It was in the second grade that I became fully conscious of standardized academic testing.

Second grade was also when the potential for kids’ mean streaks revealed itself, like when Mary convinced me I could grab the class cactus plant firmly without painfully pricking my hand (nope), or when Kyle pushed a chair into my gut and left me gasping for air moments before my reading group met.

Yes, the Iowa Basics now known as the Iowa Assessments–were similar to those types of “learning experiences.”

Frankly, standardized tests didn’t usually freak me out; although we may have failed to meet certain other “average family” standards, my brothers and I were blessed with adequate academic intelligence and enough blind confidence to sail in and out of such exams with successful outcomes.


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When those second grade Iowa Basics results arrived, my ears fairly reverberated with whispered discussions about my struggle with “spatial relations” concepts. These days, “spatial relations” doesn’t merit a dedicated mention on the Iowa Assessments site reading, language, math, social studies and science do — but maybe in the early ’70s with the Space Race resulting in a national push for higher math and physics achievement, it was a bigger deal.

As an adult, I can laugh about this Achilles’ heel of mine; occasional bruises mark my limbs due to an awkward tendency to bump into furniture that doesn’t seem like it should be “there,” and, when storing leftovers, I often have difficulty choosing containers of a suitable size to hold the volume of soup or casserole remaining in the pan.

“Does this look about right?” I’ve frequently asked my semi-incredulous but spatially relations-blessed spouse, who patiently does his part to guide me to the appropriate piece of Tupperware.

This spatial relations deficiency may also go a long way towards explaining why parallel parking was my greatest challenge during the Minnesota driving exam. As a fresh-faced 16-year-old with a Viking Driving School certificate in hand, I aced the written portion but failed every parallel parking point. Don’t blame the crusty examiner — even from the driver’s seat I could see at least three feet of street between the car and curb when he opened the door to check. His sigh was audible as he struck stark black marks in the “fail” column (nevertheless, I left the courthouse with a temporary license in hand).

Later, two years of living in a south Minneapolis duplex with no available off-street parking made me an expert parallel parker; perhaps practice can eliminate some flaws.

New obstacles have arisen during my current sorting/purging/packing/pre-moving phase. How many books or sweaters will fit in a box? Will that bureau make it through the doorway? Can clothing occupying a 56-inch closet rod be squeezed onto a 48-inch one? Is the storage bin maxed out or can we cram in another dinner plate?

Such on-the-spot decisions make moving a nightmare for people with this particular perceptive flaw. Still, it isn’t only the need to package and transport physical objects that makes moving difficult.

A definite sense of disconnectedness — of no longer being completely tethered to one place but not yet grounded in another — accompanies a major move, too. That floating-through-space feeling, which is sometimes freeing, can also be frightening.

I continue to fall short in the spatial relations unit, though no formal exam will be administered to prove it. Maybe if I just joined “the space gang” and drank more Tang, I’d be soaring through the stratosphere in no time.

Space oddities, unite.

Check out Time for Moore, Jane Turpin Moore’s blog, at