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, Middle and High School, The Early Years

Football.

I am watching This is Us. We are on the episode when the Pittsburg Steelers win the Super Bowl. The conversation about their Dads watching football reminds me of my own Dad. He was a die-hard San Diego Chargers fan.

Professional football provided the background sound of my childhood. Sometimes it got annoying, having to make sure we weren’t blocking my Dad’s line of sight to the TV or being too loud. Actually, I don’t think he ever minded our noise. I don’t know that he even  paid attention to the commentators, because he sure was in his own world when watching football.

I remember one time he told us kids that his parents didn’t let him play sports when he was in school. He really wanted to, but they couldn’t afford it and didn’t think it was an appropriate use of time when there were chores to be done. My dad was the youngest of seven children.

When I was fifteen years old, I had had enough with football. This thing that dominated every weekend between August and February every year, I was done with it. So I asked my dad to explain the game. Naturally. Even though I had fifteen years of football watching experience behind me, I did not get it. (My conservative estimates put that at roughly 500 hours of football!) He explained the basics of the game, and it made my TV viewing experiences much more enjoyable. And then my senior year of high school I was a football cheerleader (don’t read into that too much). For a while there I really loved football.

These days I am the wife of a former player and mom of a future football player, and I completely understand why parents would not allow their son to play football. The fear of motherhood is not to be messed with.

I am at a point in my story that I am not sure how to explain football and my love-hate relationship with the sport. Do I embrace its influence in my life, or do I delve into creating some sort of symbolism with it? When we tell the stories of our lives, how much do we emphasize the positive and minimize the negative? Isn’t it funny that in the current moment, the opposite is true? We tend to emphasize the negative and ignore the positive. So I guess I will just leave it at that. Football: a neutral force in my life, both positive and negative, a balancing and evocative trigger of memories.

Baby-making years, Background, Germany, Homeschooling years

In Retrospect

My husband says I am never happy. Of course that’s not entirely true, but what he really means is that I am never content. I am always looking to the next thing. After we were married and still newlyweds, I really wanted a baby. Even though we were young and both finishing college, it seemed like the thing that would make my life perfect. Later, when our beautiful little girl came along, the transition to full-time motherhood was really hard. I had spent my entire life getting good grades and proving myself to others through academic performance and all of a sudden there was no one giving me that A+. That combined with my ingrained desire to be The Best was the perfect storm for a huge hit to my self-esteem. Looking back, I think that was the beginning of me feeling really lost in my life.

Of course raising a baby keeps you pretty busy, so I didn’t really think about it all that much. It’s only now in retrospect that I can see what was happening. And I do think I was a pretty good mom, but one with really low self-esteem. The things of life took over: we bought and sold a house, we moved states, bought another house, had another baby, and then a third right on the heels of the second. Those years are still a blur in my mind. My second and third children are only 21 months apart and there are days (or weeks?) that I just don’t remember at all. The status of BUSY kept me from figuring out why I didn’t ever feel content.

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When that third baby came along, my oldest was starting kindergarten and there is a huge learning curve in that whole rigamarole. When she went to first grade, it all just felt wrong. I loved the preschool years, but sending my kid off to school for 7 hours a day only for her to return home hungry, tired and grumpy left a bad taste in my mouth. So, for that reason and many others, I started down the path of homeschooling my kids.

This seemed to be an almost-thriving part of my life. I had always pretended to be a teacher as a kid, and it just came naturally to me. It was still really difficult, especially with a preschooler and a baby underfoot as well as a second grader. But I liked it! It gave me a sense of doing good and spending my time well the way nothing else since becoming a mom had.

Five years of that went by and suddenly our family was faced with an opportunity to move to Germany temporarily. What homeschooling family doesn’t take advantage of that? “It’ll be a grand adventure! We can learn another language! What a great bonding time!” we said. The pickle was that homeschooling is illegal in Germany. We are not a military family so if we took that plunge, it would shift our lifestyle tremendously. “But it is only temporary, two years max.”

And here we are, seven months into our stint in Germany. The kids, especially the oldest who was more than ready to dive back into public school already, are doing well and love their school. It keeps them busy.

But me? Well, not so much.  I get up with the kids and get them off to school, making them breakfast and lunches before they stampede out the door at 7:15 am. While my husband goes off to work all day supporting teams both here in Germany and in the U.S. eight time zones away, I am home.

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Because I am not accountable to anyone for how I spend my time, I have gotten really lazy. This makes me feel very guilty. I have a hard time not being productive with every minute of my time. And since the dust has settled on our international move, the silence of my days has been very loud. I am not busy. I don’t have friends or extended family vying for my time. We rent a house so we are not responsible for home improvement projects. I am involved in some church responsibilities, but it doesn’t take much of my time. I don’t work because I don’t speak the language. I actually thought I would spend this time getting some years-in-the-making projects done, but I don’t work on them.

Why not? I am living someone else’s dream life– seems like I should be able to write a novel or something. But instead I sleep a lot and pretty much just figure out what is for dinner and make sure all the dishes and laundry are getting done. I don’t even watch TV or movies; they make me feel like I am wasting my time- oh the irony! And I just feel…. lost. It’s like all the silence has made me realize that my soul hungers for something more. I am missing the passion and purpose in my life.

I have wondered if I am suffering from depression. It is a thought that has come up in my mind regularly over the years. I have lost my ability to feel happy for more than a fleeting moment. I am often angry. I remind myself of my mother and in many ways that scares me. I have no doubt that she was depressed.

I don’t want mental health issues to be a part of my story, but sometimes we don’t get a say in how the story of our lives unfold. And sometimes the protagonist in the story only has their own demons to overcome. I am certain there will be a time when this chapter is  behind me. Today I am trying to make it so.

Background

Absorbing Responsibility

My whole life I have absorbed responsibility for everything and everyone. I suppose it goes along with trying to control all the details.

When I was in kindergarten, my dad lost his job because he slept through his alarm and got to work late. I was awake and heard the alarm going off, but I didn’t know if I should wake him up, or if there was some reason he wasn’t getting up. (The mind of a 5 year old!) For years I blamed myself for the fact that my dad lost his job and as a result we had to move across the country to a place where my mom was unhappy the rest of her life.

P1000010Growing up, I was always the responsible child.  I remember one time I was sitting on my grandparent’s deck when my mom yelled for me (we lived on grandparents’ property for a while). When I came back later, she asked what my mom wanted. I told her I had to pour a glass of milk for my sister. I remember my Grandma shaking her head and telling me someday I would be grateful. I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me then, but over the years it became clear. I always had to watch out for my sister- make sure she brought her coat home or else she would lose one every week. In high school I remember finding a trail of papers someone had obliviously dropped as they walked along, only to find out it was my own sister with her backpack wide open, clueless as to what was happening around her.

My younger sister was, shall we say, a dreamer. My parents expected me to be responsible for her, but I think I took it too far. After we were both adults I still found myself giving her all the “you shoulds” until I had an epiphany: I didn’t need to be her mother anymore! I could just be her sister and listen and nod along without judgement as I would for anyone else. She was an adult. She could make her own choices and mistakes, and I no longer needed to take ownership of her faults as well as my own. Once I did that, our relationship got better over night.

IMG_5069Also in high school, I would feel so guilty for asking my parents for money when I had an away tennis game or other activity that required dinner out. They would give me $5. I would bring back the 32 cents, knowing that money was tight and I could at least do that much. My mother’s anxiety about money made me anxious and worried.

P1000230My parents always had a rocky relationship. Some of my earliest memories were of them fighting with each other. Thankfully, I never worried about them hurting each other physically, but in many ways the emotional scars were worse. When I was about twelve years old, my Mom asked me if I thought she should leave my dad. I distinctly remember feeling torn: I desperately wanted my mom to be happy, but I was afraid of how life would change if they separated. And of course somehow I figured that I could be responsible for keeping the peace and making them happy– that somehow if only I did more chores, or got good grades, or babysat my little sister more often– things would be okay.

P1000085Today I still feel like my little efforts can make a big difference. I still tend to absorb responsibility in places where I don’t need to. I could say that one of my life’s mantras is:

If you find yourself thinking, “Someone should _______,” then that someone is probably you!

For example, I feel passionately about recycling. If only everyone would recycle, maybe we could save the earth! I’ve seen a need at church and started a Facebook group to fill the need. Nobody asked me, I didn’t ask for permission, I just did it. When my husband is stressed I tend to get sympathy pains. If he has an upset stomach, I get one too. If he has a sore neck, I get one the next day.

IMG_6512Absorbing responsibility can be debilitating. No child should feel like anything their parents do or don’t do is their fault. No young person should feel so much weight on their shoulders, but be focused on creating their own fabulous life story, supported by their family. (This is not to say that children and young adults should shirk reasonable responsibility.) And no person should feel like if they fail, something bad will happen. I am trying to adopt the philosophy of just doing your best and the rest will fall into place. How faithless it is to feel like you have responsibility for everything and everyone around you! God is good, He will lift you up.