For the May WCC at the Review Game. Go vote for me, as a birthday present (or, you know, cause you think it's rad)!
Prompt: "It's about two maids and a baby. And eating."
They rebranded fifties style home economics for the modern girl who didn't picture herself one day shackled to the stove. Stasia told me this the first day of eighth grade when we saw the shared class on our schedules. Unlike the year before, it was the only one we had together. She'd been bumped off the academically gifted track for poor performance. But bad grades were to be expected when you're always getting kicked out of the classroom.
I was disappointed when Stasia told me this. I'd assumed Exploring Life Skills would be the one class to actually provide information valuable for something other than passing a test or winning Science Olympiad. Ideally, its textbook would detail how to talk to a crush without stammering or convince your mother it's not going to ruin your life to quit cello—both, at the time, more relevant and pressing needs of mine than learning to cook or sew.
While I was just bummed that I hadn't gotten Art as an elective, or even any of my alternates, Stasia viewed her placement in the course as an act of war by the school's administration, another violence unleashed against her psyche. This particular attack enraged her more than getting removed from AG. That she had seemed to view more as a favor they didn't know they were doing her. But this class, this updated home ec bullshit, she called it, she saw this as an aggressive move meant only to break her down.
Stasia had a way of overreacting to things.
In our seventh grade classes she'd always get in trouble for reading ahead or speaking out of turn or talking to me too much. She'd get told to leave when she argued back. I don't think it was ever her aim for this to happen. It was like she couldn't stop herself from blurting out answers or not paying attention to the task at hand or whatever else she was always doing wrong. She didn't find it fair she could leave her hand in the air hanging in purgatory while other students were always called ahead of her, even when her arm had shot up first. Her fuse about this slight, in particular, was very short.
This time, though, Stasia planned for things to go this way. She welcomed the inevitable struggle. During the first class she yelled out an answer and was told by Mrs. Anderson, our slight teacher with a chic grandmother sort of way about her, to raise her hand next time. When she did, along with a few other students, she was called on first. I saw her eyebrows scrunch in response to this, disarmed momentarily, but she recovered and answered and let a scowl rest on her face as she was probably pondering just what the hell this lady was up to.
Mrs. Anderson always called on Stasia.
It wasn't just different for Stasia in this class though. There were boys in the class with us but for once they didn't dominate the conversation. Mrs. Anderson liked to call on a girl first when she could. Stasia believed this was all part of some patriarchal mommy-making programming she was instilling in us, but to me it felt like something else. I noticed the way she'd bypass the boy with his hand waving madly about for the girl who slowly and unsurely lifted hers, the way she'd nod and smile as this girl invariably ummed and uptalked through her answer.
Stasia, meanwhile, continued her campaign to get kicked out of class. She had no reason to yell out when she was getting called on regularly, and even when she did Mrs. Anderson simply reminded her to raise her hand with no admonishment. I could tell this was making Stasia crazy. Where in classes before she'd seemed to be fighting against what she saw as unfair reproach now she was rebelling just to do it. When I told her this she fumed a bit, sitting there choking me with her silence while I apologized and tried to explain that I just didn't think it was all that bad, the class or Mrs. Anderson. When she finally spoke again, all she said was whatever.
The next day in class she was sitting next to someone else, and that is when I first sat next to Ben. When I joined him at the table he raised an eyebrow and asked if there was trouble in paradise. I blushed because it was my default reaction to most floppy haired boys at the time and sputtered out a "Sorry?" He jerked his head toward Stasia's table and reached out to touch my inside wrist, to indicate the Sharpie tattoo she'd given me of our names in a heart. She refreshed it every few days as needed and I always tried to avoid it in the shower. She had a matching one.
Stasia liked to say we'd get real ones like these when we were old enough.
Stasia forgave me in her usual way a few days later, taking my hand in the hallway and starting in on a conversation as if nothing had ever happened. She led me all the way to class this way so I had no choice but to sit next to her. Those few days sitting next to Ben, though, had been enough to cultivate a crush. He walked in and tossed his head to get his hair out of his eyes so he could look at me and joke, "Tired of me already?" and I tucked my hair behind my ear and looked down almost automatically.
Stasia made a disapproving snorting noise at this and just shook her head when I asked "What?" That day she ramped up her efforts to disrupt class by blurting out incorrect and humorous answers to every question. Every time Mrs. Anderson would give her a calm smile and call on someone else for the correct response. Stasia muttered to me about being pretty sure our teacher was a robot and I smiled absentmindedly, but it was more at watching the back of Ben as he fidgeted throughout the class period.
Before the bell rang Stasia redrew my tattoo, promising again to never let it fade.
Mrs. Anderson told us to pair up into parenting teams for this egg assignment, where we had to drain the yolk and decorate it and somehow this was supposed to teach us about how hard it is to raise a baby. Stasia was making this point loudly when Ben asked me to work with him and I agreed, and even though my heart was fluttering with happiness I could feel her eyes burn into me. She sat with her arms crossed while everyone paired up and due to the uneven number of students she was left to be a single parent. I whispered a sorry and asked if she was mad and she asked why she would be.
We gave our egg baby floppy yarn curls like Ben's and green googly eyes like mine and he cooed at it lovingly to make me laugh. Stasia spun her egg around on the table instead of dressing it up. Mrs. Anderson asked her how it was coming along and Stasia ignored her. Mrs. Anderson kept talking completely unfazed. I tensed as I saw Stasia tense and saw her face get pinker and pinker like she was trying not to burst. She failed to hold it in much longer. "What's the point of this stupid assignment, honestly? What's the point of the class even? Are we supposed to be maids? Cook for our families? I'm not gonna be a mother," she spat. "I'm not gonna be a maid." She smashed her egg on this last word, the yolk she'd left inside spreading against the black top of the table.
Mrs. Anderson didn't smile, but she was calm as she led Stasia outside the classroom. Stasia told me later she explained to her, then, a brief history of home economics education in America, how it'd put the first woman at MIT, how it taught important, always practical and relevant life skills. Stasia never told me what she'd said to make her start crying though.
Her campaign ended that day in our teacher's embrace.