when I was alone at home, the urge to pee would be accompanied by a quick waddle[2] to the bathroom, and once I’d arrived, the urge would overwhelm me right there in the bathroom, two steps away from the toilet I would assume the crouching position, and counting in my head to seven or ten, at the final number I would jump up and on to the toilet, hoping to make it in time[3].
            There were a few instances where I didn’t even make it the bathroom; I didn’t even make it close. 
The first occasion I can remember occurred when I was in kindergarten.  I was wearing a white t-shirt and jean overalls.  The details are a bit hazy, but I did pee[4] myself, and I was very, very embarrassed.  I went to the office to call my mom who brought a change of clothes, and the wet clothes were placed in a plastic bag. When my mother arrived, I begged her to take me home.  But she insisted that I stay in school.  She had brought a change of clothes that resembled the others I had had on earlier, and now I was wearing a jean dress over the same white t-shirt.  During the last recess of the day, my friends and I were sitting on the metal “climber”, and doing flips on the bar.  A friend noticed the change of clothing, and probed me about it.  “Why had I changed clothes?” “What happened?” I maintained that these were the same clothes I had been wearing all day, and kept on flipping. 
The second peecurrence was when I was much older—in the sixth grade.  It was recess, and I was playing foursquare[5].  I was in square “B”, and the game was getting competitive. I had to use the bathroom quite badly, but a line was forming outside the square, and to step out now would mean giving up my spot and having to wait in line upon my return.  I chose to play on.  As the game continued, my need to pee grew in urgency[6], but I petulantly refused to answer nature’s call.  The ball bounced here then there, I pushed it past me and into other player’s territory again and again, and suddenly it was happening.  Pee, it was coming.  My eyes widened in horror in recognition of the shame that was running down my legs.  I sprinted away from the game mid-play and rushed inside to the bathroom, peeing all the while.  Once inside a stall, I slumped in humiliation on the toilet, the need to be in the restroom at all gone.  I had worn a skirt[7] that day, and a slip under that.  Fortunately the pee had all soaked into the slip, and I took that off, scrunched it tightly in my hand, and marched to my homeroom, where I pushed it deep inside my backpack, praying the smell wouldn’t carry. 

[1] It actually realistically started when I was just a baby.  I probably never properly learned how to hold my pee in, the diaper was my best friend and my mortal enemy—it taught me to pee at my leisure. 
[2] I had mastered the art of walking when I really had to go to the bathroom.  It consisted of a disjointed squatish-walk in which one leg would be left behind, and the other would cross over in front to create a sort of pressure against my crotch, (mentally) holding the pee in.  
[3] I didn’t always; make it in time I mean. 
[4] It is interesting to write this story in an adult voice, where the most correct terminology to use here would most likely be “pee”, (which I used above). When I was younger, in fact during these instances we weren’t allowed to say the word, “pee”.  We were only allowed to refer to urination as “pee-pee”.  It feels a little wrong to mash these two worlds. 
[5] Foursquare is a playground game that is a square, divided into four smaller squares designated A-D.  A big ball is bounced from square to square, directed by the player in the square.  “A” is the best square, “D” the worst. The ball is allowed to bounce once in your square, and then you direct to the next square without holding onto it.  Players get out by missing the ball, holding the ball too long, or throwing the ball out of bounds.  A line forms at the edge of the encompassing square, and when a player gets out, everyone moves up a square, and a new player enters, in square “D”. 
[6] Talking about peeing so much is making me have to go right now!
[7] Odd that both elementary occurrences involved a dress or a skirt.