We sat at the kitchen table, my baby and I. Well, she's not really a baby anymore. She'll be old enough to legally consume alcohol in just a few weeks, but she'll always be 'the baby' in this family. (Poor kid).
Long dark blonde hair frames an animated face with eyes full of the light of success. She is handing me her latest assignment from school and is justifiably proud of the mark she received. 34 out of 35. She lost that one mark because she forgot one silly little heading. Still, not bad. Not bad at all.
Academics have never been Jorie’s strong suit. By the end of Grade 4, she still couldn't read. We borrowed a book from Belinda on our way up to a friend’s cottage that summer, "The Princess and the Goblin" by George MacDonald. If I remember correctly, it was the first book Belinda had ever purchased with her own money when she was only 11, and it was such a compelling story that it really did the trick for Jorie. We went to bed early each night, not to disturb our elderly hosts, and Jorie and I would sit up in the big old brass bed that sunk like a hammock in the middle and we would take turns reading. She would read one chapter and I would read the next. In the beginning I had to help her with nearly every word. But by the time Gurdie and the Princess reached their happy ending, Jorie was reader. What a victory!
She continued to struggle in school, however. One of our biggest challenges as her parents was trying to ferret out whether she actually had homework and how to get her to do it. She was a master at flying under the radar. She never seemed to have homework to do, and yet her marks were always mediocre at best. I could never figure that out.
We had her tested - a full psych. ed. asssessment, and contrary to what the school kept trying to tell us ("it must be the lack of structure at home") she clearly had some identifiable difficulties, especially in the areas of maths and science, although her ability with language and visual arts was above average. At the same time, a profound attention deficit was identified, which didn't help her cause at all. It's hard to keep on top of assignments when your brain is so naturally disorganized. But there are advantages that come with such a diagnosis! Like incredible creativity, for one. We saw signs of it everywhere. But alas, never on her report card.
How she got out of high school, I'm not quite sure, given the number of classes she missed and the amount of homework that went left undone. She did go back for a "victory lap" to pick up the last few courses she needed, and we used to joke that she was going through high school "on the installment plan" because whenever a course became too difficult for her, she always seemed to find a way to drop it while still able to get through by the skin of her teeth. I have worried about her more than any of my other children, I think, except perhaps the oldest one, who gave us lots of concern of a different nature. (And we him!)
During her teen years, it became evident that she is gifted with children. Jorie is shy, painfully shy, and unassuming, but she cares deeply about people and with children she could always relax. They seemed to feel safe with her and she clearly had a natural ability to put them at ease. And they her. She decided she wanted to spend her life working with children and eventually become a kindergarten teacher. But with her marks and the courses she chose, there was no way she was going to get into university. She settled on Early Childhood Education, and registered at the Orillia campus of Georgian College this fall. Her plan is to do as well as she can and go on to university as an adult student, once she gets that ECE diploma under her belt. We held our breath, are prayed alot, and blessed her on her way.
Highly motivated now, her struggles are not a thing of the past, but she has learned this fall to face them head on. She can’t afford to drop a course that becomes difficult. College is too expensive. There won’t be a second run at it. She won’t allow herself a second run. She’s going to make it the first time, and she’s going to do as well as she can. Her marks so far in almost all her courses have been outstanding. The paper she showed me tonight is just one piece of evidence of many successes.
That means she has had to face her fears and go to profs for help bytimes in order to understand the expectations and to keep all her assignments straight. No-one but her knows how hard that was to overcome her shyness and negativity, and to go ahead and knock on those doors.
“I figured out why,” she said to me tonight as she put her guitar back into its case and turned her full attention to explaining to me her latest epiphany. “It was Mrs. Jones.” (Not her real name.)
Ah, Mrs. Jones. That didn’t surprise me a bit. I had many a battle with that woman when Jorie was in her class in her primary years. I had tried to explain to her what “attention deficit” means, but she just thought we were excusing bad behaviour, and kept on about the “lack of structure at home”. Arghh. Her diagnosis was clearly “irresponsible and lazy” and instead of giving Jorie credit for doing as well as she did, considering the challenges of a brain that constantly galloped away on its own and required immense effort to bring herself back to the task at hand, she was constantly negative and critical.
“Mrs. Jones used to centre me out and humiliate me in front of the whole class,” said Jorie. “She would see that I wasn’t paying attention and then she would say, “What’s the answer, Jorie?” I would sit there and have nothing to say. The other kids would all laugh. And then she would lecture me for “not paying attention”.
Jorie went on to tell me about one of her worst childhood memories - how at recess the kids would role play with her as the subject while she stood and watched. One of her classmates would be in the centre of of a circle of her peers and say, “I’m Jorie. Duh-uh – I’m stu-u-u-u-pid. I don’t know the answer to anything.” Then everyone would laugh. When Jorie got extra help from Mrs. Jones, the teacher would sigh, exasperated after the second or third try, and scold, “I can’t believe you still don’t get this.”
Jorie said, “Mom, I learned that it was better to be a rebel and look like I was bad than to look stupid. So I stopped trying. I learned never to go for help because that would make me look stupid.”
Well, not anymore. “I’m not letting Mrs. Jones hold me back anymore,” said my beautiful daughter, as I watched the wounds of her past transforming into strong and beautiful scars of character before my very eyes. She went on to tell me about how she went to the director of the program a few weeks ago, and how she got a very different reception there than she did from Mrs. Jones. That’s when she showed me her near-perfect paper.
Suddenly I don’t worry so much about her anymore. And suddenly, well, maybe she’s not a “baby” after all.