When we were in grade school, there were cliques in our class. I can’t even remember how those cliques started. But I remember how much fun and how vicious they were. That’s an odd way of describing something, right? Fun and vicious. But that’s exactly how our childhood cliques were.
We had natural gang leaders. (But we never called our groups “gangs” because the nuns would’ve vivisected us the minute they found out.) I can’t remember, either, how those gang leaders became pack leaders (borrowing Cesar Millan’s jargon). But they were pack leaders like no other. They were bossy, strict, loud, fearless, and invincible. We followed them like meek, mindless minions. The gangs were competitive by nature. Our goal was simple: to be FIRST at everything that mattered, and WIN at anything that mattered.
Hence, we had to reach the water fountains first—to quench our thirst and fill our thermoses. We had to win all the games we played at recess. We had to have the most honor students in our gang. We had to borrow the newest Enid Blyton books from the library first. After dismissal, we minions had to scramble up the hillock beside our school (like mad mountain goats) to get to the most “slidable slopes” first—or there’d be hell to pay: our pack leader was going to scream at us like drill sergeants.
We had to be first. We had to win. That made being part of the gang fun and vicious! It was fun whenever we won. But it vicious whenever we competed. Such simple, innocent, childhood joys… (and yes, I am being nostalgic and sarcastic).
During recess, my rich classmates had yayas (nursemaids) waiting in the wings—in the covered courts, to be exact. The uniformed yayas would wipe their wards’ hands and faces with cologned towelettes, lightly dust their backs and cheeks with talcum powder, then lay out their wards’ snacks or lunches, serving them as they ate. The rest of us riff-raff just routinely opened our tin lunch boxes (decorated with different Disney characters, the status symbols of our time), compared our packed food with one another, and made x-deals at the tender age of five. We swapped crackers, sandwiches, cookies, juices, and what-nots with each other. I suspect many of us became astute and street-smart that way. (Yup! Blame it all on your childhood!)
You would think that the rich ones among us would’ve been the natural pack leaders, right?
After all, nowadays, “He who has the gold, rules.” But that just wasn’t so! (Thank goodness that as kids, we had much better values). Our rich classmates weren’t the pack leaders just because they were rich. No way. It was the smart, gutsy, and strong-willed ones who became the pack leaders. Money wielded no power in our grade school world. But brains and guts did. Surprisingly, when we were finally adults, those pack leaders became homemakers or low-key career/businesswomen who didn’t vie for top positions in their fields. Maybe they already had their fill of being head honchos. Being a pack leader in grade school could really burn you out.
Another thing that our grade school pack leaders had in common was this: they were possessive. Fiercely possessive. If you joined their gang, it was like having the word MINE tattooed on your forehead. That, to me, was the biggest downside of being part of a gang.
Even at the tender age of eight, I abhorred the idea of anyone “owning” me. So I quit being part of a gang when I was probably grade three. And I survived, relatively unscathed.