Background, Elementary school, Middle and High School

Growing up

I’ve been talking a lot about home life, to the expense of school life. Home was often a stressor for me, but school was where I thrived. Although I was a quiet and shy girl, I was also very perfectionistic and a good student. Getting good grades and gold stars was where my self-esteem came from, so I did whatever I could to get that external validation.

I mentioned before how I switched classes halfway through first grade. That ended up being very good for me, because I met a friend who became my best friend until she moved away in 4th grade. Then a new girl moved into our school and we became friends in fourth and fifth grades.

Fifth grade was hard. I was in a 5th-6th split class and my teacher was awful. She may have been a decent teacher, but she made it very clear that she did not like the 5th graders and that emotional leverage took a toll on a student like myself. Up until this point I loved every moment of school but this year almost made me dread school. There was one very defining time for me: at one point in the year I got really sick and missed a whole week of school. I had gotten some assignments to work on at home and turned them in when I got back to school. About a week later, my teacher informed me that I never turned in a book report. I told her that she didn’t tell me about the book report. I don’t remember if she just didn’t like me refuting what she said (probably), but she just said “You have one day to turn it in and if you don’t I will give you detention.” I simply could not do the assignment in that amount of time so I got the detention. Remember, I lived outside of town, riding the bus every day. My parents couldn’t easily pick me up from an after school detention. They told me that I could not serve the detention. This stressed me out like no other! I had never gotten detention before, and now I was going to be in even more trouble because I couldn’t serve the detention! The “even more trouble” was in-house detention. This was all day detention and you had to go over to the high school BY YOURSELF to serve it. I was so scared. I wonder what everyone thought about this shy little fifth grade girl showing up to in-house? Anyway, I made it. I settled into my desk for the day (no recess, no lunch period even) and began working on my assignments my teacher had given. And you know what? I LOVED IT. I thought that was way better than enduring my mean teacher every day! Ha, some punishment! I think it was a bit of a turning point, because something I had been so afraid of turned out to be a lovely thing.

In sixth grade I LOVED my teacher. I still think about her often. I gained a new best friend and my confidence soared. My second little sister was born at the end of this year. I can remember bringing her into the class to show her off to all my friends when my dad came in to explain how solar panels work.

Seventh and eighth grades were awkward years for me, but I continued to learn and grow, although physically, I was one of the very last girls to bloom. As my adult teeth grew into my mouth, it was clear I would need braces. My buck teeth were an embarrassment and shame generator. I was made fun of relentlessly. Starting in fourth grade I started asking my parents for braces every birthday and Christmas. Finally in December of eighth grade, I got braces. And even though they were sometimes painful, it never matched the pain of bullying and harassment that kids can inflict. My mom also made me continue to attend Girl Scouts, which I didn’t like but my sister did.

Also in eighth grade, I started dating my first real boyfriend. This guy was super-nice, kinda geeky, and three years older than me. As my home life got worse and worse, he provided a safe place for me. I could tell him anything and he never judged or got angry. He understood me in a way that no best friend had before. And he could drive. So he could come pick me up and take me to the movies or to his house and we would have tons of fun away from the stress of home. I would never in a million years allow my almost-eighth-grader to date a junior in high school now, but I feel like he was sent from God himself to rescue me from a very dark time in my life. At one point at the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I remember being a little embarrassed being seen with him. But in that moment I chose not to care. Another turning point for me.  I ended up dating him for a year and a half, after he graduated from high school and moved away to Seattle for college. I did a lot of growing up in that amount of time. We ended up going our separate ways, but he will always hold a special place in my heart.

I went from that relationship to another one right away. This second guy was a year younger than me and we dated for three years until halfway through my freshman year of college. We had a lot of fun together. We had quite a few classes together and we were both on the Knowledge Bowl and tennis teams. We were together for so many defining moments in my life. He was there when I sprained my elbow on my 16th birthday. I went with his family on a road trip one summer. He was there when I got my first computer in 1998. His family was a “real” family. He had four siblings and I just loved being around them.

High school continued to be a refuge for me; a place where I could excel and forget about problems at home. I was almost a straight-A student, except for one semester of Biology and one semester of Accounting. (Marked that career right off my list!) I had a reputation of being a bit of a nerd, but really I just wanted to do well so that I could go to college and get out of that town and the only life it would offer. I played the clarinet in band from 4th grade until 10th grade when our long-time band instructor moved away. Tennis was the only sport I participated in until my senior year when I was a football cheerleader. I had always wanted to be a cheerleader, but also always too scared to “try out.” When I was entering my senior year I realized I was almost assured a spot since it was mostly a popularity contest. It was one of the most fun things I did in all of high school.

There were always things I was applying for and trying out. My sophomore year of school I won a scholarship for a week-long program to go to Washington D.C. and get to know the political system. It was my first time flying and I went all by myself. Again, another fearful experience that I conquered and used to bolster my weak confidence. My freshman year of band we went on an extended field trip to Canada where we put on a concert at this fancy-schmany hotel. There was a science trip where we learned about DNA and making string cheese. I also participated in the club Future Homemakers of America or FHA. It was sorta for the dorks, but I was really good friends with the teacher who led the club. We did do some cooking- it was a tradition that FHA would bake cookies for Valentines day that people could buy and have sent to their sweethearts. We also ran the concessions stands at football and basketball games. We practiced oral presentations in certain areas and completed projects, which we competed at a state level for medals. We actually went to Nationals one year in New Orleans. In short, I stayed pretty busy, not even to mention the school work and eventually SATs and college applications. Would it surprise you to find out that I graduated Valedictorian of my class?

Sometimes when I look back on these years, it seems like it was a different person. I did what I had to do to survive, but many of these experiences don’t translate at all to the path I have chosen and live every day. I never play tennis. I haven’t played clarinet since high school. I am so not interested in politics. And there are no good grades or gold stars to get as a full-time mother. But my subconscious plan worked! I graduated, I went to school at the University of Washington and I never lived in that town again. I am glad I grew up in a small town and went to university in a big city. By then, I needed to be anonymous and to be able to do what I wanted and not worry about what everyone else would think or say, because that is just part of life in a small town. Everyone knows your business.

But you know? Hardly anyone knows your story.

Background, Elementary school, Middle and High School

Living Up the Hill

When I tell people that I lived four years of my life without running water or electricity, people think I am joking. But it’s the truth. After living on my grandparents’ property for a few years, my parents bought 20 acres of land outside of the microscopic town just south of the Canadian border. The land was completely raw, no electricity lines, no well, and no house. So my parents bought a new and improved trailer and drug it up the washboarded dirt roads. I remember that day; it was quite a job to haul a 60′ x 12′ trailer up a 6′ wide road with a hairpin turn in it. Man, I feel bad for that truck driver!

At the time, I hated living there. It was my pre- and early teen years and I felt isolated from friends. We had to use an outhouse. We had to haul our water, which made everything more difficult. We didn’t have a refrigerator, instead using camping coolers constantly. But it wasn’t all bad. My cousins lived on our property for a while too, and we roamed all over that property pretending to be explorers, and “building” clubhouses. There were rattlesnakes, but all the kids were aware, and nobody ever got hurt. I remember many beautiful sunsets and that is where I took my first pictures with a real camera. My dad taught me about the stars there. And bikes– oh the times I had on my bikes. To this day, one of the best feelings is the freeing feeling of riding a bike.

I learned so much living this way. I have a huge appreciation for the outdoors. I learned how to build a fire at a very young age. I know how to light a kerosene lamp. I could cook  on a propane stove, and then do the dishes afterwards without a functioning sink. I appreciate solar and wind energy.

This more interesting phase of my life seems to define me more than any other. I guess because I was so “different” during this time, it formed my personality. It was a sort of refiner’s fire for me. When I look back and realize that it was only 4 years of my life, I am the one surprised. It felt like to much longer.

This was a time filled with difficult emotions for my family. My parents fought all the time throughout all my childhood, but this period of time was the worst, by far. And when we moved from The Hill, it was because my parents finally split up and my mom moved us to town. My dad quickly followed us, so that separation didn’t last long. Boy howdy, looking back, do I wish it had lasted longer! I am sure this emotional time made it feel like it was longer than it really was, and also I am sure it was another reason why I feel like my life was so shaped by this time in my life.

I could really look back on this time and tell a negative story. Or I could play it up and make it sound heavenly. I am hoping that I have stuck close to a middle line. I haven’t worked through it enough for myself to decide whether I think it was positive or negative. And really, it just was. I learned a lot. I suffered a lot. It contributed to the person I am today. Simple as that.

Background, Elementary school

Moving border to border

After kindergarten, our little unemployed family moved to Washington state, way near the Canadian border. My grandparents had retired there and were in the process of building a house. My parents were hoping it would be easier for my dad to find a job there, as my grandparents had informed him. (Actually, I think my dad just couldn’t bear being far away from his parents since he is the baby of the family.)

We loaded up our little 10′ trailer and a 1960s banana yellow Dodge van and drove there. I remember this trip well. I remember seeing billboards of Smoky Bear warning of forest fires. I remember sleeping in the back of the van among some cardboard boxes as the van rumbled down the road. I remember both my sister and I being strapped to one seat, no booster seats back then! But most of all, I remember that it was July 4th, 1986 when we finally pulled into my grandparents’ driveway. It was not quite dark yet and my cousins who were living there for the summer, were already starting to play with sparklers.

My grandparents’ house was still very new. It had a roof, windows, doors and a fireplace, but there was no sheetrock on the walls and the floors were plywood. I remember there was still a large hole in the middle of the main floor where we could look down into the basement; us grandkids were warned to stay far away from it. It was there in that very unfinished living room that I lost my second tooth while watching a movie on an itty-bitty 8 inch TV screen. As I watched my grandparents finish building, decorating and furnishing that house, I grew to really love it. I grew up in or near that house; it will always be a little part of me.

We lived in our little trailer until the weather got too cold and we moved into the unfinished basement in the house. I can’t believe it, but we just slept straight on the cement floor. It felt like a castle though, because it was so spacious compared to the trailer. Plus a wood burning stove and electricity! Later there would be a full kitchen, bathroom and laundry area. I remember my sister was playing with my dad, jumping over him, when she fell and chipped a front tooth on the cement floor.

These living arrangements were temporary though. When spring came, my parents bought a larger trailer, about 45 feet long. Basically the kind you would find in a trailer park. They parked it behind my grandparents’ house on part of their 20 acres. We had electricity and running water there (I’m not sure how that worked, but it did.) My father had found a job at a lumber mill. I think this was also a temporary living situation, but we ended up living there for a few years.

I have many memories attached to these years. We had a pet cat who lost a leg to a slamming door, and a turtle who got eaten by the cat. I remember a skunk one time climbed under our trailer and then died. Ew. After a shift at the lumber mill, my dad would take his rough winter rubber boots off and his feet would literally steam. I can vividly recall hundreds of grasshoppers on the side of the trailer where the summer sun provided a hot surface for them to lounge on. It was in this home that I found out the secret of Santa when I literally woke up Christmas morning and heard my mother arranging gifts under the tree on the other end of the “house.” My grandfather helped the stream running through his property create a little island and installed a sandbox and swings for the grandkids. It was here that, at the age of seven, I finally finished hand washing a large load of dishes, only to walk away and hear the dishes come crashing to the floor. Broken glass everywhere. It was also in this home that I was sick once and when my mom told me I needed to finish my soup I replied, “If I eat that, I am going to throw up.” She still made me eat it. And a few minutes later, those still-intact ramen noodles were all over her living room carpet. I told her so.

One thing I learned about during these years was prejudice. My grandparents were from Detroit and had strong racist feelings toward black people. I remember watching TV with my Grandma once, when a commercial with black actors came on. This disgusted my grandmother, but I remember thinking that her attitude was wrong.

I started first grade in this new little town. Two of my cousins continued to live with my grandparents even when school started in the fall. We would all three stand at the end of the driveway waiting for the bus in the morning. One morning the bus driver not only didn’t stop for us, but he waved at us as he went by. My grandma was furious when we came in telling her what had happened. Halfway through first grade, my parents were asked to come into the school for a conference with the teacher. After this meeting, my parents told me that they wanted to switch me to a new class. I really didn’t much like my teacher, but I was scared of the new situation. I asked why I had to move classes. My dad told me that because of my hispanic last name (my mother’s Dad was Mexican) the school had assigned me to my current teacher, but they realized that I was “too smart” for this class. I spoke english (I didn’t even know spanish!) and was a bright student more appropriate for a different class. Again, I remember thinking how wrong it was that they had put me in the wrong class to begin with.

This time in my life was the beginning of feeling a sense of home and belonging. My love of the outdoors budded. And I learned that sometimes people that you love, or those who should be making good decisions for you, are flawed.

*Giving the story of my life is much more difficult that I realized it would be, and I am just beginning! After I give the big picture story, I plan to go back and write about specific memories. Plus, this has been more difficult for me to face than I thought it would be. Apologies for the delay.