We are cleaning out the basement. Again. I swear we did this four years ago! While going through an old box I stumbled upon my 8th grade report cards.
I just called my mother and told her that for her 75th birthday I am offering her a HUGE apology for the HELL I put her through!
My average grade was a D+. Why did I do NOTHING in school??? My God, I failed HEALTH! How do you fail HEALTH? My favorite, though, is the report written by "Mr. P.", the 8th grade science teacher who was a long-term sub. He wrote on my report card "Leah would do much better if she talked to her classmate Nell a lot less!" (Years later I ran into Mr. Powers. One of his own kids was in a class in which I was interpreting. I introduced myself, and reminded him he'd been my 8th grade science teacher. A look of horror swept across his face. "That was the worst class I ever taught!") Every report from my teachers that year say things like, "Leah has so much potential but refuses to apply herself." or "Leah is much more capable than her grades reflect her to be." and "Not one single assignment turned in the last three weeks of the quarter."
I remember going to great lengths to hide this report card from my mother, change the grades, have my mom sign it, then change the grades back before turning it into my homeroom teacher. As if nobody could tell I had changed the grades. Apparently it never occurred to me that my mom would be in contact with my teachers at school throughout the year. If only all the energy I'd taken to hide those grades had been applied to even one single assignment that year!
I remember my 10th grade algebra teacher telling me "You are unteachable", and that he passed me because he "didn't want me in his class ever again." While it probably wasn't the right thing to say to a kid, I know I tested his patience, not to mention his ability to reach a kid who was determined not to learn anything. The word he might have used instead would have been "unreachable" because I think in that time of my life, I was. Those words stuck with me for a very long time. Throughout high school I assumed I was NOT able to learn, and I lived up to the expectation, graduating near the bottom of my class.
I was so shy in high school! I had my core group of friends but really didn't talk to people outside of that group. I know that is true for a lot of high school kids, but there were days it was all I could do to step of my bus each day. Walking the halls of my high school was extremely painful for me as a socially awkward, late-blooming teenager. In my group of friends I became a clown to compensate and hide what I was really feeling.
In December of my senior year of high school, my guidance counselor summoned me to his office. "I don't really know what to do with you. You have taken all the required courses and all that is left are electives. It is pointless for you to be here taking a full semester of electives when clearly you don't want to be here. You have enough credits to graduate early. Do you want to stay or go?"
My guidance counselor made a wise move at that point. He had enough experience with kids like me (some who may have been related to me!) to know I was headed for trouble. That afternoon I received a call from an Army recruiter. In the 1980's the Army didn't look at your high school transcripts. There were two reasons to join the Army at that time: 1) to defend our country or 2) get out/stay out of trouble.
Two weeks later, without telling my parents, I took the U.S. Army entrance exams. I scored in the 99+ percentile in all areas of testing, and "out-tested" the language test, which tests one's ability to learn a new language. Finally, at age 17, it occurred to me I might be somewhat intelligent. Because I was only 17, my parents had to sign emancipation papers for me to enlist. They weren't thrilled. My mom, sure that I was being coerced, kept asking, "Who of your friends is also enlisting?" Convinced I was doing this of my own volition, my parents signed the papers.
My recruiter arrived in the still-dark hours of the morning. I hugged my parents goodbye, not fully realizing what was before me but knowing I had to be brave. I was a soldier now. The Army owned me.
We drove to the airport, my recruiter escorted me to the gate then watched as I boarded the plane. I landed in Newark, New Jersey and was told by airline staff I should wait at the end of a long hallway. There were many empty chairs but no people around. Slowly, over the course of several hours, other new recruits joined me. All were silent. All looked as fearful as I felt. The words of my high school psychology teacher came to me, "If you do something every day for 30 days it becomes a habit." In that moment, in my fear and loneliness, I wondered if I could change myself in 30 days? If I pretended to be a social extrovert, could I become just that? If I pretended to be outgoing, was it possible to become become outgoing? Another girl close to my age sat at the other end of my row chairs, "Hi. Where are you from?" I asked. That was the beginning of creating a new self.
The Army was a stepping stone for me. A confidence builder. Being highly competitive, I tried to be the best at every task set before us recruits. Most of the time I succeeded. When I didn't I was even more determined to improve. My drill sergeants targeted me, trying to break me down. Their job was to challenge everyone at the level in which he or she needed challenging and weed out those who weren't able to perform. They drove me both physically and mentally, looking for my breaking point but never finding it. My 17 year old self understood the psychology behind what they were doing and refused to cave. I did every extra push-up, ran every hill they pointed me to, held my breath through extra gas chamber drills, dug my foxholes perfectly, including the extras because my group-mates weren't perfect enough to pass inspection.
28 years later, I look at my four youngest children. 92% of children diagnosed with Down syndrome prenatally are terminated. Society has told them they are not worthy of life. My Serbian boys, hidden away, told they had no place in society. For all our children, our job is to go against everything society tells them, to build them up, make them understand they are equal to the rest of us. God has given us the task of repairing the damage done, giving each the confidence needed to reach their full potential. To challenge them to reach the next level of learning without breaking them. I expect that all of my children, no matter how many chromosomes they have, be contributing members of society, working to the best of their abilities. I expect they will live up to my expectations.