So after reflecting on my Top 25 Things You Don’t Know about me List on Facebook (good read if you haven’t seen it yet), I can note the journey from being a tall, weird-looking, skinny kid to an equally tall, fairly self-assured woman.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful childhood. My mother and father were (and still are) always there for my brother and me for my every need.
They had always emphasized the importance of education, claiming that “I could be anything I wanted to be if I applied myself.” And I believed them.
My mother was my educational advocate, researching a new high school called MAST Academy that was only 45 minutes away from home and realizing that I needed to be there no matter what (and I did).
Coming from a simpler background where his parents had only a late elementary/early middle school education, my father also was my advocate, much like Booker T. Washington was to his Tuskegee students or Malcolm X in his “Homemade Education”. He focused on the basics to ensure my survival in the job market.
I remember when I graduated from middle school and I had the summer off before going to MAST, my father put me on a strict regiment of keyboarding using the Mavis Beacon computer program every day for an hour or so.
Naturally, I hated it at first (what kid do you know that would ENJOY staying inside during the summer months and typing on the computer?). But as I got used to it, it became easier and easier.
To this day, I barely have to look down at the keys to type. Many of the letters are memorized in my fingers. Numbers are another thing. I have to look down some times for those because I don’t use them as much as letters.
Eventually, I was academically prepared for transitioning to high school as well as taking classes at a magnet school. I would like to say that it was easy but it wasn’t. There were long nights of homework to complete, novels to read and math/science to decipher through but I got through it.
Academically, I was a rock star (or at least one of the lead guitarists or lead back-up singers). From the inheritance of a strong work ethic, I worked hard in my classes and even had a little fun too. I was a member of the school’s Steel Drum Band. I learned how to scuba dive in “PE” class. I learned how to cayak and sail on a little boat in “PE” class. I was a volleyball player for the school’s team. I went to Europe with my Interact Club as a Freshman. Not bad for a nerd!
As a teenager, I was still growing into my physical features. I stopped being really skinny and the thickness began. My womanly shape was developing but I still dressed like a tomboy at school. That is probably why I wasn’t so popular with the opposite sex. I had two boyfriends in my entire high school career, one as a Freshman and the other as a Junior. Definitely not the best track record for a teenage girl but what can you do?
I did so well in my Honors classes that my teachers suggested that I try out Advanced Placement classes senior year. My attitude was like “let’s try it out’!
But I had mixed success with the new classes. I took English and Statistics. As you can imagine, English was my best subject so I flourished but in Statistics, I bombed it terribly. It wasn’t that I didn’t try. But when you are trying to make sense of a language that you don’t understand in a fast-paced class, you almost set yourself up to fail.
I think if I had taken a Regular Statistics class, I would have fared much better. Well, you live and you learn, right?
Because I did so well in school overall, I got a partial scholarship to UF. It made feel great because that showed me that all that work I did in high school had a purpose (besides killing my fledging social life).
I also didn’t have to take the entry level English classes for freshmen because of my AP class. I think I got to skip two classes ahead so my parents were elated (less money out of their pockets)!
In college, the classes were the next level from those in HS so I was somewhat prepared for them. But the social community was something I couldn’t study for. It was definitely a shock to the system. Let’s see . . . naturally, there were night club events and on/off-campus house parties that I went to. Some were more enjoyable than others (usually alcohol made them amazing).
Guys my age at that time had the emotional maturity of 15 year olds so that was something I had to get used to (no serious boyfriends here!). Therefore, the “hook-up” culture was the status quo and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t partake in it once in a blue moon. Looking back, I think my lack of experience with the opposite sex explains my initial follies with them in college and even out of college.
By this time, my wardrobe changed to match my girlfriends: fitted, girly tops with tight jeans and dresses at night; fitted tees and fitted jeans during the day. Add to that my developing pear shape, I looked a like a stunner! But I wasn’t mentally prepared for the way I was starting to look to people, especially the guys on-campus.
After college, I struck out on my own for the first time ever (actually my parents moved me to Connecticut in hopes that I would get into Yale). When that “dream” went unfulfilled, I worked at a bookstore and in retail for over a year while being “sponsored” by my parents in my new apartment.
To say it was weird was an understatement. All your life, you are empowered to gain your independence after college to “find yourself.”
But when you are moved to a location you don’t know, doing work you are not really passionate about, and at the whim of your parents because they sponsor you, is that really being independent?
“Do this or I will stop paying your rent?” As a young adult, this prospect was a daily reminder of how powerless I was and I HATED IT!!!!
Luckily, I gained my power back that late fall (one year after college) when I got an application for Columbia University’s Teachers College. So I filled it out, sent it back and I GOT ACCEPTED! Finally, I had done something on my own and I won!
The problem lied in trying to convince my parents that going to school in NYC was a great idea. At first, my parents thought TC was not a real school! I’m serious. I believe my father’s words were ” You better go back to the school and disenroll!” How do you “win” with that kind of opposition?
Eventually, I got my parents’ blessing on this new endeavor. I also have a great uncle who lives in Harlem so I had a place to stay during the week when I had to go to school and student teaching.
The stars were alined for this new adventure. I took the MetroNorth train from CT to NYC on Sunday nights, I attend classes during the week and went back home to CT by train on Friday afternoon. I maintained this schedule for almost two years.
While in school, I met new people my age and we would go out. Strangely, I never told anyone about my commute because I wanted to feel like an authentic NYer, not a transplant. I began to feel that the adoption process was over and I became an official Harlem daughter. It was incredible!
I don’t think my parents really grasped the enormity of my academic accomplishment in NYC until commencement. There were two commencement events: one for the individual TC school and the other for all the colleges of Columbia University. I don’t remember exactly what was said but I think it was something like “We are proud of you.”
For a long time after graduation, I was afraid of men. I couldn’t trust anyone and I hated having those feelings. I wanted to be “okay” in my dating life. But that wouldn’t happen for a long time afterward.
After graduation, I got a job as an Instructor at Gibbs College in Norwalk, CT. It was perfect. I taught college students Basic English and Business Writing. The salary wasn’t huge but the work kept me busy during the summer.
While I worked over the summer, I was looking to teach HS at CT and secured a position at New Haven Academy which was about eight minutes away from my apartment. HOW PERFECT!
But little did I know, I was diving head-long into an abyss of uncertainty, unwarranted demands and crisis of conscience.