Prove them wrong

Never let someone’s opinion of you define who you are. Sometimes they make mistakes too.

Although I may be in over my head this time.

Last week my daughter Arabella and I tried out for the local community theater musical. I got cast in a very challenging vocal part. The director said she was happy that I tried out because she didn’t think that many people could handle the part. How horrifying!

Yesterday, I talked about how I wasn’t very athletic in school and now I am a marathon runner. When I was a child, I really wanted to be a singer. But I allowed a teacher to crush that dream.

The choir teacher was the same person that axed me as a cheerleader in middle school. In my defense, when I auditioned to be a cheerleader I had the flu. I stayed home from school the day of auditions with a high fever. The choir teacher said that if I wanted to try out I had to audition on that day, no exceptions. That evening I went to school with the flu and auditioned.

Now in her defense, I couldn’t do splits or flips like some of the other girls and was probably clinically depressed since grade school. Having the flu didn’t help with my audition either as you can imagine.

I wasn’t a good athlete and don’t blame her for not selecting me to be a cheerleader. But I always thought I was a good singer.

More than anything, I wanted to be in the high school jazz choir. But I didn’t bother trying out. The choir teacher didn’t like me. I’m not even sure why, I never did anything to her. There were certain teachers though that did not like me based on my autistic brother’s behaviors. Perhaps you have been judged for a sibling’s misdeeds? It sucks! There were certain old school teachers that blamed my mother for my brother’s autism back in the day and I think she was one.

The choir teacher picked a song for solo and ensemble for me. On the first practice, she told me I was a horrible singer and there was no way I was ever going to compete. I was so humiliated. Maybe I really did suck?

Remembering her words and cheerleading tryouts, I didn’t bother auditioning for jazz choir.

I gave up my dream. In college I wanted to audition for choir, but didn’t think I was good enough. It wasn’t until many years later that I started to sing in front of people again. Wow, you are very good at singing. You must have been a star singer in high school. What?

Now my daughter Angel is going to college for vocal performance. She has a very similar voice to mine. She has been to many competitions around the country and has done very well.

The choir teacher could have made a positive impact on my life. She could have encouraged me and worked with me to make me a better singer. She could have given me something to take me away from my troubles at home. But instead, she squelched a dream.

The choir teacher, whether she knew it or not, changed the path that I chose to take. She was a horrible teacher. I wish I didn’t give so much credit to her opinion.

Challenge accepted, I’m going to do the best I can at this role. Maybe I will dedicate this show to proving my choir teacher wrong.

Encouraging “notes”

Yesterday my daughter and I received a hand written thank you note in the mail from someone that we know, however not someone that we know well.

I wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed hearing you sing on Christmas Eve. You have such beautiful voices, and we are so blessed that you are willing to share them with our congregation. God has truly blessed you both with an amazing gift. We hope you continue to bless us by sharing it with us-OFTEN!

Where were you 25 years ago??? I really could have used your words of encouragement then. For some reason my choir teacher hated me. I am not even sure why. My opinion was that once again it had everything to do with having an autistic brother. There were some teachers that looked down upon my family as if my brother’s autism was caused by poor parenting. This teacher always had a smile on her face. Maybe she hated me because I was always down. Maybe it was because I had a hard time smiling back because my home life turned my smile into a frown.

There was that time that I tried out for cheerleading when this choir teacher was the judge of who made the team and who didn’t. On the day of tryouts, I was at home sick with the flu. The teacher said that being sick was no exception. So my mom took me to school with a fever so I could try out. I was the only one that didn’t make the team. Then I lost some friends because the cheerleaders became the popular girls. I was so sad when I saw everyone’s name posted on the wall except for mine.

Then I was homeschooled between 8th and 10th grade. It was during that time that I sang a song for my mom and convinced her to sign me up for singing lessons. I had singing lessons for a couple of months. I didn’t really like the songs that I sang because I thought that they were babyish. After a couple of months of practice, we had a recital. I got up on the stage by myself in front of a lot of people and froze. Barely a whisper came out. My mom didn’t sign me up for singing lessons after that. I thought to myself that I was a failure.

When I went back to school as a junior, I was behind in so many things. I was far behind in sports. I didn’t join band because taking three years off from playing the flute put me way behind the other kids. I did join the choir. I tried to perform a solo and ensemble piece, however after singing through it twice the choir teacher said that it wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough. What I really wanted more than anything was to join jazz choir but I didn’t even bother trying out because I knew from experience that I wouldn’t make it if that teacher was the deciding factor. Once I got to college I wanted to join the choir but didn’t because I thought that I wasn’t good enough despite being able to sight read music and having a 3 octave range.

A few years back at my high school class reunion, we had karaoke. After I sang several songs, I was approached by the spouse of a classmate who said, “I bet that you were the star choir student in high school.” I hated my choir teacher at that very moment. I allowed her to steal my gift.

Even though I felt hatred for that teacher, I have to look at myself. Am I any different?? Do I give words of praise and encouragement? Or do I condemn and criticize? I can tell you that I am not where I need to be either.

This year I want to be more encouraging. I am going to look for someone to thank with a hand written note for doing something that everyone else overlooks.

The dark unfeeling cardboard box

When I was a young child, I never really liked school a lot. Sure, there were some bad teachers, some good, and some everywhere in between. But it really wasn’t that. It was never that. It had more to do with Matt, my autistic brother. Being less than 2 years younger than me, I could never get away. The school really didn’t know what to do with Matt. He was the first autistic child to come through the school district. When he couldn’t function in a regular classroom, they cut the library in half to make it a special ed room.

For a long period of time, Matt was nonverbal. Oh, he did scream and cry but he did not talk. He was uncontrollable. His teacher at school set up a naughty box for him between the library and special ed room. Almost every time we had library, my brother was in the box screaming and flailing around. The box seemed high at the time because I was so little. When my class lined up to look at books, the kids could peer into the box. Most of the time the kids laughed and I hated them. I put my feelings in a big box that seemed even bigger than the box that Matt was in. Many times I would rather be trapped in that empty box devoid of feelings, life, and light than to face the pain of the real world.

For a long time I floated around in my own little world. How could I make friends with my classmates? How could I like the kids that called my brother a retard? I went deeper and deeper into that box. I stopped eating. I didn’t talk to anyone. I started failing my classes. The only thing that touched my heart was music. I had this focal point that I would always stare at so I didn’t start crying in that class. I was so lost. My mom was very concerned, she had the school counselor talk to me. She was a wonderful person who tried to help me make friends and talk about feelings.

My mom wasn’t in much better shape herself. Mother daughter outings with the extended family ended up with my mom sharing with the family how much she hated autism and all of the things that Matt did or didn’t do. The family just wanted relaxation and fun. They were uncomfortable that my mom was crying and needed their support. They stared at me all the time. When I was alone with family, they peppered me with questions about if my mom was ok and how was Matt. I didn’t feel like anyone cared about me. Most of the time they were just trying to help without being very helpful.

One day Matt started talking again. He told stories of how his teacher in the grade school was abusive towards him. She shoved him under her desk and sat down at her desk squeezing him in there. He also said that the teacher would place him face down on the floor and sit on him making it hard to breathe. My mom asked me if this could be true, she was very upset.

After everything that happened, my mom tried to keep my younger brothers sheltered from going to school with Matt. She sent my brothers to parochial schools and schools that were out of our district. I wonder if that had anything to do with me not responding well to being in school with Matt. Did I save my younger brothers some pain? I hope so.

Losing my best friends

I lived in one of “those” houses. You know the one. It was a house that a lot of my friends weren’t allowed to go to but I was always welcome at their house. I was invited into the popular group for a little while but that didn’t work out too well for me. I had an issue with conforming to narrow and limiting group norms AND I lived in one of “those” houses. I did have a best friend in high school I will name Shelly. Her parents only let her leave the house to go to school and to walk down to the store to buy them cigarettes. My second best friend was Mary and she was one of 13 kids in her house. Her parents didn’t seem to notice if she was home or not. So this worked!

When Shelly was 17, she was allowed to come over to my house once. She got home an hour late that day. By the time I took her home, the police were there because her parents listed her as a runaway. Shelly was one of those quiet girls that never got into trouble. When she turned 18, she moved in with us. My mom didn’t charge her rent because she didn’t have a job. She did have to help clean the house, which was no easy task because my parents are practically hoarders. At 19, Shelly got married and I was her maid of honor. 

Shelly was having a hard time finding a job right out of high school. My mom got her a job as Matt’s teachers aide. After 3 years of being “kicked out of school” for his violent and aggressive behavior, Matt was transitioned back in. He still was angry and would lash out if forced to do schoolwork. At this time, I was going to college and was roommates with Mary. I was soon to meet my future husband who lived in the apartment below mine. 

Over time, Matt was still having issues in school. He kept attacking Shelly and pulled her hair. Matt’s teacher convinced Shelly to press charges against Matt because he didn’t have any consequences for his behavior. The next time Matt attacked Shelly at school, she called the police. The police came to the school and arrested Matt with the charge of assault. At this time, I was engaged to Paul. My mother was devastated as she picked Matt up from the police station. I was torn between my best friend and my family. Mary was torn between Shelly and I. It was a big, fricken mess. 

After several months of legal issues, Matt was found incompetent to face the charges brought against him and they were dropped. He has the mind of a 7 year old. He does not read or write. He can’t do simple math. I lost my 2 best friends. They didn’t come to my wedding. That is why, parents, you should not have your child’s friends be caregivers! It was a very hard time for me. I haven’t talked to Shelly in almost 2 decades and Mary for at least a decade. People sometimes ask me if I have any friends from high school. Did you just drift apart over time? Yes, it was something like that. 

Glory days

Earlier this week I took my middle child out with some friends for his 15th birthday. As I was paying for them to get in, the woman behind the counter asked if any of the boys were over 18. Over 18?!?  I know some of the boys are sprouting mustaches, but still! Honestly, that made me feel a little old. A few minutes later the song Glory Days came on the radio while I was watching the boys do flips off the high dive. This ignited a thought in the blogging lobe of my brain. These are my glory days right now. Hey, who said that middle age can’t be the new adolescence? 

When I was in middle school, I tried out for cheerleading. I was the only girl that didn’t make it. The high school choir director was the middle school cheerleading coach. For some reason, she never liked me. Tryouts were on an evening that I was sick, no exceptions. So I had to come in to tryouts with a fever. Right now I could save face and blame the failure on the fever, but I sucked. Then I was homeschooled between 8th and 10th grade. When I came back to high school as a junior, I was far behind in sports. But sports was never my passion at the time, music was. 

What I really wanted to do was join jazz choir. I didn’t even audition. Despite having a three octave range, I lacked confidence. The choir director cut my solo for solo and ensemble saying it wasn’t good enough. But maybe she wasn’t a good enough teacher to make this song bird sing. While I was homeschooled, I wrote my own music and sang it on the piano. I could hear a song and be able to pound it out on the piano and sing it as well. My dad yelled at me though, saying I was making a horrible racket. I wanted to join the choir in college, but feared I wasn’t good enough and never tried out. At my last high school reunion after rocking the karaoke machine a spouse of a classmate said I must have been a star in choir. I am so glad that my oldest daughter is a three octave choir star. I don’t want to live it through her, I want to still be able to live it myself. 

In college, I commuted to school while living at home about half of my college years. Mom still needed my help raising my brothers. I also became a caregiver for two other disabled people. No new sense of freedom or keg parties for me. Now my children are almost raised and I have a new sense of freedom that I never had before. I am going to make up for the lost time. I love running and decided that I am going to run a marathon. Things are going great, they really are. I figure that I have about a ten year span to finally have my glory days. I am a few days from my 41st birthday. I am not sure I can keep up this marathon pace forever. I am at a major crossroad here. Should I keep myself in marathon condition after the marathon next month or cut back to a half marathon pace? Will my body burn out faster at an extreme level or will I be able to have a longer “run” overall if I cut back the stress on my body? Something to think about on my run today. After today I will have a total of 33 miles in for the week and I feel better than I ever felt in my whole life.