I sat meekly at the desk, pencil in hand and shyly glanced around at all other heads bent busily over desks. It was so hot and so many icky flies. My heart skipped and sadness surrounded and swallowed me up. I could see snow, my bedroom, my school friends, the concrete playground and my Grandma. I ached to run away, sneak on a plane and go home but home was far away from this hot, stinking hell. Home was England.
I didn’t have a clue what this teacher wanted, what did dictionary meanings mean? I’d never heard of this in my old school. I leaned over to sneak a look at the child’s work next to me, perhaps a glimpse would give me a clue.
“YOUNG LADY, STAND UP”.
I rose, embarrassed and scared and looked at the teacher between the hair that I had purposely hung over my eyes. Hair to hide behind. Hair to protect me from the outside world. (I was only 9 years old).
“Go to the back of the class and stand at the wall. I don’t tolerate cheats in my class. You will stay in at lunch and write out the 100 demons*”.
I bit my lip, lowered my gaze and walked to the back. Struggling to hold back the tears. I wasn’t a cheat. I would never cheat. I hope she doesn’t tell my Mum. I’ll get a right thumping for this….’I want to go home, I want my Grandma’.
1978 (South Hedland) Year 4
…. time lapse…
1984 and 5 schools later. (Perth) Year 10, boarding with host family.
I sat down in Home Economics, eyes cast to the books in front of me. Life had finally been fun, I had friends and I felt safe. Miles away from trouble and finally I had dreams. Until today. Called to the office at lunch time where a relative, in fact my Mother, met me and delivered the message that I was to return home and I would move schools, again! In one short moment my life was once again in tatters. I glared, hiding behind that customary hair that hung in front of my face. My shield from the world.
“Young lady, leave the room”. (teacher)
I glanced up, startled! My friend nudged me and I realised it was I who was being demanded to exit. Confused, bewildered and again humiliated I shuffled out onto the balcony outside. Time went by, confused because I had no idea why I was outside and dejected because why bother, after all I was once again moving schools. Desperate to hide the tears I went to the toilets, where I cried. Al-be-it briefly. Eyes puffy and head hurting the bell went, I needed to get my books so I walked back to class where I was met by the teacher who had evicted me.
“You have a bad attitude, you are rude and disrespectful. Do you think you are important? You are nothing! You will amount to nothing! You said in ‘Careers’ you wanted to join the Police Force, you honestly think you have what it takes? You have no respect for authority and at this rate you’ll be on drugs and pregnant before you know it. You are not welcome in my class unless you change your attitude”.
“That’s fine Ms, I’m not coming back”. I turned and slowly walked away. I didn’t look back and I never forgot those burning, hateful words.
… same year… different school, living home with parents. Year 10
“You’re strange, you wear old charity clothes” – (Yes I do!)
“Why don’t you have a hair style?” – (I don’t care!)
“How come you always say no when we ask to come over?” - (My Father’s a violent drunk, I really don’t want you to know my real life!)
Stepfather: “You’re a loser, why you’re going to school baffles me. You should just quit and go get a job. You’ll never be anything and very soon you’ll be popping out kids like all the other sluts. Look at the state of you, you don’t dress up, you don’t do your hair. I Should have dumped you in England when we had the chance. You are a waste of space”.
(Yes, you should have! I was very happy, I was loved and I had friends. You have no idea how much right now I’d like to give that space back you so desperately want, back to you!)
Year 11, yet again another school!
“I’m going to the beach do you want to come?” (phone call to friend)
“I’d love to, ((friend’s mother’s voice in background: ”That girl? The one whose parents are weird, the father is a drunk? No you are not going anywhere with her, she’s bad for you”)). Ummm, sorry I can’t go out I have to study“
“That’s ok, I understand. I’ll see you on Monday”.
(Oh I understand all right, I heard your mother. I thought you were a Christian family! I’ve done no wrong, harmed none. Tried hard to become a good person. I’m shadowed by actions that are not my own. Yes I understand. I’m a loser!)
… time lapse…
This teaching crosses my painfully bumpy path….
Out of hundreds of sperm that race to that egg to win and become a human being, you were the one that won. You are a winner. No matter what you’ve heard in the past you were destined to exist. You have a reason to be on this planet. You have purpose. Let go of the past, let go of all the negative words that have been heaped on you. See yourself as God sees you. You have a path to walk, you may not know all that lays before you or why, but always believe in yourself.
It’s attitude that determines my altitude, not my aptitude.
For Your Information:
Throughout my childhood and teen years, I never took illicit drugs, became drunk, broke the law or harmed anyone. I contemplated suicide on occasion, I saw it as the only door out of my miserable existence. The more I was judged and criticised the more I tried hard to be a better person, at the same time my self esteem wallowed in mud. I ran away from home twice and finally walked out in 1987.
I graduated year 12 against all odds, classified a ‘homeless youth’ my school had no idea! I slept on a mattress in a rented room, often going without meals. I cycled from Bullcreek to South Fremantle Senior HighSchool 11.5km every day come rain or shine. Determined to prove every naysayer wrong and I became the first and only child in the family to graduate from year 12.
I refused entry to university because I simply had nowhere to live and no money.
Words are destructive. Far more destructive than any of the physical abuse I suffered throughout my childhood.
Words are powerful, so powerful they can also heal, build up, repair, replenish and inspire.
Teachers, guard your mouths. NEVER slam a child with words, no matter how bad you think they are!
Parents, guard your mouths. Walk away from a conflict with a child rather than use angry words, it’s a constant battle I know, I struggle daily to watch my words. I often fail and I quiver inside when I hear what I have said.
Don’t judge a child on their parents.
CHALLENGE: If you know a child that you would otherwise prefer not to cross paths with, next time you see them offer up a gentle smile, a kind word, a gentle look. Don’t search for a response just put it out there. You have no idea how powerful the impact can be or how for years to come that child may remember that one moment of kindness! I know!
Every day I wake up I grab a fistful of attitude, it gets me over the bumps and the humps. It helps me climb out of potholes and gives me the strength to pick myself up when I stumble. A fistful of attitude and a mugful (or two) of coffee!
*100 Demons was 100 spelling words at the back of the spelling book. Used commonly as punishment. A student would be told to write them all once, twice or more times depending on the indiscretion.
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