Discover Your Toughness

inner toughness

Her name was Corinne and she was two heads taller than I was. She was 15 and I was nine, a transplanted city kid who’d skipped a grade. She was a farm kid who’d failed a few. When my parents moved me from a downtown Oakville public school to a small rural school outside Kingston – where three grades shared the same room – Corinne became my classmate and changed my life.
She hated me on sight.

My plaid jumpers, Peter Pan collars and Mary Janes – everything aggravated her but most of all, my annoying habit of answering questions in class. Corinne had never seen anything quite so prissy and she set about fixing my wagon. Recess became a torment of shoulder punches, hair pulls, and shoves that sent me flying to the ground. I took it all. I hated her, but I took it and I didn’t tell. Not even my parents. I knew the law of the playground – no one likes a tattletale.

Corinne’s reign of terror lasted three weeks until one day the volcano of rage brewing inside me erupted. When she grabbed me for the recess workover, I morphed into a windmill of flying elbows. Miraculously…stunningly…against all odds…one of those flailing elbows connected with Corrine’s nose. And that’s when my life changed forever. Together we stood, in the center of a circle of her buddies, shocked into silence by the gushes of red soaking Corinne’s white blouse. I’d never seen so much blood and was mesmerized…so mesmerized I didn’t hear the yard-duty teacher when she arrived. Together Corinne and I were marched to the principal’s office and suspended – two days for fighting.

When I returned to school following my scandalizing exile, I found I’d been transformed. No longer the little kid whose mother dressed her funny, I’d become a bad-ass. No one – not even Corinne – dared tease me. Girls sidled up shyly to ask me to play hopscotch or skip with them at recess and even the boys looked at me sideways, anticipating the possibility of another explosion. That’s when the life change took place – inside my head.

Suddenly, I knew I’d never be the biggest or the most powerful kid on the playground, but I also knew I’d never be bullied again. I’d found a core of strength, mixed with a little craziness and some very sharp elbows, that I’d be able to draw on whenever I needed it. I have needed it, from time to time – when a nasty coach was bullying the kids on my son’s team and later, when an overbearing boss thought intimidation was the way to deal with colleagues. Though I managed to keep my elbows to myself, I stood my ground, fought for what I thought was right and didn’t back down.

We all have within us that core of strength we can access when times get tough. It’s just a matter of finding it. When you do, your life will change forever, for the better. Just when you think you’re in for another punch in the shoulder, reach deep inside and you’ll discover that you’re tougher than you think.

And what happened to Corrine? Well…as the weeks passed, the scandal faded and so did my fury. In fact, when my birthday rolled around, I invited good old Corinne to the party. She came – little bump on her nose and all – and had fun slurping root beer floats and playing freeze tag. But, you know, I don’t think she ever took her eyes off my elbows.


Is a travel writer with weekly columns in the Toronto Star, various other newspapers and tripatlas.com. She's a thrilled to be a blog contributor, and is inspired by the people she's met through White Oaks.

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