The first 20 years

It’s as if I am writing about a sentence served..
Sometimes living can feel like that… a sentence and you wonder what did you do to deserve such a sentence and sometimes it’s exhilarating and you don’t want it to stop..
That is how I have been feeling lately and it takes me back to the first twenty years of my life.

I had my weekly therapy phone session and I recounted my weekends events.. it was a long list of ‘things accomplished’

Me: ‘I feel great. I really do. I had so much to do and I got it done. I had my Teacher Leaders project, DONE. I had my students grades to complete, DONE. I had my blogs updated, DONE.. well my non profit one is still lacking, but I will get to it. My grandmother is doing better..’ 

Therapist: ‘That’s good.’

I find myself talking more about what’s going on at home for obvious reasons.. I am feeling like a prisoner yet I don’t want to leave.. A mix between complacency and fear and lethargy..

‘I want to let you know that in the last slide of my Teacher’s Leaders presentation, I thanked my family, my friends, my partner John and you’

She laughed softly.

‘Yes, I want to tell you that I appreciate our sessions. I have learned or have unlearned the many things I was obligated to believe in the first 20 years of my life. To be strong and to only count on myself because I can’t count on anyone else.’

10 years oldThe truth is that believing that, allowed me to be the exception to the rule and not the ‘normal’ outcome. Believing that I had to be strong and do it all on my own allowed me to escape all statistics related to young Black and Brown girls. I didn’t end up pregnant as a teen, but I was molested; I didn’t end up an addict, but I did eat my way into morbid obesity; I didn’t end up in jail, but I did my share of dirt; I didn’t drop out of high school, because that was never an option; I didn’t commit suicide even if I did attempt it.. ‘I even fail at that!’ I remember saying afterwards.. my self esteem didn’t exist.. yet I was one of the lucky ones.. I survived it all.

My teenage years were not the best years of my life.‘ My voice cracked.

I did everything on my own and I had no choice but to be strong because in order to get out that’s what I had to be. I wanted better for me. But after being alone for so long, I had to accept that I couldn’t preach one thing in the classroom and not LIVE the message. It felt so false.. like I wasn’t being genuine with them..
I tell my student’s over and over to seek help when they are down, when they feel like breaking down talk to someone they trust. An adult you know has your back and wants the best for you. And SURPRISE! Sometimes that adult isn’t always your mom or your dad.. I know because that was me… and that’s o.k. And so you look for others and make them your family..
I had to test adults.. to see if they cared..

Ms. Manning, one of my heroines

I had two teachers in high school that SHOWED me they loved me. They didn’t have sappy words for me. They were real and honest, and they demonstrated they cared through their actions.. aside from them, I can’t say anyone else was memorable..
my guards were always up.. but I don’t want that for my students. I may have grown up that way but they shouldn’t have to.. Children shouldn’t have to grow up with that weight on their shoulders. They should believe it is o.k. to need someone, to need help.. and look for it, and ask.’

My voice cracked because I was thinking of my students as I recounted my teenage years. I am long past those years and can appreciate today all of the pain experienced but to think that any of my students could be in those same shoes..  hurts.

‘I can only imagine what some of our students may be experiencing at this time. In today’s meeting I told them, ‘I know what it’s like to be a teenager in a home you don’t want to be in. Not having a safe space to go to. Having your own room can be a luxury!’ I didn’t grow up with my own room.. I always had to share space.. sleep with my aunt or grandmother. We were always on top of each other.’ The same apartment I am in now, was shared with tenants, strangers while 5 of us were packed in 1 of its four bedrooms. That could be their reality.’

For the first twenty years I had no external support system, Rosa did it all on her own.

I have entered the belief that although it saved me, it doesn’t save everyone else. So many adults that are lost were children once and so they’re just children that somehow weren’t strong enough. So when I see my students, my children, some may not be as strong as I once was and so I try to be a part of that support system for them.

I am comfortable telling my students that I see a therapist, because I want them to have an example. I know I am a hard-ass for a teacher, with the ‘crazy’ standards, relentless, lives in the classroom because she loves what she does, but hopefully they see ‘she can’t do it alone’ or better yet, ‘she doesn’t HAVE to do it alone’.

‘I am grateful for all of the obstacles and challenges in my life. They have contributed to who I am but I know now that many of them didn’t have to happen. I didn’t have to do it all alone. I am learning to let go and allow people in. And that’s the lesson I have learned through therapy.
Expecting children to be strong and do things on their own has been the normal for way too long in our culture and it has to stop.’

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