(And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming….)
Toward the end of July of the year I finished home school, I found a job in a bakery at a grocery store. It was the first in a long string of food-related jobs that I’ve had. And I’ve never liked working with food. Yuck.
I was a terrible employee. Not because I had a bad work ethic or was a crabby, mean person. It was just that I was clueless in so many ways and that made working with me not so fun for some people and way too much fun for other people.
I thought I had to have permission to do anything. For some people, this manifests as slacking off and not doing anything. I’m not that type of person, so I was constantly pestering my boss, asking what I was supposed to do next, and should I do this or that? After a few weeks of this, my boss said, “You don’t need permission to do your job. If you see something that needs to be done, do it.” Well dang…. Who knew pleasing the boss could be that simple?
The consequences of that new rule was that sometimes I would start doing something and the boss would ask me to do something else instead. And every time I was redirected, I thought she was mad at me and I’d get so stressed out I almost couldn’t function.
My cluelessness provided a lot of entertainment for my male coworkers. They would make sexual jokes about me and since I was clueless about the fact that their comments were sexual in nature and the fact that this was harassment, they kept on making jokes.
After I’d worked there a few months, my boss told me that they had hired another person who would be working the same shift as me, and it was going to be my job to train her. My response to this announcement was “Are you sure about that? I don’t even know what I’m doing. How am I supposed to train somebody when I don’t know what I’m doing?” My boss gave me a funny look and said, “You’re kidding, right? You learned this job faster than anybody I’ve ever trained.”
My response to this was, “For real?”
I had been convinced I was an imbecile. This was the first time anybody had ever given me a reason to rethink that conclusion.
I began to train my coworker.
My new coworker was a middle-aged disabled woman that I’ll call Ginny. (Name changed.) Ginny had been brain damaged at birth, had never graduated from high school or learned to drive a car and sometimes she couldn’t remember how to count to 24. It was a challenge, but I loved every minute of it. We would finish our work and then we would role play with me being the customer and Ginny taking my pretend cake orders.
I told my coworker bits and pieces about myself as the weeks went by, and after a while, Ginny started to ask questions. One of the observations she made to me on several occasions was, “You’re so smart…. If I were as smart as you, I’d get my GED. Then I’d take Driver’s Ed and get my driver’s license. And after that, I’d go to college.”
Ginny was convinced that she was perfectly capable of doing all those things — even though she sometimes got lost on her way to 24 as she was counting cookies. Day after day, I’d hear, “I’m going to get my GED. I’m going to take Driver’s Ed. I’m going to college….”
* * * * *
Meanwhile, back at my Tuesday morning church gig….
I had been working with home school kids on Tuesday mornings, but when the new school year started, somebody decided not to do the home school kid tutor thing anymore, so they asked if I preferred to work with the toddler group or the baby group instead.
I asked to be placed in the baby room. Babies are the best.
I began to work with a mom-type woman that I’ll call Hannah. (Name changed.) She had lots of experience being mom to several kids and foster mom to (literally) dozens of others.
In the beginning, I didn’t say much. I changed diapers and soothed babies. I rocked babies to sleep and played peek-a-boo. But I never said anything to the other people I was working with unless it pertained to the babies.
(I want to take a moment to say that this was the most rewarding and fun job I’ve ever had in my life. There’s nothing quite like being the center of the universe for 6 squealing, squalling, rambunctious little people who all want your attention at the same time, but they all want you to be doing something different. It’s quite a challenge — but you always know if you’re doing a good job or not, and if you aren’t, you have infinite re-dos. It’s awesome. I love hanging out with little people.)
After I’d worked there for about 4 months, Hannah started asking questions about my background. I don’t remember a lot about the conversation, but I imagine my responses were probably one or two words. I was painfully shy. Somehow, the conversation turned to my plans for the future.
I didn’t have plans for my future. I was told my plans for my future were that I was going to get married, have babies and then home school those babies and live happily ever after as a stay-at-home mom and wife. What no one (absolutely no one) knew was that I had been questioning the plausibility of that plan since I was 3 years old. I was convinced that even though this was the “plan” for my life, there was no way this was going to happen. I was so convinced that one time when I was in the midst of one of those parent/kid interactions where the parent says, “When you have kids….” my response was, “I’m not going to have any kids.” And I was completely convinced that this was the gospel truth.)
Of course, I didn’t explain all that to Hannah. I just said, “I don’t know.”
Hannah and I went back to tending babies.
After a while, Hannah said, “I have an assignment for you.” She told me that she wanted me to think about what I would like to do with my life, and the next Tuesday we would talk about it. She said she wanted to know what kind of job would make me just as happy as I could possibly be.
This kind of thinking was completely new to me. Thinking in terms of possibilities and thinking about the possibility of doing and being something other than what I was told to do and be was a little beyond my comprehension. But I thought back to when I was about 3 years old when I had a strange fascination with nurses and everything medical. Sometime in the seven-day period between shifts with Hannah, I decided that I wanted to work in the medical field and that I was specifically interested in becoming a nurse-midwife.
It only took me 7 days to come up with that cockamamie scheme. Once someone told me it was ok to dream, I began to dream big.
I told Hannah what I wanted to do and she told me exactly what I needed to do to get there. I hadn’t officially graduated from high school. When I told Hannah this, she asked why. I said, “Because I’m stupid. I’ll fail the GED test.”
* * * * *
Throughout the next few months, my conversations with Ginny and Hannah centered on the importance of graduating from high school. They both worked very hard to show me that I was smarter than I thought. But I was scared. Very, very scared. I had always tested well above my publicly and privately educated peers, but somehow, I was convinced that somewhere between 8th and 12th grade, I had lost everything I’d ever known.
Hannah must have been praying about this. Finally, toward the end of April, I decided to bite the bullet and get it over with. (Knowing myself like I do, I can assure you that this never would have happened without fervent prayer.) The worst I could do is fail, and if I fail, I would have still won, because at least I wouldn’t be disappointed about it. (I know — strange way to look at it, but that was the way my brain worked.) I reserved my spot to take the GED test in early May.
Back then, you took 5 different tests during the course of one full day and then you would go home and wait for 2-3 weeks for your results. I don’t remember what my thoughts were as I was taking the test, but when I was done, I was sure I had completely bombed the whole thing.
Fortunately for me, I went to work every day and Ginny and Hannah reminded me of it constantly. They wanted to know everything, and they weren’t going to let me get by without letting them know if I had graduated or not.
* * * * *
I graduated, alright, much to my astonishment.
I walked to the testing site and I told the receptionist my name and asked if I had passed or not. She found my file, looked in it and smiled at me and told me I had. That was the first big shock of the day. I waited while she copied the information for me. She handed it to me and said, “Congratulations.” I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to look at my scores.
When I opened the envelope, my first thought was, “there has to be a mistake.” I asked if she was sure these were mine. She said she was sure.
I had somehow managed to score higher than 88-98% of people who had taken the test in 4 out of 5 subjects. How was this even possible?
Was it possible that I might be smart after all?
* * * * *
The first thing I did was run to work to show Ginny. I think we were both crying all over the place as we examined the sheet with my test scores scribbled on it. Ginny gave me a huge hug and said, “If I was as smart as you, I’d go to college.”
“I am.” I said.
The decision was made. I was going to college.