When I was in high school, I had a friend tell me, “Hillary, you’re kind of smart, and kind of dumb.”
Not having a habit of arguing with the truth, I didn’t deny it.
I was reminded of her comment just the other day on a field trip with my son. I had to fill out a parking permit for my van, complete with license plate. After I dropped my payment in the park’s drop box, I placed the permit under my windshield wiper, as if I were a traffic cop giving myself a ticket. Only when I saw a fellow mom open her car door and position the permit neatly on her dashboard did I realize my error.
So, of course, I announced my lack of common sense loudly by crying out, “Oh, that’s smart! That’s the way to do it!”
This would never happen to Matthew, I thought, embarrassed.
Matthew is my practical husband. He once told me that when he was younger, he wanted to marry a girl with street smarts. When man makes plans, God laughs.
The best example of my special, illogical view of this world is demonstrated by a trip into the Idaho countryside with my parents when I was 17. We were on our way to the beautiful town of Cascade. Mountains provided a magnificent backdrop for lonely farms and ranches. Miles of fence abutted the road. I was peacefully watching the passing cows, crops, horses and barbed wire when I began to notice something exciting every dozen feet or so along the fence line.
My heart swelled with the knowledge of these Idaho ranchers’ hospitality for the traveler, for at regular intervals along the fence posts were barbed wire buckets filled to the brim with rocks of every size and color.
“Mom, Dad — look!” I exclaimed. “Souvenir rocks!”
Immediately, the laughter broke forth in a cacophony that washed over me without mercy. I had been greeted with such phenomenon before, so I bore it even when my parents howled, jabbed each other in the ribs and rudely pointed at me, shaking their heads.
“Hillary, those are to keep the fence posts grounded!” bellowed still-laughing Dad. “In case of a storm!”
And I was hoping we could stop and pick out some to take home. Such disappointments are a fact of my life.
Disappointments are also waiting for those whom I love.
When my son Berto was a kindergartner, he came home on a late fall day and presented me with his sweatshirt.
“The teacher says we have to put our initials on our jackets and sweatshirts,” he said.
“Oh, alright,” I answered.
When I had a black permanent in hand, I spread the sweatshirt across my lap and carefully wrote my son’s initials in big, broad letters on the left breast pocket.
I handed it to Berto who stared at his initials dumbstruck for several moments before looking up.
“Mama,” he said, mortified. “On the tag…”
Now you tell me.
“Wear it anyway,” I advised him.
In a plea for reason, he showed it to his papa.
“Babe, what’d you do?” demanded Matthew.
“I initialed it, so it couldn’t get lost.”
“You’re supposed to put it on the tag!”
“I know, but I wasn’t thinking.”
“No kidding! He can’t wear this. I wouldn’t wear it,” he added. “Kids will make fun of him.”
Kids made fun of me. There was, for instance, a vending machine incident in high school that earned me ridicule and cost me a pretty penny.
Staying after school to work on the school newspaper, I was getting a snack of peanut M&Ms from the vending machine to fuel my brain for whatever column I was writing. With hungry eyes I watched my M&Ms move to the edge of the metal precipice, shift, pause…and stop. I tried everything to make them surrender to gravity and the pull of my voracious appetite, but they insisted on playing hard to get even when I kicked and punched the machine.
In wild-eyed desperation, I waved a dollar bill high above my head, facing a small crowd of spectators.
“I’ll give a dollar to anyone who can rescue my M&Ms!” I hollered.
A young man approached calmly. I wondered what his tactic might be — karate chops, a headbutt, the oft-employed shake and rattle? I was genuinely surprised to see him reach into his pocket and draw out his own dollar bill. As he slid it into the machine, I glanced around for my fool’s cap and a convenient corner to stand in.
Two bags fell obediently. I smacked my money into his palm with a grunt of disgust, only to see his friend attempting to make off with my own costly bag of junk food.
“Those are mine!” I cried desperately as I dashed after him. The smug smirk on his face as I wrested the bag from his hand said plainly that I might have saved my M&Ms, but my dignity was lost.
Can you believe I was a straight A student? Indeed, I was.
And the column I was writing that day? It was utterly brilliant!
— Hillary Ibarra
Hillary Ibarra is the author of The Christmas List, an inspirational holiday novella about a family struggling to keep the faith and make ends meet at Christmastime, based on the miracle of one childhood Christmas Eve. Her personal website is http://hillaryibarra.com/.