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.