My work in schools began on what I thought was accident. A few years after my divorce, my kids and I lost our house to a fire and we were homeless for a few months. During that time people came out of the woodwork to surround my kids with love and any assistance they could give us. My boyfriend at the time let us stay with him, but it was clear that living together was not something that our relationship could handle. We did the best we could, found a new house to rent and the next February I got a call from the kids’ school asking if I’d be interested in working in the kitchen. I jumped at the chance. I had just graduated early from college with honors and was looking for opportunities to make our lives better.
The cafeteria job only lasted about 4 months, but in that time I gained a base of kids that would come and talk to me during lunch about whatever problems they were having. They’d sneak into the cooler to tell me their friends needed to talk to me while I was putting food away. Some of them ended up living at my house for whatever reason they couldn’t stay at home. I became THAT lady. Many kids came to me for advice or a shoulder to cry on when life got to heavy. After the school closed due to charter issues I was offered a job with my landlord’s insurance agency. I have never hated a job more in my life. He was a condescending, chauvinistic man who constantly treated me like my brain had decomposed due to lack of use before working in his office. I applied everywhere I could think of to get away from him and one day I found a school that had a bunch of positions open. I had the degree needed so I applied. I knew nothing about the school, its demographics, or the area it was in.
I was offered the job and by my third day I was convinced that I had made a giant error, but was too embarrassed to quit. A kid pulled the fire alarm on my first day there and the second day a kid brought razor blades to school. I was cussed out by a second grader my third day and the fourth day a group of boys threw ketchup in my hair. What I did not know is that all of these kids and hundreds more of them would become the reason I got up in the morning. Their behavior was atrocious and I loved every one of them. They were very angry, very loud, very stressed out little people that would sooner spit on you than accept help. They allowed my presence as long as I didn’t get in the way or try to correct them and I found soon that they would watch my face very closely to see what I thought of their antics. My right eyebrow is now permanently elevated quite high from that first year and I appreciate so much the gift those kids gave me. My experience with school was nothing like theirs but we still struggled with the same bullies and the same insecurities. They made comments like grown ups and some of their observations were cruel and when I offered no reaction to the insults they baited me with, our dynamic began to shift. They started to ask questions about me and my life I realized these kids were no different than I had been. They hated adults, they hated rules and they hated anyone who threatened their freedom to run around and destroy things around them. If I was going to make it here I had to conform to their way of doing things. This forced me to examine my own issues with school.
If you read the post Church Reject, you know already that I am a smart girl. I learned to read super early thanks to my Mom and due to my Dad’s work ethic I moved along a lot faster than I should have in my academic career. I was the best reader in my class and quickly moved ahead of kids older than I was. Except in math. Math concepts might as well have been written in Chinese or Braille and I wouldn’t have understood them any less. I hated math.
My teacher was a lady that went to our church and her daughter was one of my best friends. My friend had been adopted and she acted like she didn’t belong to anyone. She was what I would have called a free spirit until I got old enough to realize she was very different then the rest of us. She had some kind of demons in her that I won’t pretend to know about or understand. I don’t know what happened to her, but looking back now I see her adopted parents struggles with their abilities to parent and whatever else they had going on in their minds. My teacher’s insecurity began to show up in the way she handled her students and I became somewhat of a target for her. If you know me personally, you know I like to talk. We received demerits (nowadays, they would be the equivalent to getting your name on the board) and if you got three you went to the principal and got a spanking with the paddle.
One time I got a demerit for laughing at the word “Hulabaloo” on a demerit I was filling out for talking. (What adult decided that should be word that meant disruptive had clearly never been a child…who wouldn’t find that word hilarious?) It became a pattern that every single time I opened my mouth without my hand raised I was awarded with a demerit. I was sent to the principal so often to receive my spankings that at some point my parents decided that if I got a demerit and got sent to the principal’s office for spankings, I would receive ten spankings at home for each demerit. Again, I do not tell this to place blame on my parents. I had become somewhat of a “problem” child at school and in addition to my constant talking, I also had an unfortunate run in with matches during a church carry in and accidentally lit the dining room on fire. I was also labeled as a racist by my teacher when my friend came to school in a black Wonder Woman costume. I asked where she got it because I had never seen a Wonder Woman costume in anything but white and my teacher started lecturing me about hating people just because of the color of their skin in front of the whole class. I was not allowed to participate in the school trick or treat due to my “racism”. I will be forever grateful to my friend, Hope, for that day. Hope was the only black girl I knew and she got in trouble for talking all most as much as I did. After the school trick or treat was over she came back to me and gave me some of her candy. I apologized to her several times for my comment and as she munched away on a candy bar she waved me off and said, “Girl, you didn’t mean nothin bout black people. I know you wanted to be Wonder Woman too.” To this day, I associate Wonder Woman with my friend Hope. She was the first person to ever show me forgiveness.
Hope would lock eyes with me when I was sent to the principal’s office after that. We didn’t talk about it, but I knew she thought I was being treated unfairly by the look she gave me. Hope didn’t have to go to the principal’s office for talking. I received 187 demerits that year, each accompanied with a 3 swat spanking from the principal and his giant paddles with holes drilled in it to reduce wind resistance.
My spankings at home were given with a doll rod…which is a little like the long handle on a wooden spoon. The worst day was the day I had 10 demerits at school. I came home and was given 100 spankings with the doll rod. I would refuse to touch a doll rod or have them in my house as an adult. They represented the most physical, raw pain of my childhood. I was terrified of them.
Later, after my own kids were born I was having a conversation with my mom about it and she told me that she never agreed to that line of discipline. She said she felt she couldn’t argue with anyone because women were supposed to be submissive to their husbands and the husbands to the Church. She felt like I was being bullied by my teacher and when she would make remarks about my treatment she was admonished for not being submissive enough. In my road to forgiveness, God pointed out to me that Mom had tried to stick up for me and received condemnation for that. I think that was when her attitude towards me and to God began to change. I don’t know how my Dad felt about this because once in my twenties I asked him about the day with ten demerits and he said he didn’t remember it happening.
I was smart but I learned quickly that being smart didn’t matter. Only following the rules did. I couldn’t’ do that very well and so I spent most of my time in trouble. We didn’t have In School Suspension back then, but if we’d had, I’d have been it’s only frequent flyer. I read a quote in college that said “Be Who You Needed When You Were Younger.” I became Wonder Woman for my kids because I needed a superhero that would have protected me from having no safe place between school and home. I became Wonder Woman so that I would never forget my friend Hope and what she gave me that day. So, Hope….if you are out there somewhere, Thank you. I owe you my Wonder Woman.