The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad question came over a dinner of noodles, salad and miso soup. The question I’d dreaded ever since I’d become a parent.
“Did you hate school?”
Oof. For others, the dreaded talk is the Sex 101 chat. Been there done that. No sweat. But the school question, that’s my Achilles heel.
“I didn’t hate school. Not exactly. I had trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
And here’s where my true dilemma begins. What to say? How much? Do they really want to know? And if I tell them the truth, will they become who I was back then? Kein ahora…
I’d say I was the average student until about fifth grade. Then math became impossible. I cheated off of friends to get by. Eventually, at the most awkward developmental stage ever, (boobs and boys), I was diagnosed with a learning disability. For some reason, (while also giving me a massive sense of relief that I wasn’t a total idiot), this realization seemed to give me license to act out. Like I had been dealt an unfair deck and to right the injustice, I was going to be an asshole.
When high school came along, I was looking for and open to all kinds of trouble. It wasn’t too hard to find. It translated into detentions, in-school suspensions and spending more than a few Saturday mornings surrounded by thugs, druggies and kids on the verge of being kicked out of school. (But not The Breakfast Club types – there were no Emilio Estevezes or Judd Nelsons, unfortunately.) I didn’t fall into any of those particular groups, but I was ditching classes, not completing my work, opening up a mouth with teachers, and hanging out with “bad boys.” I was doing just enough to be considered “on the fringe.”
My parents were paying attention. Their attentiveness resulted in my leaving high school when I was 16. They found a tiny, tiny college (50 students. No joke) with an adjunct program for high school students. I was a fit for the school because I had pretty decent reading and writing skills. It was a fit for me because it gave me a small and personalized learning environment. This was a tremendous confidence boost to be accepted into a college when I was barely meeting the requirements to pass high school. So I bit. I left my friends, my family and my boyfriend behind, fingers and toes crossed that I wouldn’t be a total and utter failure.
So I ended up having a very non-traditional scholastic experience. The quick catch-up is I went to college at the age of 16. After two years of earning college credits, I took my GED, which was untimed thanks to my LD. At 18, I transferred to another small liberal arts college out east. (May it rest in peace – it was a victim of both the economy and my not sending in my alumni donation check.) I decided to stay an extra semester to take a job as a resident advisor and actually, (finally) attended a true graduation for myself. Psychology degree in my proud hand, I went to Israel for a year, got all Jewish and stuff, and then came back for my Master’s degree in Counseling.
On paper that all looks pretty good, impressive even. On paper, I can gloss over all the ugly parts. It leaves out that middle school and high school were hard and embarrassing and not fun at all. No adult in school took an interest or notice in me with the exception of my freshman dean who had a “Come to Moses” talk with me. I deeply appreciated that. I still do. But he couldn’t save me. I had to get out. And so, thankfully, I did.
But back to now. Present day. All eyes on me, excited for mom to elaborate on her “trouble.” Truly, I could tell them anything. They would never know the difference. Harvard grad! Model student! Housed the homeless! But that’s not honest. And with all my self-doubt and second guessing of myself as a mom, I do believe strongly in being truthful with my kids. So, I’m telling them. Because even though they are a product of me and being raised by me, they aren’t me. And my telling them stories about me and how I struggled won’t suddenly “poof !” them into my past life. It won’t unduly influence them into making the same choices I did or burden them with my same struggles.
And it’s also a bonus in the burbs to have a mom with a little street cred.