Imagine turning 16 and realizing that the number of family moves to date equaled your age. And imagine having switched schools 12 times by the same age. Impressive, considering I was only in school 11 years by that point! Now, wouldn’t all these moves adversely affect a person’s sense of self and confidence in the world?
It certainly did that for me.
In contrast, after our move from Timmins to Ottawa when I was 9, my older siblings attended the same high-school despite the many household moves, because André-Laurendeau was the only French-language high-school serving the broader area. And as for my younger sister, she attended the same elementary school from grades 1 to 8, and only one high-school until graduation.
This must have held some level of stability for my sibs I’m guessing. But for me, these circumstances meant zero stability. With six children, it was just the way life worked out based on our age spread.
Looking back, is it any wonder that I quit school as soon as I could, in an effort to create and control my own environment? I became desperate to end the absence of connection that school represented for me, to remove myself from the socially-toxic environment where I lost friends every year – that’s if I made any at all – while on more than one occasion, required to change schools twice in one year including my last year of grade school.
Sometimes I felt that others saw me as having limited abilities as I was called upon to adjust yet again to another class’ schedule and course of studies, while I knew different. So what if I didn’t know the names for the different cloud formations on my first day! But it meant something to me; it made me feel stupid.
And wasn’t I forced to repeat grade 10 because of playing hooky during most of the preceding term and not completing my year? How demeaning.
Can you imagine my utter mortification at 16 years of age on the first day of a new September term in yet another new school (due to a household move for work, this time into a rural community an hour away) when the grade 11 kids were called from the auditorium where all students were gathered, to follow their cohort into class, and I was left waiting, knowing not a soul, knowing I should be among them, only to be called back into grade 10.
Bitterly embarrassed and mortified are the feelings that took over my brain on that day, and every day that followed until the Christmas break, by which time I could take it no longer. I had not made one friend during these past four months – they were into country music and riding around a small town in souped-up trucks and I was into folk and pop music and cared not a stitch about vehicles. And I was bored in class because I had covered much off the curriculum already. I left school for good that December because I just could not continue with the loneniness and bad self-image. I did not have the fight in me, not then.
I began full-time work to support myself, moving back to Ottawa to live with an older sister and her new husband, where I felt less like a fish out of water. Within a year, even though my mom had moved back to the city in recognition of an untenable situation given my young age, I moved out of the house at the age of 17 to share an apartment with a different sister, along with a maternal warning that I should not expect to be moving back if the arrangement didn’t work out; if I chose to leave the house, I would need to stay gone. No problem. And no hard feelings. Just a recognition of practicalities for my mom as a smaller household would allow her to sell the family town-house in exchange for a two-bedroom apartment.
When I was 20, I decided to finish my schooling at an English-language Adult Day school. I was done working at dead-end jobs for ‘stupid people’ who treated me like I was without a brain. Going back to school, I hoped, would open up employment opportunities.
I felt no humiliation at this school because most of the students were in a similar boat, each with their own story of incompletion. It’s where I learned that I was just as smart as I used to be, and that I actually enjoyed academic learning – a lot. It felt good there. Iit’s where I also learned that I had little patience for ‘stupid’ rules like not challenging teachers in the classroom. Along with my other grade 12 and 13 subjects, (I skipped grade 11 altogether for a reason that escapes me other than perhaps the courses seemed boring or I just didn’t feel like being in grade 11, I honestly don’t recall) I had enrolled in a French Language class thinking it would be a cinch since I was already fluent in French, my mother tongue. The teacher, however – a real old guy with no sense of humour and a non-native speaker – lost patience with my corrective interruptions and reported me to the Principal. (Imagine how the teacher must have felt with this young upstart questioning his abilities in front of the class? A terrible lack of sensitivity on my part, I admit that. Ouch!)
Being summoned to Mr. Tillie’s office to explain myself brought me back to living through academic mortification. You see, I wasn’t a trouble-making kind of kid. No, I gladly followed rules (except stupid ones?) and thrived on being liked at school, a teacher’s pet even! (What I was like at home is another story.) After trying to explain my perspective to Mr. Tillie, tears of frustration and confusion took over and I asked to continue the conversation another day, a wish that was granted by this perceptive and kind man. In a later meeting, he told me what he saw: an impatient young woman in a hurry to get somewhere. He suggested that I slow down and not be in such a hurry since I still had a few years before I could graduate. But, didn’t he know that I was behind! Of course I wanted to catch up – to myself if not to my peers. That was the first and last time I was called out for ‘bad behaviour’ in my entire academic and professional life. I don’t recommend it 🙂
The following year, having turned 21, my impatient little self saw an attractive opportunity that would light up my life – and allow me to jump right over high-school. What if I attended a local university as a mature student rather than stick around to graduate from high-school? My reasoning was that if I could successfully complete just one year of university, if I could spend the next 10 months studying something interesting that challenged my mind rather than doing six more high-school courses, (I was not credited for the French course, which I dropped rather than comply with the imposed restrictions to sit pretty and bite my tongue while in class) my future employers would naturally assume that I had completed high-school. And I need never discuss that unfortunate part of my history again.
In June, armed with top-notch grades from the past year, I applied to York University and was accepted – on probation – into Glendon College’s Bilingual Program. I was in joy and so were my teachers, to see one of their charges blossom as she might! I was awarded several scholarships and an academic award during my three-year Bachelor of Arts degree.
I never did talk about my high-school fiasco until decades later, and only when it helped someone recognize that they too had options.
And now, at the age of 59 (60 by the time class begins) I have applied for a Masters of Arts in Counselling Psychology, with the intent to launch a second career as a Mental Health Therapist, only part-time and in balance with my creative endeavours. A special interest for me will be learning how to integrate the creative act within treatments.
Being newly retired, I miss the intellectual stimulation of my job. While I have addressed my need for a creative outlet by establishing The Sewing Studio where I spend my days making stuff, I still crave formalized learning and I hope I always will.
In addition, I feel that my lived experience of learning to successfully manage depression, PTSD and generalized anxiety over the past 15 years, arms me with a level of understanding and the assurance that I have something to contribute. If I can help to make our world a better place by supporting one person at a time, someone who is feeling vulnerable and looking for better coping skills, I want to do that. But
I want to be properly equipped to do that.
Perhaps this is what is meant to have a calling.