Something happened to me today that I hope will never happen to Millie. I was made to feel like a complete idiot, in front of other people, by a colleague. Now, this is not the first time I have felt like an idiot. In 8th grade, I didn’t do the reading assignment and stood up, in what I remember well to be a terrible fashion choice of white jeans, cuffed, and a blue silk button down with a *gasp* brown and blue scrunchie and ugly brown sandals, and basically admitted to the class that I didn’t do the reading, instead of passing on my turn. Once, in 6th grade, I was in gym class sitting out a square dance lesson with some classmates. One classmate saw our teacher motioning for us to help her with something, and said “let’s go!” I thought this meant we were to cut in on some of the square dancers and so that’s what I did, not noticing what other people were doing; I caught the eye of my classmates leaving with our teacher just a few moments too late. I felt really dumb both of these instances and they’ve stuck with me. But overall, I’m pretty confident. Even when, in 8th grade, I tripped on my way to the podium to nominate my bestie for vice-president of student government, I got up, laughed it off, and gave a good little speech. I’ve always been what I consider a good public speaker, even though I do talk too fast.
But I have had my moments of insecurity and humiliation, where I feel like the dumbest person in the room, and today was one of the worst of those moments. See I have taken a new job working in marketing and PR for a natural history museum. I am a science dud. I’ve always kinda embraced this, seeing as I make a fantastic marketing and event planner, and felt that everyone can appreciate the fact that my strengths are not their strengths and vice versa. But I am interested in science even if it’s not my strong suite, and am extremely enthusiastic and excited about my new gig.
Today, we visited one of the research labs to observe a 16.5 foot python’s necropsy (autopsy for non human animals.) A media photographer for the museum escorted me and a new intern into a room filled with the mildly nauseating aroma of chemicals mixed with rotting flesh. A long table taped with saran wrap supported the 140+ pounds of the creature, sliced open to reveal her internal organs. What a sight! And I did not look away, nor did I gag at the smell. I was interested and ready to learn, to ask questions, and take in the procedure.
Today was my second day on the job, by the way. Day 2. Day 2 in Marketing Land=Giant Snake Guts.
I asked questions like, how did she die? Well apparently she was tagged and it was time to euthanize her. How did they tag her, track her, find her, sedate her, kill her? Science Guy in Charge says: “That’s not my area.” Okay.
A hot issue regarding the snake was whether she’d had eggs inside her. If so, then essentially her euthanization prevented all those baby snakes from hatching and continuing to populate. While talking about the baby snakes, the maternal instinct in me kicks in, and I wonder whether, had she had babies, if they would stay with their momma, if she nurses, how they survive. I formulate a series of questions in my head, the first of which was :
“How do they mate?” Science Guy in Charge sighs. “You’re asking some REALLY BASIC QUESTIONS.” I flush. I can feel my skin getting hotter. We’re in a room full of people, including new coworkers and an intern which I will be working with and supervising, and this is what he says to me. Nevermind my previously inquisitive questions which he could not answer. THEN he follows up with a nod to their science intern: “you’ll have to answer questions like this, why don’t you practice by answering her.”
I was mortified.
And I realized that it’s part of why my science education was so poor. I came late to the game, and so all my questions seemed novice in the beginning, which made me feel embarrassed, which reduced the amount of questions I asked, which reduced my absorption of and comfort level with the material. Over time I just gravitated away to where I felt comfortable- writing, planning, marketing.
These are all things I am good at. But who knows what I’d have been drawn to had I received proper science education. I was a star math student for many years, and maybe just maybe I could’ve been a great pioneer researcher had the opportunity arisen. I still have my 6th grade art project about growing beans under colored lights and have always been intrigued by agriculture and the food industry in particular. Perhaps if those interests had been nurtured, rather than cast aside as the foolish thoughts of a dumb blonde girl, I could have blazed a trail. I’ll never know.
What I DO know is, if anyone EVER makes my girl feel stupid for asking a question, I have a response ready for them, which I will begin teaching her straightaway. “The only stupid people are the ones who don’t ask questions, because they aren’t giving themselves a chance to learn. I am NOT stupid, so I’m asking you a question to express an interest and learn the answer.” And if anyone- a peer, teacher, guidance counselor, coach- continues to belittle or humiliate her, that will be the last interaction they have with my daughter. But it will NOT be their last interaction with me. I will do them the kindness of telling them how incredibly wrong they are, in hopes of them encouraging rather than diminishing those “basic” questions from which an interest and passion can truly blossom. My girl will not have a question go unanswered; even if the answer is “I don’t know.”
You know what? Scratch that. I’ll be saying, “let’s find out!”