I was a mannerly and somewhat-naive child, sheltered from much of the crassness and ugliness of the world by my parents. It was a different time, too. Despite all the craziness of the '60s, a great deal of it was still the polite and clean '50s, just dressed in paisley. You would never talk back to an adult, for instance. It was unthinkable and unladylike as well. Girls couldn't even wear pants to school, only skirts and dresses. Right from the start, there was substantial pressure to conform. Don't you dare.

I honestly think at age seven, I didn't even know any swear words past "hell" or "damn." If I had ever heard anything rougher, I surely would not have known at all what anything meant. But I had an idea of bad words and REALLY bad words and things that little girls simply did not do, ever. But once, out of impulse and necessity, a little flare of impudence served me just fine.

One the first day of 1st Grade, my mom drove me to school in the morning -- the first day of a full day of school for me was a big event. Even bigger was that after school was done for the day I would get to ride the big yellow schoolbus home. I was very excited about this, as most kids are to start. It was a pretty quick ride down the street, no more than a couple of miles, but it was a MILESTONE OF INDEPENDENCE for me. So when I boarded with my older brother after Miss Lurvey dismissed me at 3PM sharp, I was stoked.

But what was this? As I got on, catcalls, teasing, the "bad boys" in the back of the bus calling me "baby" and asking if I needed my "blankie," calling me "stupid."

WHAT? WHAT?? THE HELL IS THIS? My face, I am sure, burned bright red. It didn't take long for me to figure out why I was getting this treatment, not the other 1st graders -- my brother was not popular at school at all, and was often a target for bullies. He never fought back or said a word. As I muddled through the bus with my brand-new plaid bookbag in my starched pinafore dress to a shiny green vinyl bus seat, I figured it out: the bullies assumed I would be the same easy mark. In my seven years on the planet, this I knew for sure: I would hear this crap the rest of my school days if I didn't DO SOMETHING about it RIGHT AWAY. My mind ticked and spun, and I got more and more angry that I had to deal with this because of my brother.

But what could I do? I couldn't outtalk them -- there were too many of the boys, they were all older than me, and I was tiny anyway with a tiny voice. Something else I knew was that they wanted to get a rise out of me. They wanted me to look ashamed or cry or start screaming for them to stop. I knew not to give them that either, even though I was steaming and furious. Whatever I was going to do had to be just right, or I would make it all even worse.

My first instinct was just to ignore them, like my brother always seemed to. But it didn't work. They kept poking and poking. OK. OK. OK.

It didn't take long for the bus to make its way up the gentle slope of the road to our stop, right outside our house. The catcalls got louder and nastier. As I rose and followed my silent cowed brother down the bus aisle to the opened door, I decided I would pull out the very worst thing I had ever seen. No, that isn't quite right; I didn't actually decide it at all. I just did it. Right before I went down the stairs, I turned around and faced all the kids on the bus, all 3'-whatever of me, and I gave them a very vigorous middle-finger salute with the meanest face I could muster.

The bus exploded in howls and laughter and applause, shocked. I had no idea what the flipping the bird meant, at all, but I knew it was not good. I got off the bus, still mad as hell, and didn't look back.

The next morning as I got on the bus, one of the bad boys called out to me: "Well, look at Little Miss Tough Stuff! What you got today?" His facial expression wasn't the same as the day before -- his smile this time was different, amused almost. I went to the back of the bus, a very bold move, and took a seat nearby.

"Shut up," I told him, with the most dismissive and disgusted look I had in my arsenal.

"Ha ha!! You're crazy, Little Baby, I like you!"

And that was that. I never had a problem on the bus ever again. I eventually learned what the middle finger stood for, and was quite, quite pleased.