This is my last post in this series for my Toastmasters assignment – Write a Compelling Blog. (You can read the other posts here.) In today’s post, I talk (quite frankly) about a lesson I’ve learnt about myself.
I could tell you so many things I’ve learnt – some have been eyeopening, others have been painful – but I’ve decided to end this series with a story because, over the last nine years, Lesson No 8 has been the nicest. I hope you enjoy the following.
Lesson No 8
I am an Excellent Storyteller
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I remember when I was in Year 8 at school and we went on an excursion for History and Geography. Both were taught by the same teacher and were two of my favourite subjects, and although I was never an ‘A’ student, I was in the higher percentile for both.
Our day out entailed a bus trip to Ravenswood – about 90 minutes away – and three busloads departed the school grounds before the morning bell. It was exciting getting away from school for the entire day, but it was also dirty and dusty, and hot and stuffy. There were no air-conditioned busses back in the mid-seventies and only half the windows opened, the other half wouldn’t close.
Ravenswood was once a thriving mining town following the discovery of gold in 1868 and my great-grandfather was one of the two blacksmiths that lived there during the ‘boom’. Naturally, I was very keen to learn all I could about this ghost town where my family roots were once planted.
I sat at the front of the bus behind the teacher, glued to her every word. (Yes, even back then, I was a bit of a nerd.)
As the bus neared the area, our teacher asked us to consider why there were no trees. This was strange as the road had been surrounded by dense ‘Aussie bush’ and suddenly there was bare land – acres and acres of it – with tree stumps poking up out of the ground all over the place. Exactly why was a mystery none of us could guess, however, our teacher eventually told us the trees had been cut down to provide lumber for making homes, hotels and other dwellings during the gold rush and, all those years ago, the vegetation was never replanted.
I was fascinated and made a note of this on my quiz sheet. We had 20 facts to find that day and would be tested on it the following week. I scrounged for all the answers and studied diligently to make my great-grandfather (who I had never met) proud of me.
There were approx. 75 Year 8 students across three classes that year, and I was the only one to get the question about the vegetation correct. In fact, I was the only student to get all 20 questions correct. I had a huge smile on my face as the teacher announced this to the entire class and called me to come up the front.
I thought I was about to be rewarded for my efforts but my pride was short-lived as the teacher grabbed me by the arm, called me a ‘little cheat’ and demanded I tell her who gave me the answer to ‘that’ question. “Who had I spoken to at lunchtime?” She demanded because they too would also be punished for cheating.
You see, my class had their test after lunchtime while the other two classes had had their test before, and (obviously) I had spoken to someone during the lunch break and that person had given me the answers.
I was devastated.
As my emotions, always so close to my sleeve, bubbled over and betrayed me with salty tears, my tongue swelled and filled my mouth, removing my ability to speak as the reality of what she was saying sank in.
Not only a cheat but now also a ‘little sook’, I eventually found my voice and tried to explain that I didn’t have any friends in the other classes. I tried to explain that I’d sat behind the teacher on the bus and wrote the answer down on my quiz sheet. I tried to speak up for myself but I couldn’t be heard over her anger. I remember looking around the class for someone – anyone – to stand up for me. But there was no-one. I’d sat alone behind the teacher on the bus that day. No-one had seen me write down the answer.
I was humiliated in front of the whole class and, because I wouldn’t name the person who gave me that answer, I was punished with an ‘F’ on the only test I’d ever truly deserved to receive an ‘A’ for.
At a time when I should have been able to stand tall and beam with pride because I had done so well, I was ostracised by my classmates who now saw me as both a cheat and a crybaby. From that day on, I was all but ignored by my teacher (who I had admired), and only saw the disappointment in the eyes of other teachers. I withdrew and began to doubt myself. I started standing a little hunched so as to not draw attention to myself. I walked around school with my eyes cast downwards because eye contact with anyone was painful, and I was grateful to find a quiet spot to sit and eat my lunch each day.
Try as I might, I went on to fail both History and Geography.
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Looking back, failing those subjects was more than heart-breaking. At the same time, I excelled at Science and Maths and although I still saw the disappointment Mr Rouse’s eyes (the teacher who taught both Science and Maths), sometimes, occasionally, I also saw pride. I often think I could have . . . Yeah, I could have done or could have gone on to be so much more than I am today. (But that’s another story and not this story.)
Through all of this, I never spoke a word of it to my parents. At least I don’t remember telling them.
I do remember being in trouble for receiving an unsatisfactory report card. I could not have been more ashamed of my report card and knew my mother was bitterly disappointed in me – she made that perfectly clear. But I didn’t know how to tell her the truth. I feared she would be more disappointed in me if I told her I had been accused of cheating, that I had tried my best and yet my teacher was making learning difficult for me. I feared, like my teacher, she wouldn’t listen and (worse still) wouldn’t believe me, and that she would become angrier with me.
More than that, I feared I would be incapable of carrying around more disappointment in myself. My pain I was already teetering on the fringes of more than I could bear without adding my mother’s utter disappointment to the load.
What I could do was handle being in trouble for having a ‘bad’ report card and, therefore, I didn’t say anything and refused to shed any more light on the matter. I took ‘being in trouble’ on the chin and stayed tight-lipped about my side of the story and what was going on at school.
– ⋅ o ♥ o ⋅ –
I could go on to explain all the detrimental ways this event affected my life, how it haunted me and still overshadows . . . Ok, I’m not! I’m not going to do that and I’m not going to go there because I want to share one outstanding positive that came about from that one negative experience when I was so young and so impressionable.
When I became a mother, I was determined that my children, my three girls, would never be afraid to talk to me. I taught them that if they needed to tell me something, anything – important or otherwise – they were to say, “Mummy, you need to listen”.
Those five words were like a red flag to a bull.
But unlike the bull in which the flag incites anger or annoyance, those words set off an internal alarm that told me they needed my undivided attention – that they had something they had to tell me.
It’s so easy to become overwhelmed raising children, running a household, and holding down a full-time job. I’ve already spoken about being isolated and having no tribe, so my daughters feeling uncomfortable or awkward about talking to me was the last thing I ever wanted as a parent.
I worked at (and fostered) an open, honest, relationship with them from a very early age.
“Mummy, you need to listen!” Just five words, but five very powerful words indeed.
I always said I didn’t own my children, that they were a gift (from God) and it was my responsibility to ensure they grew into responsible, law-abiding citizens. I took this very seriously and taught my daughters lots of things I thought were important. I taught them right from wrong, responsibility and accountability, to speak up for themselves, and to stand up for themselves and to never undervalue their worth.
Recently I had a video chat with our youngest daughter. We were on Zoom for an extraordinarily long amount of time considering I only have a free account, and during our virtual bonding, she told me a little story about how she had recently stood up for her husband. She described a horrible situation. (I won’t go into the details but know the circumstances were difficult and delicate all at once and her husband was unable to do or say anything.)
We both started crying, because that’s what we do, as she told me what she did about it. Laughing and crying at the same time is so good for the soul, especially when your heart overflows with love and pride for your children.
She then said:
“Mummy, (yes, at 31, she still calls me mummy), I can’t thank you enough for being my mummy. I am the luckiest person in the world to have you and daddy as my parents. You taught me to be a good person, to stand up for myself, to always speak up and that’s why I was able to get myself a promotion and a really good pay rise.
But you also taught me that I should stand up for others when they can’t and I love you so much for that.”
I may not have received an ‘A’ for answering every question correctly on a test 45 years ago, but there are so many times my girls prove I did an A1 job of raising them.
Dean and I both did an A1 job of raising our girls.