Friday afternoons, I get an email updating me on some of my kids’ grades. Not all teachers use the online grade book, but those who do enable me to log in and check test and assignment scores, overall grades and any missing assignments. And what repeatedly kills me is when I see that my kid has an 89.3% average in a class. Almost in the A range-but not quite.

It inevitably brings on the “If only…” complex.

If only I had turned the page over and seen that last problem.”

If only I had gotten one more vocab word correct.”

If only the teacher added in extra credit now instead of at the end of the quarter, you’d see that I have an A.”

If only. Welcome to the 89 Club, where the motto is…well, you guessed it.

In high school, I was an 89-er out of laziness. I found that I could do relatively little work and attain B-pluses. My folks never balked, and I was quite satisfied, thankyouverymuch. The most objectionable part of that scheme was going to English class and having a pop reading check on a book I hadn’t cracked, resorting to making up characters’ names and setting details out of thin air. Shame on my teachers for not appreciating my unbridled creativity! Imagine what I coulda done had I taken things seriously and “applied” myself. But alas, I was content as an 89.

My husband, David, on the other hand, scratched and clawed his way to 89-dom. He’d work his ass off, do an above-average job, and exploit any kind of supporting evidence or technicality that might propel him into the top tier. But always, he’d fall just short. Doomed to an 89.

Together, our 89-ness has given us a slightly cynical edge. We’re always just shy of accomplishing our goal, and it can be maddening if you let it get to you:

“You missed the deadline by just a few days. But I encourage you to apply again next year!”

“You missed the top reward by just a few hundred dollars. But please keep working hard and it’s bound to pay off!”

“You exceeded the preliminary target, but they ended up changing the final target at the last minute, so you just missed it. I’m sure you’ll make it next year though!”

Story of our lives. Chasing our tail in vain. It either turns out that the next guy caught his tail just a wee bit sooner than we did, or that wouldn’t you know it, tails just aren’t “in” this year.

“But congratulations on catching your tail. It’s a very nice one!” Oh yeah? Why don’t you kiss what’s just below my tail!

I’ve learned to embrace 89-itude. So my chubby little fingers just miss grabbing the brass ring of awesomeness. But it’s better than being awful, right? So I wrote a book that didn’t quite make it onto the bestseller list. But I wrote a book. That was published by a real publisher. And I’m satisfied with the writing and the accomplishment. That’s cool, no? So I’m perpetually cute, but just a bit too hefty (heifer-y?) to qualify for foxiness. Alright, I suppose it’s better than having my face on a box of Milk Bones. So I got to be the vice president lots and lots of times and have never gotten to be the president. Well I guess that’s been a blessing in disguise, seeing as what the eventual president got saddled with. Every. Single. Time.

Nothing bad about any of it. I’m an 89 and I’m proud of it.

So what happens when two 89s mate? No, smartass, you don’t end up with a gaggle of 178s. What you get is another generation of 89s. Really sweet, polite 89s (100s in my book!) who achieve great things, but are often just a hair shy of getting to that elite level. Fated to miss out on lots of stuff by a mere 0.02%. Almost there, but not quite.

But lo, there is indeed an upside to being a member of the 89 Club. An unrivaled commitment to hard work. A highly developed sense of scrappiness. An eternal optimism about the possibility of top-tier success, and gratitude for the opportunity to achieve it. And those are things I’d take any day and feel like I’ve gotten a gift. Because really, being an 89 makes me who I am. And as Stuart Smalley almost said: “I’m almost good enough, I’m almost smart enough, and doggone it, some people like me!”


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