Friday, April 25, 2014

Stand Where I Stood: Special Ed.

At this point, after pausing, in my posts and watching very carefully the reaction to the subject matter; I think I need to speak to a couple of things that you might not understand if you haven’t ever been in my situation. For a few posts I will attempt to give you a sense of how you get a place where you accept this behavior, or at least at the point I did. So background information is a necessary evil. I apologize now. Please also remember I am no psychologist or doctor; I am only telling my story. I have no real medical knowledge other than what has been explained to me over the years and my writings are marginally acceptable at best.

Growing up I was always the awkward kid, the kid with no real athletic prowess, buck teeth, all limbs, and by the end of second grade thick glasses. My second grade teachers, I had a team of two teachers that year, thought very much inside the box. I was the kid who doodled on work, daydreamed, and could not add or subtract to save my life. My teachers, trying to be old school disciplinarians as in “dunce hat” old school, would stand me in front of the black board and tell me I was dumb or stupid or silly or whatever fit the moment. All of my failings were highlighted this way… I don’t remember if they did it to other kids and frankly other than feeling awful for them too, that doesn’t matter. Testing into the top 95% range with my IQ and tons of other tests of smarts and abilities meant I had to be placed in the gifted program at my school; my teachers and parents fought about these test results the whole year, which sort of drew the attention off of me. Never telling my parents about being chastised in front of 28 kids, they were very busy with a sick baby, a very sick baby, I endured. I kept telling myself this was for my brother; I only had to go so much more with these two old bats before I could move on. He was so sick and on more than one occasion death seemed inevitable. At some point in this process my father told me I had to be a big girl. He meant help out with some things like sorting laundry and helping out with dishes. Seven year old me, interpreted it as I had to be grown up, that meant putting myself second and protecting my family above all else. It was not until my parents had removed me from the public district and moved me into private schooling did they learn of the “teaching style” to which I had been exposed. Hell, all 28 of those poor kids put up with those nut jobs; at the very least I am sure someone got sick of hearing about me! (Pretty sure on that since I got teased a lot) My third grade teacher picked up on something I said and asked the right combination of questions; she discovered what happened and spoke to my parents.

Clearly, as any parent would be, they were upset. Whatever damage had been done was over. For me, the only thing that mattered was I had to protect my family, and my brother. Who hasn’t heard their parent tell the oldest to watch out for the youngest? Fast forward through all the weird pre-teen growing up and the socially inept me struggling to just fit in… and we arrive at another pivotal moment. In the sixth grade I was in Middle School in Alabama, my dad got a job in Seattle. So for Christmas that year we got to move to what felt like another planet! Our first year there was miserable. It did mean the demise of my poodle bangs; there might have been a good tradeoff there… jury’s still out on that. Not only did I think my parents had moved me to the furthest corners of hell (I was so wrong!) but I had to go back to elementary school. I found myself taking recess again and to make everything else extra awesome I got braces!

In case this isn’t making any sense let me clear up the picture. Gangly, coke bottle glassed four eyed, braces on teeth while buck toothed, southern accent, and goofy big haired little girl with horrible posture moved to the big city and like the Beverly Hillbillies culture shock is putting it mildly. My mother insisted I have an IEP and a bunch of other stuff that in my opinion, just meant I was a bigger dork with more paperwork. Special classes were organized so that I could “catch up” on my math skills; drawing further attention to me, as I had to get up and go to another place in the school for SPECIAL ED. All I really wanted to do was fade into a wall. I talked funny, I dressed funny, I looked funny (really I did the early 90’s were terrible for everyone) and now I did not know anybody. It didn’t take very long for kids around me to figure out that when I was in the room I was the one to sit next to; I had found a kind of niche: the smart kid.

Seventh grade, more awkward, and now I had a gap between my slightly less bucked teeth but still no self-esteem. I was always outside playing; my brother and I were team. We were survivors, together we always had someone to play with and talk to. If any other kid said one word about me I would take it, absorb it and save it for later. If any other kid said one word about or even looked wrong at, my brother I would come out of my frame. It may not seem like it but I have a pretty fiery temper; I just hold it all in because as a “southern lady” that’s how you do. Right?

At times I was pretty rabid about protecting my baby brother. He was so small and beautiful; navy blue eyes that sometimes looked black as jet sparkling in his little eyes and curly golden hair. He was getting stronger and the climate seemed to work for him. The boys called me Chewbacca because of my temper over my brother, bucked teeth and frizzy wild mess of hair. It took me a little while to figure out Seattle and hair. I digress… They would frequently follow me around the little community we first lived in, barking at me. Somewhere during this time we moved from the little townhome my parents had rented into a house, next a lake, and with a neighborhood where there were not so many older boys, thank God.

The school lines had changed and this meant another new school, if you are counting that’s four schools and four different sets of kids in three years. Each time my mother would cheerfully explain that it was a new start, a new beginning, she would say. This time it really was going to be different; my teeth now had no gap, just plain old braces, and the best thing in the world happened: I got my first contact lenses. This was the game changer as far as I was concerned. (I guess somewhere I forgot I was still dressing like my mother picked out my clothes… she actually really was since she was buying them, but that is getting technical.) I can remember prancing into my new junior high school that day convinced, absolutely, that I would have a boyfriend by the end of the week. By God, I was 13 now; a real teenager and I didn’t have those damned goggles anymore. Mind you I was wearing hard lenses, “gas permeable” they were called. Utterly no idea why they were called that because they did not breathe and I would soon learn that their only positive, besides the obvious lack of glasses, was that if I needed to go to the bathroom I only need pop one out and the teacher did not have any choice but to let me loose on the school. Worked like a charm; however at this point in my illustrious career I was not also scheming.

Looking back I am pretty sure that first day I was wearing a shirt with a salmon on it and lipstick… yeah lipstick in a “mauve” category. I learned a few things that year besides the general things taught in 8th grade. The first was that mauve was a category of color and lipstick best left for your mother. Lipstick is not your friend. Dressing like your mother picks your clothes out, does not make you an instant hit popularity wise. Some people wear forks and aluminum foil in their hair. I can’t recall her name but the she was the first person I saw at this new school. She was hovering near my locker with the forks and foil twisted in her raven hair. I was confused and unsure of the statement was being made, but she was confident, really confident, and she was standing between me and the door to my first class. My hesitation would have made you think she was threatening me with a knife or one of her forks. She wasn’t. I was just terrified that if she saw me in my now idiotic salmon shirt I would not be worthy of this girl who clearly had the cool grunge thing down pat. I did foster a deep and what I would have told you at the time was spiritual connection with Nirvana and Pearl Jam amongst others. The most painful lesson was that in order to cross the road from what I now considered mediocrity to the popular side of the fence (or so I thought) was to forsake all the kids who had been nice to me when I first arrived in Seattle for the kids that did not know that version of me.

By the end of 8th grade, I was letting people copy my homework; I had gotten my mother to stop buying me BONGO jeans and body suits, and even mixed some flannel and plaid into my sartorial catalog. I had long since tossed the purple lipstick and learned to use black eyeliner to my mother’s great dismay. New friends were all around me and even a few of the ones I had thrown to the wolves were still speaking to me. The trouble when you jump the fence like that is you don’t really belong on the other side of the fence. All of sudden I was in with a crowd, that moved fast and talked tough. Appeasement was my entry into the crowd; I first picked a girl who terrified me and made it my mission to make her my friend. She sat next to me in one class, sheer chance there, when we all had to group up to do group work I went out of my way to be sweet and meek and as pliable as possible. It worked, but at what cost?

Ninth grade and age 14 was the year my parents nearly had me killed. A seasoned veteran now, I hit school that first day in the dress my father called the “evening gown” it was long and black, mostly long. My first class Algebra, with Mrs. Johnson and Shara*, a good friend of mine to this day, became my first moronic mistake as I heard the words “you have two days after your homework has been done to correct it based on class discussions and then turn in for credit” which in my newly rebellious mind meant I had two extra days to do my freaking homework. NICE. I never did my homework. Not even once for that class. I had come so far from those Special Ed days and now I was trying to screw it up, in order to look like I didn’t care and mostly that I was not the smart kid everyone thought. Smart kids did not, intentionally or otherwise, fail classes. Smart kids, “nerds” or “dorks” or “geeks” were my people and I had made a calculated, ill-advised but thought out, not well, I was 14, move to separate myself from them. (Strategy is not, nor ever was my strong point)

*Names have been changed in order to keep identifying and concerned parties private.

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