Elizabeth in her childhood bedroom practicing flute.

Excerpt from “Under the Microscope”

My class was split into two — the boys were sent across the hall while the girls were to remain in our current seats and await the school nurse. 

Other than our class being split in two, it was a typical school day for me; struggle through math, relish reading, thrive in writing, get lost in the outlining process in social studies, and royally screw up my science project. 

I was almost 11, one of the oldest in my 5th grade class and I was your typical New England preppy: plaid skirts, boat shoes, thick, chunky fall sweaters, and heavy straight-across bangs that always seemed to have a cowlick in the front just above my right eyebrow. 

I was outspoken and loved to laugh with my classmates.

I was also driven to be an excellent figure skater, taking ice skating lessons before my school day started at a private ice rink a few towns over. 

I wanted to be just like Kristy Yamaguchi — she was short and spunky and incredibly talented athletically. 


I was certainly spirited, but my middle name was absolutely not “Grace.” 

I was (and still am) the girl who tripped up the school stairs on her way back from the lunchroom, who dropped her flute on more than one occasion in after-school music lessons, denting the mouthpiece, and, the same girl who had to be rushed to the school nurse’s office after getting my finger stuck in said flute while trying to clean the inside of my instrument. 

I was also not fast (the irony that I picked up running later in life and have now run countless marathons is still mind-boggling to me), and I was consistently picked last in gym class. 

In school, there were only a few things that people thought were my redeeming qualities: I could sing (my first singing solo was in 1st grade), I was a solid writer and storyteller, and I was able to make instant friends with just about anyone — I loved to talk and learn about people. 

It’s that last quality that tended to get me into trouble with the teachers — they would constantly be moving my seat in the classroom to keep me from chatting with my classmates. I always wondered why they kept moving me, because each new seat was simply a chance to learn about someone new. Hindsight shows they should have kept me in one location and I likely would have eventually gotten bored with my desk-mate. 

That morning when the class was split into two, I knew something was up. This was not normal for our class, and the male teachers all were sent across the hall with the boys, while all the female teachers came to our all-girls classroom. 

I leaned over to my classmate, nudging her in the ribs with my elbow “I bet it’s ‘the talk,’ I said to her. 

Her eyes opened wide and she gasped back “what talk?” 

I rolled my eyes at her. 

“You know, the one where they explain all about sex to us…” 

I was then promptly interrupted by my classroom teacher “Elizabeth,” she said, just giving me THAT look — the one where teachers just want you to be quiet and not cause a stir but they can’t actually say that to you, so they just give you THAT look. 

“Sorry,” I said. 

Just as I was turning back to make a face at my classmate, the school nurse entered the room. 

“As you get older, your bodies change, ladies,” she began. 

I knew it. 

This was it. This was the sex talk I was thinking it would be. 

The school nurse then cued up a video about our “changing bodies” and as I recall it wasn’t very riveting, because I’m 99 percent sure I didn’t pay attention until the film stopped. 

After the video that explained all about hormones and feelings had gone dark, the school nurse went on to explain how men and women come together and have “intercourse” to “create babies.” 

We were shown a drawing of the uterus and fallopian tubes, and given a worksheet we were to take home that we had colored in of the various parts of the male anatomy as well. 

For someone who had the talk about where babies came from when I was quite young, all of this was old hat for me. 

So, after the nurse finished her explanation of “how babies are made”, she asked for questions. 

I looked around the room. There were zero hands in the air. 

So, I raised mine. 

“Yes, Elizabeth?” 

“Well, I know you said that’s how babies are made, but that’s not at all how I got here,” I said matter of factly. 

“In my case my mother’s egg and my father’s sperm were fertilized in a petri dish and then once that happened I went back into my mother’s womb and grew like everyone else.” 

The school nurse didn’t know what to say. 

And with that, there was a knock on the door from a male teacher, inquiring if our talk was done and if he could bring the male students back in.

The nurse looked at me, looked around the room and said, “Yes, I don’t think we need more time for any more questions.” 

Being a mother myself now, I am fairly certain that a letter went home from the school to parents of the girls apologizing on my behalf for explaining family-building methods outside of the “approved” discussion points previously outlined and approved by the school. 

After dinner that night at home with my parents, they asked me (as they always did) how school was, and if I learned anything interesting. 

“Well,” I said, “I was given this to finish coloring tonight,” as I pulled the worksheet of the male genitalia out and laid it on the dinner table. 

My father laughed and my mother glanced at the worksheet, noticing that I had colored part of it in purple and green polka dots. 

She looked up at me and said, “Well, I certainly hope they told you that if you ever see one that is polka dotted like that, it should be avoided.” 

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