Growing up is often a painful process both physically and mentally. I was the quintessential late bloomer which was compounded by the fact that my parents enrolled me in first grade a year earlier than what is generally deemed as normal. I was a tiny little girl who had held her own with confidence until I was suddenly sent off to school with little warning just after my youngest brother was born. I was unable to feel as confident as I always had in the loving bubble of my family. As a five year old sitting in a classroom with kids who were mostly a full year older than I was, I felt terrified. By age I should have been in kindergarten, but my parents mistook my pluck at home for enough maturity to fake it with a group of peers who’d had an extra year to prepare for the shock of beginning the educational journey in earnest.
While I quickly proved my academic mettle, I was not ready to be with my six year old classmates. I still looked more like a preschooler than someone with enough moxie to blend easily with my new set of peers. My personality quickly changed from chatty and outgoing to shy and reserved as I attempted to find my place in my new environment. If not for my incredibly kind teacher and a sweet girl who took me under her wing I might become irrevocably withdrawn. Instead I was feeling much better about the situation by the time I had completed my first school year. Being able to read and spell words and do math was wonderful.
I might have been well on my way to a return to my more natural bubbly self but for my parents deciding to move, which meant starting second grade in a brand new school. To make matters worse, my name was not on any roster when my mother and I arrived on the first day. After a great deal of brokering on my mother’s part an administrator accompanied me to a classroom and confronted the teacher with the news that she would have an additional student. Unfortunately, an argument ensued in front of me that dampened my spirit for the rest of the academic year. The beleaguered teacher insisted that she did not want me to join her already overcrowded group of students. While the two adults argued I began to feel smaller and smaller. I wanted nothing more than to just run away.
The administrator got her way and I quietly became more withdrawn as I endured one of the most miserable years of my young life. The teacher made little effort to hide her resentment toward me with little insults about me all year long in spite of my efforts to please her. Nonetheless, I made a number of friends who have stuck by me since that time. The joy of knowing them made the unbearable more bearable.
Things might have continued in an upward trend had my father not decided to move us all again only weeks after I began third grade. We embarked on an adventure that took us all the way to California where my father’s failed dreams kept us moving four more times before the end of my third year of school. By then I was shell shocked from having to continually adjust to new environments, new schools, new teachers, new classmates. I reached the point of not even bothering to get to know anyone and became less and less congenial. When my daddy died at the end of that year I felt so devastated and wary that my true outgoing talkative personality seemed to die with him.
My fourth grade teacher did little to help me because she was literally as mean as a skunk. Somehow I carried on by throwing myself into studying and then having fun at home in my neighborhood and on weekends with my dozens of cousins. I advanced from one grade to another from the same house in the same neighborhood. The routine was my saving grace. I felt secure in the repetitiveness of putting down roots in a place where the people around me were kind and helpful. I began to heal.
I might have regained my confidence totally but for the fact that I did not grow. I began high school with a mind that was equal to my classmates, but the body of a child rather than a teen. I would be heading for my junior year before I began the process of changing physically and psychologically. My physical development was two years behind and that fact caused me to feel even more uncomfortable and less certain about who I was. I struggled to relate to my peers who were dating and becoming visibly more mature. I hid my unease with jokes and an even greater attention to growing academically which I had the power to control.
By the time I graduated from high school at the age of seventeen I had finally developed as I should have and I was armed with a great education that gave great promise for my future. I loved my friends and would keep them for the rest of my life. I could hardly wait to launch my college career and then move on to being an adult. My growing pains were gone and I was excited about going to a new environment in which I might demonstrate the more outgoing personality that I had hidden away for so long.
I did not go far from home for college. Moving out of town and staying in a dorm was economically out of the question, but my city had several excellent universities. I purposely chose the largest of them all because I felt that it was time for me the emerge from the bubble that had nurtured me after my father’s death. I met the challenges of being in a large public institution with eagerness because finally the course of my life was being driven by my own desires rather than fate. I was able to choose my major, select my classes and my professors. It was such a freeing experience and along the way I knew that I was rapidly becoming the person that I had always wanted to be.
In the second semester of my freshman year I met my husband to be. Our relationship was special from our very first date. Somehow I knew that I had met my soulmate because I had no trouble just being myself whenever I was around him. He boosted my confidence even more than it had already become. When he asked me to marry him when I was only nineteen years old I did not hesitate to accept his proposal. The world was on fire with war, assassinations, and unrest so it seemed imperative to grab happiness when I found it.
The rest of my story is one of feeling good in my own skin. I learned to really like myself and when that happened I was able to shift my concerns to the people around me. My focus was on making them feel good as well. All in all things worked out thanks to the wisdom of my mother in providing me with security and love. The friends that I met in my youth have sustained me for decades along with new people who widened my horizons and enriched my experiences. I became a teacher who understood the angst of being a student. I taught my kids with love. I understood the value of people and relationships because of my own struggles. With my life partner I created an adventure that has been filled with rich experiences. I am a survivor of my own misgivings and in an odd kind of way I believe that even my most difficult challenges helped to make me a better person that I might otherwise have been. I learned how to adapt and ride the wave life’s storms. I took a bit longer to bloom than most but when I finally did it was beautiful and I think I appreciated it even more.