Sunday, February 19, 2012

the path (iii)

I think you might be manic depressive. Or bipolar. Probably both. One day you're posting pictures of the children, looking absolutely adorable in their dresses and writing about the wonderful parties that you're hosting and the next day, you're ready to jump off a bridge. Good heavens, you're giving me a heart attack! You need to hire help, go find an au pair that will do laundry. Why didn't you call and tell me that you were having such a difficult time?

Okay. First, I'm doing much better now than I was. I'm writing more out of retrospection and to capture the series of events that I think have led me to this place. I promise, Charlie and I are fine and we're no where near the edge of a bridge. We've got a plan and we are executing that plan. Second, I did call you. Remember? I told you that I was capsizing and you told me that you found a new recipe for Grandma's Toffee Bars.

That never happened.

Yes it did.

It did? Well, I don't remember. I also don't remember you calling me and me telling you that I was watching Oprah.

That happened, too.

Huh. Well, I do remember that it was very difficult raising children. You know I had six in seven years and it felt like I was in a daze half the time. But I see you working so hard. You really need to slow down and get some help, Jen.

Enough about me. How are you doing, Mom? How's Jim?

Well, he's 88-years old and he's not doing well. He usually doesn't know where he is and he gets very confused. He's very dependent upon me, but he's such a kind and wonderful man and I love him very much. Most nights he's up all night coughing, which of course keeps me up all night so I'm drained and exhausted. Sometimes, it feels like I'm going to crack.

Have you thought about bringing in help?

Eh. I don't need help. If I can get out and play Bridge everyday, I'm fine. I'm also on the Welcoming Committee and play Bocci and try to get in to the pool for water aerobics every morning. Did I tell you that Pam was here last week and Beth is coming to Florida this week? Yesterday, I took one of my neighbors, who has a broken femur, to the doctor and then I took her grocery shopping at four different stores. I threw my back out lugging in all of the groceries, but I came home and started cooking and I've already got five different meals prepared, including a wonderful new cranberry bread that I whipped up, so it's all done when she gets here.

And …. you wonder where I get the crazy from?

I know. It's all my fault. I did this to my children, didn't I? All of you are such high achievers. *Deep Sigh* I must have potty trained you way too early...


I've always envied people who have had friendships since kindergarten. Probably because I went to a different school every year from kindergarten through sixth grade. Each year, spanning the age of 6 through 12, I was meeting new people and learning my way around.

When I was in third grade, I started to struggle with math and soon, fell behind. When I was in fourth grade, I was in third grade math. And although my mother brought in tutors, I was never able to catch up. There was a mental block that literally prevented me from understanding and the harder I tried, the worse it got. Despite the fact that three of my four sisters had degrees in pharmacy and chemistry and could conquer any math problem, I could hardly subtract.

By the time I reached sixth grade, school administrators pulled me out of my science class so I could sit in a "Resource" (aka: "Learning Disabled") class and continue to work on my math skills. It was humiliating. My math book was fifth grade blue, but all of my friends - everyone that was smarter than me - had sixth grade red. So I wrapped that damn blue book in paper bags to "protect the cover" but more importantly, help disguise my embarrassment.

Math eluded me, but words never did. I like to think that I inherited my love of reading from my great-aunt Martha. When I was in sixth grade, I was reading on a 12th grade level. And when I was in 7th grade, I won the seventh-grade spelling bee. I remember that was a very happy moment for the slow kid with thick glasses and braces who couldn't do fractions to save her life. Maybe I can't do trigonometry … but I can spell it.

The fact is, I was never a very good student until I reached college. And it's a miracle I reached college, considering I had a 760 (out of 1600) on the SATs. The score might have been lower, if not for the fact that they give you 200 points just for filling in your name. Nonetheless, it took me 18 years before I understood the concept of studying.

It struck me my freshman year. I was taking a sociology class and I made a 27 on my first exam. (Yes, that'd be 27 out of a possible 100 points.) But the next exam, I made a 50. And the third exam, I made a 70. On the final, which was a comprehensive test over the entire semester of material, I made a 100. The teacher, Dr. Eckberg, an awesome man who loved cats, was responsible for a pivotal moment in my life when he gave me an A. I distinctly remember approaching him and asking, "How? When my average for the semester is only a 61?" He smiled and said, "You have consistently demonstrated continuous improvement and because you earned 100% on the final shows me that you've mastered the subject. You most definitely deserve an A in this class!"

It was incredibly empowering, that moment when I first realized that if I applied myself, I could do well. And when I saw people look at me as someone who was smart … well, that was positively intoxicating and I began to look at myself differently, too. Like someone who if they tried very hard, had control over their fate. So it became addictive, this whole work hard = do well thing and very soon, more A's followed. Every class that I took, it became my goal to ace. Not just to pass, but to master the subject. To accomplish that goal, many a Saturday night party I'd miss with my roommates, so I could stay behind in the dorm and sequester myself to studies beneath my green banker's light.

Although I'd never once made the honor role in the lower 12, I easily made the Dean's List in college. Semester after semester after semester. At one point, I won a collegiate speech and debate championship and was written up in the local newspaper. And then I earned an academic scholarship. It wasn't much, but since I was going to a state school, it covered the cost of my books. Teachers would summon me (me!) to help students in their class that would be struggling. And I thrived on helping others get to the point where they, too, could understand.

My studies slowed down once I transferred to school in California and met Charlie. But the intensity quickly resumed when I entered graduate school. Once again I bombed the standard examination for entrance and my graduate advisor would later tell me, "I saw your GRE scores and thought for sure you were an illiterate that couldn't write your own name. But then I saw your transcripts and letters of recommendation …"

Very soon, I was conquering graduate-level chemistry, physics and mathematics. I eagerly took on an associate position where I was teaching undergraduates the fundamentals of geology. My education could have continued beyond my MS, because I was contacted by a top university to pursue a doctorate. But I felt a bit like Forrest Gump, who after running and running and running decided one day that it was time to stop. I'd enjoyed the journey, but I didn't feel the need to continue. I'd finally proven my academic prowess.

If only to myself, alone.

Now that I look back, I often wonder if my passion was learning, or proving that I could learn? I think it might have been more of the latter, since I can't hardly remember any of the things that once put me at the very top of my class.

Well, except the geological time scale!!

Campbell's Ordinary Soup Doesn't Make Peter Puke.

Cambrian Ordovician Silurian Devonian Mississippian Pennsylvanian Permian.

That's certainly come in handy at dinner parties.