Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Just a Word to the Wise

Some friends and I were talking about dreams on Facebook this morning. It just so happened that last night I had one of those recurring anxiety dreams. Usually I have this one right before a semester begins, but we're only one and half weeks in, so I suppose it's roughly on time.

It's always some variation of the same basic dream: I'm in graduate school at Penn State; I'm about to graduate with my degree; and a week before commencement, I realize I have a math requirement I've totally forgotten about. I've been enrolled in the class and have simply forgotten it. The final exam is the next day or soon, so I have a very short period during which I have to learn the whole course and pass the exam if I want my degree. And math is not my subject.

It's your basic anxiety dream. We all have them at some time or another.

So what does this have to do with parents talking to their kids? Everything. See, I was actually strong in all my subjects until about 8th grade, when arithmetic started to turn into mathematics and simple algebra started being introduced. I had a little harder time with that; it didn't come easily. I made the mistake one term of getting a "B" in math instead of an "A," wrecking my usual all A's report card.

I was punished--beaten--for the "B." Called stupid, lazy, told "if you had a brain, you'd take it out and play with it!"

Ever since then, whenever someone is trying to explain math to me, I just freeze up. It's like my brain shuts down. My mind becomes a wall. I just don't get it. I just can't understand it.

Really it wasn't just math, ultimately. Later on, despite excellent grades, my stepmother wouldn't let me into the academic track in high school, even though the school wanted to place me there, because she told me I was too stupid to go to college. She wanted me to join the Army after high school. Fortunately, at 15, I wound up getting out of that house and into foster care, where I finally landed with a family in which my foster mom encouraged me to apply to college.

And now I have not only a bachelor's degree, but also two master's degrees, and I'm an English professor at a community college.

Yet to this day, I suffer from anxiety problems, the ever-present uneasy feeling that I'm a big fraud, that I'm not as bright as people say I am, that people won't like me, that students will see through me and think I'm the dumbest assed teacher they've ever had. Of course, rationally I know better, and I tell the critical committee in my head to shut the hell up.

I'm writing about this not because I want anybody to feel sorry for me. There are so, so many more people out there suffering much worse, from things more abusive parents than my stepmother ever said or did. Some of the stories I heard when I was in rehab would take your breath away. I just want to post this little reminder--kids remember what you say. You can be a parent, a teacher, a counselor, or anyone in a position of authority. Be gentle. Be tactful. Be supportive. There is never a need to rip someone apart. NEVER.

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