You Want a Carlisle Elementary T-Shirt?

You know you do. They’re red, with white lettering. And there’s the head of a tiger or wildcat on it. I can get back to you about what animal is on it.

Ah, let’s face it, I never actually saw what the shirt looked like that I was supposed to sell in 3rd grade. All we had was a sheet of paper with a drawing of a t-shirt on it. We were to sell as many as we could, and the class that sold the most, well, man-oh-man, we got to have ourselves a pizza party!

I am normally not a competitive person. I am cool with letting people bask in their own glories, and I am sincerely happy for other people’s accomplishments. I deflect praise when I’ve earned it. I’m HUMBLE, okay???

Except, there was this one girl in my 3rd grade class — let’s call her Sarah — who insisted on competing with me. On everything. Artwork. Grades. Friends. T-shirt sales. It was exhausting.

I don’t know why I couldn’t take the high road in my interactions with her. I can see now that she probably was jealous of me, because in comparison, I did make better grades and wiped the mat with her art work as mine outshone hers every time. But I wasn’t trying to be better than she was at these things. Honest. Back then, she was just a continual pain in my hiney.

As you can gather, the t-shirt sales became a battle ground. Sarah and I were sitting in carpool after school a few days after Miss Bird (name also changed) told us about the competition to sell the most. There was a deadline that was maybe a week away. I had seen the form, had probably shoved it into my backpack, never to see the light of day until I cleaned out my backpack in June. I knew even back then that I was not a good sales person.

“So,” Sarah began to engage me in conversation, “how many t-shirts have you sold? I’ve sold 8 already.”

In my 3rd grader’s mind, there’s something about an interaction like this that made me become a not-very-nice person. I couldn’t let this interaction go down as a loss. I needed something to buy time and shut her down.

I cooly replied, “Oh, my mom’s sold, like, 20.” Take that, Sarah!

“Oh,” she replied, ending our conversation.

I went home and completely forgot about the exchange. And about selling t-shirts.

At school the next day, Miss Bird suddenly said, “Susan! You’ve sold 20 t-shirts????” She said this with such pride, such excitement, that I didn’t have the heart to let her down. Plus, Sarah was standing there, having just told Miss Bird we’d win the competition because of me.

I nodded very weakly, but it was enough to secure the victor’s pizza party – and bragging rights – in her mind. Crap. I guess I needed to sell some t-shirts.

Side note: I was not the best person in third grade. I forged my mom’s signature on a faked book report on a book that didn’t exist. Of course I got called out for it. Also, I did a drawing of people kissing. Most of the girls liked it, but one girl, Miss Bird’s teacher’s pet, did not. She told on me. Teacher’s Pet was promptly put in her place by all the other girls who had liked the drawing. All year long, I wanted to like my teacher, but she didn’t seem as nice as she wanted us to think she was. All the same, I wanted to stay on her good side. She gave out grades, after all.

Back to the story. After I got Miss Bird’s hopes up about the t-shirt sales, I again promptly forgot about the competition.

Deadline day arrived and the class was passing in their forms and checks. I hoped that Sarah and Miss Bird would forget about me, that the class could win without my phantom contribution.

Not so. Miss Bird asked me for my form.

“Oh, I forgot it. I’ll bring it tomorrow.” Yes! Brilliant! She’ll forget by tomorrow!

“But, Susan, the orders are due today. We need yours to win the competition. I happen to know of some other classes that are ahead of us at this point, but your sales will put us ahead.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Well, you want to go call your mom so she can bring it by?”

“She’s at work.” Double brilliant! Mom’s busy!

“Well, let’s have you call her at work. Maybe she can bring it by on her lunch break.”

Miss Bird and I walked to the front office so I could use the phone. It was at the secretary’s desk. There was no privacy to be had, and I was out of luck.

One last hope appeared in my mind: maybe Mom could save the day.

“Hi, Mom?” I asked upon reaching her at work on the phone. “Do you remember those t-shirts I was selling for school?”

I knew I had never even mentioned the t-shirts.

“No,” my mom said, but I could tell she was trying to understand what I was talking about. I was not doing a good job conveying my thoughts to her. Also, my teacher was standing right there and the phone was physically ON the secretary’s desk, so I couldn’t confess to my mom the error of my ways.

“Um, remember how you sold, like, 20 t-shirts for my class?” People at her work had bought other fundraiser items from me before. Because I had asked them.

“No, honey, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I looked at my teacher and shrugged my shoulders. I gave up. I handed the phone to Miss Bird and awaited the judgement.

“Unh huh,” Miss Bird said to my mother. “Well she said she had, so she didn’t?”


We walked back to my classroom. I felt awful for letting our class and Miss Bird down. I felt badly that I had risen to Sarah’s challenge when I should have known better. I also felt badly that I hadn’t even tried to sell the t-shirts. Maybe I could have. I felt like people needed those t-shirts, and I hadn’t so much as bothered to offer them the chance to buy one.

At dinner that night, my sisters kept giggling. They were in junior and high school, and they just knew everything. I wanted to be like them, but I also was competitive with them in my own way, in terms of being loved by our parents. I’d told a big fat lie. That means negative points in parental love, right?

Dad asked how everyone’s day was.

Katherine snickered and said, “Would you like a Carlisle Elementary t-shirt?”

Dad was confused, Mom gave Katherine a “hush!” look, Amy and Katherine cracked up laughing, and I promptly lost it. I was totally ashamed and knew it was entirely my fault, but at the same time, I felt that what had happened was bigger than I could understand as an 8-year-old.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized: who the heck would actually buy a Carlisle Elementary t-shirt anyway? 🙂


One thought on “You Want a Carlisle Elementary T-Shirt?

  1. Aw, that is a sad little story. Makes me remember that school wasn’t all fun and easy times like we think it was, compared to being a BIG BAD ADULT IN SCARY WORLD.

    And who WOULD buy a tshirt from an elementary school anyway, if your kid didn’t go there?

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