Monday, March 21, 2011

Confession

This post has been eating me alive for days. I can't sleep. Should I write it? Should I not? Think of all those people who might read it! What would be the point?

Well the reason I'm doing it is because there is a point--and because, for crying out loud, I NEED TO SLEEP. The point is this: that while it is true we will all be held accountable before God for our own actions--we can't blame them on anyone else--it is absolutely undeniable that public school has a power to negatively influence the lives of good children from good families. I offer myself--in all my naked truth--as a prime example.

Here is a pretty accurate summary of my academic experience:

I don't remember a single Geometry formula, but I remember vividly the time I went behind Mr. P's desk in Jr High to ask a question about math problem and he grabbed my knee, slowly moving his hand up the back of my thigh and rubbed up and down while I struggled to remember what I meant to ask him. I never had the self-respect or confidence to tell one single adult until this very moment.

I don't remember anything I learned in my elementary's "Accelerated Learning Lab" (the class for the "smart kids") except for that if I didn't use the exact same verbage as the Encyclopedia for my reports, copying it wasn't really plagiarism.

I don't remember an ounce of AP Language and Composition, taught by Miss L., except for the time I was used as the "object of observation" for a writing exercise. While most people wrote about my clothes or my hair, G. S. and Matt Hunsaker (yes, my husband) laughed in the back about how I resembled an "Ostrich on the constant lookout for predators." (It was hilariously true because I was an 80-lb skeleton at the time and I do, after all, have a long neck and bulging eyes).

I don't remember much about 9th grade Biology except for the fact that I was too poor to afford the $1 required to eat a chocolate-covered grasshopper, and thus had to forgo the opportunity of proudly wearing the "I ate one" pin around school to gloat my gross bravery.

I don't remember anything from Jr High English class about how to diagram sentences, but I remember I was the best at it and thought everyone else must be pretty dumb. Don't you love my arrogance?

I don't remember anything about the spelling bee except that I forgot to ask for context and spelled "naughty" instead of "knotty," which cost me the prize.

How's that for a great education? I missed such a great opportunity by not applying myself!

Here is a summary of my "socialization," which contributes to why I'm so puzzled about people worrying home schoolers are missing something:

I moved to Utah in 4th grade and quickly became close friends with 5 girls who loved horses just like I did: D, M, N, C, and Ch. By 6th grade, D had become a "Goth girl," who was eventually in an out of jail, and then disappeared. As for M, I never seemed to be able to say anything without offending her so I eventually gave up trying (although we graduated in the same class, I only saw her anorexic frame passing me in the halls while I privately wondered if I could have helped if I hadn't given up after all). N moved away to Salt Lake and we only touched base a handful of times. C, who I considered up until then to be my best friend, wrote me a note to tell me she didn't want to be my friend anymore. She refused to speak to me from that time forward. Ch, who was rightly my longest best friend, began making decisions that took her in a very different life path than I--so much so that whenever she got in trouble, her mother would ground her from all her friends except for me. Then she moved to a city 45 minutes away, which is a long way for a kid to travel and we weren't able to maintain our close friendship again until I was old enough to drive myself to her house. She's the one person with whom I still touch base every few years. I love her with all my heart.

So here I was, entering 7th grade, starting from scratch to build a friend network in my own town. I never really succeeded. En route to that goal, though, I remember my sister--my biggest social idol--saying to me, "Natalie, you'd be really cool if you had the right friends." This ambiguous bull crap haunted me until college (I forgive you, sis :).

I became acquaintances with almost everyone, but real friends with no one--at least not from the point of view that I ever let anyone know me. I hung out with the few non-Mormons in my school--one of whom was K, who was most easily recognized by her frequently rotating, various neon-colored hair. If a person missed that, they were sure to notice the several earrings in her eyebrow, nose, and tongue. What most people didn't notice about her, though, was that she also happened to have adorable freckles, a wonderful sense of humor, and a refreshing air of self-acceptance.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also hung out with the goody-two-shoes kids, the dorchestra kids (which was really just a symbolic nickname since the band geeks were the real dorks), the "rebellious" kids, and others. But as I moved from group to group, I was merely reading what they wanted me to be and then quickly putting on my correct chameleon colors. For example:
  • I lied about parental permission in order to pierce my belly button, which I proudly showed to my "grunge" friends, but hid from my "Molly Mormon" friends
  • I made cuss words a regular part of my vocabulary for good chunk of time, but only when I'd make the trip to see Ch
  • I practiced kissing on a pillow after a friend and I read a magazine that told us all about how to be what the guys really wanted
  • I stabbed C. in the back--even though she is one of the most delightful people in all the world--because the boy I liked wanted to take her to the dance instead of me. She called me on it when it got back to her and I STILL feel that enormous kick in the gut when I think about it. Does she still remember?
  • I watched one of the "hot jocks" carry his text books with his arm straight and his fingers curled around the bindings. I noticed I carried my books in the crook of my arm and wondered if that was the dorky way to do it. Not wanting to look like an idiot, I quickly switched, even though I was a skinny weakling and carrying the books like he did made my tendons hurt.
  • I went to great lengths to avoid being seen with R, a person I actually quite liked and admired, because I shamefully--so shamefully--perceived her as not the right kind of friend that would make me "cool." I still cringe when I remember my impossibly horrid behavior. Will she ever forgive me?
  • I lied to K when she asked me if I was wearing make-up, even though she said she could see the little glitter bits on my cheeks.
  • I watched in terror as J had a massively weird reaction to the mix of drugs he'd taken shortly after drinking alcohol. I'll never forget the way his eyes looked, bouncing back and forth at rapid speed.
  • I had so little self-respect that when my blind date took me to the canyon to get it on, I couldn't bring myself to say "Don't touch me, you creep." Instead, I sat curled up in the fetal position while he kissed and touched me inappropriately.
  • I was similarly frozen when another blind date drove me up in the foothills and then put his hands in my pockets as he smelled my neck. Ugh!
  • I wasted my first kiss on a guy whose name I don't even remember because one group of my friends had teased me for being VL ("virgin lips")
  • By the time I actually kissed a guy I liked, I found out immediately afterward that he had a girlfriend and it wasn't me
  • By my Senior year I hated boys so much that I was the worst prom date ever--hiding in the bathroom the whole evening--from S, one of the nicest guys on the whole planet, who had waited 4 years to gather the courage to ask me out and was really looking forward to our date
  • Since I belonged to so many different groups on a surface level of friendship, a rare few ever thought to call me for weekend activities. I was too insecure to take the initiative, and therefore sat at home the majority of weekends by myself. I was convinced it was because I was a loser and made a habit of finding all the things about myself that were worth hating
  • I didn't fully overcome my self loathing until I was 23, while serving a mission for my church in New York
Now perhaps you think this is all pretty tame, since I personally never actually experimented with drugs, alcohol, or sex; but from my vantage point, I still walked a tight rope that left me just one gust away from me being utterly lost from the life I now enjoy.

In fact, I almost married a guy who had once worked as a bouncer at a bar, who dyed his hair purple, and who had experimented with every drug in the universe. Yes, I said MARRIED. I was that close--ring and everything. And although he was on "good behavior" while we were dating, he went back to everything the second we broke up. I was even informed years later he'd been seen with another girl while we were engaged.

*shudder*

Just ONE more gust, blowing me in the wrong direction and my wonderful life--my wonderful husband--would have vanished forever.

Did I live in a bad area? Go to a bad school? Nope. Very conservative, very happy-valleyish sort of place. I had some good teachers, who I am sure tried hard to give kids positive feedback and build quality self esteem. Mrs. S even nominated me the the tip-top Artist student, one of seven disciplines to get awarded at Graduation ceremony. In fact, she was the last public school teacher who made me feel like I was a decent artist (my college art experience is an entirely different story but it will suffice to say I never thought I'd like art again).

Where was my family in all of this? I have a wonderful mother, a devoted father, and great siblings. Aside from making me hopelessly crass (I try not to laugh at farts--but they're so funny!), I think for the most part I've been positively influenced by my family. I had a very close relationship with my mother, but foolishly fought tooth and nail with my father until my 20s. Still, no matter how close I felt with my mother, she--and I firmly believe it was because of God's direction--was too busy getting her PhD and working full time to be a bigger influence on my life. Now don't get me wrong. She was a very big, very good influence on my life. In fact, to this day, she is my biggest human heroin on so many levels, second only to God Himself. She is the ONLY person on this earth that helped me to turn out "alright." She rightly earned this influential position by her ability to courageously face difficult change for the better in her marriage and in her parenting. But when you spend 6 hours a day at school, 3 hours a day on homework, and maybe a handful of hours per WEEK with your mother--the balance weighs heavily in the favor of school influences. I can only count on one hand the number of conversations I had with either parent about what I actually learned in school.

What about the Church's influence? Oh, I checked off all my Church duties like a good young woman should, but underneath it all I almost always resented what I considered to be the silly activities and pointless meetings. I thought everyone around me was faking it when they said they KNEW God lives. I believed in God--with hesitancy--and I thought deeply about Him, but I didn't really have a strong, genuine knowledge of my own until college.

If you asked almost anyone who knew me then, they'd probably tell you I was sharp, confident, and fun. They'd probably think I didn't have a care in the world. If they were really blind, they might have even thought I was popular. But nothing could be further from the truth. I was miserable and I hated myself.

Now I might as well go to the next family dinner at the in-law's in a bikini for how much I feel like I just exposed myself--cuz I know they all read this. But, again, I share this embarrassing past to make the point that family is everything. I take full responsibility for my insecurities, my self-loathing, my facades, and my pretenses, and for my indifference to really learning anything. I don't blame the public school system for this. But I do recognize its role in creating the monster--especially since my home life was far from perfect.

I still have yet to understand what people really mean when they talk about this great concept of "socialization" that public schools offer. Personally, I hope I can spare my girls at least some of the insecurities I experienced as a result of a bunch of good kids, all of whom were trying to find out who they were, too, being thrown in the same building for 6 hours a day. I hope, by having them around more during their formative years (ages 0-8 at the very least), that I can forge the foundation of confidence and character I never learned as a child.

If someone thinks this is "over-sheltering," by all means, bring on the criticism. For once in my life, I don't care if I look stupid.

So what made the difference? Why did I finally learn to take responsibility for changing my attitude, for believing I was worth something, and for realizing that learning new things--and remembering them--is a good thing to do?

Had it not been for one very private, very powerful moment I had--as I hid between the dining room table and the window because I didn't want to be caught reading my scriptures and talking to God (since that was, of course, a nerdy thing to do)--I can only shudder to think what would have become of me. I flipped open to Doctrine and Covenants 46:7-8 and read:

"But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils...Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given."

Being thus instructed to ask of God, and knowing that I would need to obey whatever the Spirit testified to me, I finally made my first sincere prayer to find out if He was really there and if this whole Mormon thing was really just a bunch of baloney.

In just one beautifully reassuring moment, He told me that if I would trust Him, He would help me come to know the best part of Me I never knew existed. And He is still keeping His promise to me, little by little, as I slowly become ready to learn the next part about Who I really am--and what His Church is all about. It's been a long process and I still have an even longer way to go. But it's all true. It's ALL true.

May I conclude with this: I owe everything to God. I can't wait to make Him part of my daughters' every-day academic curriculum. Because with God in the curriculum, everything else finally becomes important enough to care about.

2011Res: To Matt: I genuinely mean it when I say that when I was around you and T in high school, I was closer to being "me" than when I was around anyone else. Thanks for even thinking I was "cool" when I wanted you to teach me how to belch like the boys. And thanks for agreeing with me when I decided, in college, that that wasn't a very lady like thing to do! To my girls: today I hope to be awake enough to savor you. Dear Mr H: it's 3 AM. I haven't done anything yet today for you, but I will try to think of something worthy of thanking you for your friendship during my rocky High School days.


POST EDIT: I've been pretty embarrassed for posting this--not because I care if people know my awkward childhood (cuz it's so far gone it's almost like it never happened sometimes); but because I was basically suggesting, "Watch out! Public schools can ruin any good kid!" How would that make a mother, whose children are in public school, feel? Well, probably terrible and I'm sorry. So here's my post edit:

1) I don't believe that public school will ruin your children.
2) I don't believe if you send your children there you are a bad mother.
3) I don't believe in "good" kids and "bad" kids because I believe we all have infinite potential.
4) I DO believe that, from a strictly statistically standpoint, kids have better self-esteem and self-concept when they are given more quality time with adults who love them (and who already know who they are) instead of the majority of their time being with kids their same age (who also are trying to figure out who they are). Just common sense, really.
5) But at the end of the day, no matter how hard we try as parents, our children will make their own choices--and that's the way it should be.


13 comments:

Amy said...

Wow, you sure got a jump-start on your morning! I just wanted to say what I remember about you in school. You played a violin solo in seminary class (Where Can I Turn for Peace?) and I thought you were so incredibley brave and talented. I remember a calligraphy project in Mrs. Anderson's class and you were so meticulous (in a good way) about it that you started the whole project over and over again when the tiniest error happened. I was just "meh" about my own piece and really admired your dedication. And I thought you were beautiful. I think that's one big ironic thing about school--we all felt lonely together. I have my rugrats to attend to, but you're still brave and strong and beautiful.

Heather said...

My heart ached so bad as I had to read what terrible things you went through. I'm so sorry you had to go through any of that, but what a blessing it will be to your daughters as you can sincerely teach them how to love and respect themselves. You are wonderful Natalie and I'm so happy you are in our family.

Alyson said...

I hope I hope I hope I hope I have spared my children these sorts of things. I loved school, for the most part. But of course there was some dog poop in those chocolate chip cookies, there were some bad things mixed in with the good. I hope my children are strong enough by the time I send them out into the world that they aren't as affected! *prayers*

Jenn Ross said...

Thank you for writing this. Although I had many good times in high school, I also felt the same way as you. This was one of the most honest things I have read. You are awesome.

Angela Hill said...

It's funny the way we perceive things as teenagers, I felt the exact same way you did. I never had really good friends just a bunch of soso friends and I bounced from group to group as well. While I did feel lonely for most of high school I also feel that it helped me to know and understand that even though people appear different they're all pretty much the same. I also think it has made me a more open and accepting person.

I think it's also important to realize that insecurities and bad decisions are unfortunately a part of being a teenager. And that's not some "oh everyone goes through it" thing, their brains are actually different and going through MAJOR changes that cause the stupidity. So unfortunately no matter how you school your kids (and I really don't have an opinion on it) their teenage years are likely going to be tough. but all we can do as parents is our best. :)

p.s. I was totally with you when you got your bellybutton ring, (I forgot I was grunge in high school) and was totally shocked that such a "good little mormon girl" would do such a thing. and even with the belly ring I still thought you were a good little mormon girl ;) ('cause you were)

p.p.s. thanks for the insight into your soul. I know it can be hard to share so much of yourself, it's one of the reasons I quit blogging.

Dawn said...

Thank you for sharing all of this, Natalie. I'm going through a lot of rough things myself, and it is inspiring to know that I can pick up my life and keep going forward. Not only that, that there is value to me and to my life.

I hope someday I can have the same conviction and strength that you have.

~Dawn

Kirsten said...

Wow. You rock Nat. Thanks for sharing. I seriously wish I'd known this in high school. Maybe I wouldn't have been sitting around on the weekends too. Like you, friends with many, close to few. Passed over for most activities unless I asked. At least you got asked to dances...
someone made a comment to me once, I don't remember who, but they said, "oh, you were in the popular group" and I wondered what the heck they were talking about. I never would've thought that.
I also did some really dumb things and didn't treat people the way I should have in the quest to be "cool." So sad.
Also, I have to admit you have me feeling a little guilty for planning to send my kids to public school. Homeschooling does sound so much better.

Marie said...

I just spent 40 minutes writing and deleting and writing a comment and my computer LOST it!!!!
The short comment? Dude, if you want to be with your children 24-7 when they are school age, be my guest!!! But for the rest of us that do public school, we'll just try our best to make sure our children aren't lost. :)
Thanks for sharing such personal experiences. I think we all have plenty of not-so-sweet memories of school, but isn't that just part of growing up? I remember how I treated my family and I shudder to think how I would have been if I were home schooled. I think my mom would agree with me. One of us would not have survived! Hopefully your daughters are nice as they grow up, trying to figure out who they are. Because although you and Matt know who they are, you have to let them find out for themselves. It's easy now, because they are so young. Just wait. I know my mom can't WAIT for my girls to go through middle school and high school.
Keep up the good work. We miss seeing your cute family. Just know that LOTS of people send kids to public schools and the kids turn out just fine. ;)

Natalie said...

Amy, Angela, & Kirsten: wow, I didn't realize so many people from high school read this! How funny we all felt so similar. Love you all and outta say I never would have guessed you were lonely, too. I have only pleasant memories of all of you. Next time we see each other . . . big hugs!

Cheryl said...

As someone who has decided to be with her children 24/7 to homeschool them, and also done the public school thing, I have to totally disagree with Marie. When my oldest was 12 I felt overwhelmingly that I needed to homeschool. I fought it for a while, but eventually gave in. I was struggling with my oldest and worried about spending so much time with her. She is almost 16 now and I LOVE being with her. I would not give up the time that I have had with her and her siblings for anything else in the world.

Natalie said...

This blog is getting so wierd now that I just can't come here anymore. Thanks for the memories Natalie. I feel your thoughts are biased and your not weighing both sides well. I don't think I'm the first to stop following this blog, and I know I won't be the last. And for all the HS moms that are sure to respond to this post, please don't waste your breathe and make yourself look more ridiculous than you already do.

Kamie said...

Hi Natalie-
I just discovered your blog and have only read a few of your posts but I wanted to comment that I appreciate your ideas. I appreciate that you are taking such considerable time educating yourself about what is best for YOUR family. That is what a good parent does. I applaud you for that.
I don't agree with everything you have written. I was homeschooled for three years (7th-9th grade) and it was the worst thing possible for my relationship with my mother. It destroyed us. It has only been in since I have had my own children that our relationship has started to mend. Now, obviously the issues we had weren't due to homeschooling, but they definitely were exacerbated by it. I think that for me it wasn't a good choice, for another child, it could be the best choice.
-Kamie
p.s. As a fellow LPHS "dorkestra" member I totally thought you were confident, fun, and put together. :)

Kate said...

To the Natalie who made a comment (not the author of this blog): You think the bog is weird? I think your comment is weirder. It sounds like you spend WAY too much time reading other people's blogs. If you want to stop reading it, then stop reading it and don't make a fuss about it.

To my sister-in-law: Thanks for your insights. I agree with Amy, that we all felt lonely together through jr. high and high school.