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You Will Be Tested On This

Recently, I acquired a lot of paperwork from my earlier years in school, elementary mostly, and came across some things that really surprised me. Here’s some slightly edited quotes from one particular packet, called the “Psycho Educational Assessment Report”.

Maggie was referred to the Student Study Team at [redacted] by her first grade teacher because of concern about her behavior. She tended to need constant one to one attention from the teacher and she was referred to the Resource Room for assistance as well. Maggie is noted to be very bright, creative and enthusiastic. Her verbal and reading skills are well advanced for her age and she can create long stories while playing with toys and recite full poems. She is loving and appreciative, but can also be stubborn. When in kindergarten, her teacher there gave her lots of individual help and love, but when she entered [redacted], she had severe emotional, social and behavioral problems and said “I want to die”. She would run away from the teacher and sit under her desk. Her parents got a divorce when she was three or four and she does not see her father.

This was all well and fine, except, ya know, the whole “I want to die” statement by first grade, but let’s just ignore that and test the kid, right? It’s the american way, dammit. As I read through some of the stuff I found, I was actually delighted by some of what, especially my high school teachers, had said about me. It lifted my spirits to know some of them personally enjoyed engaging with me in one on one conversations about serious or misc topics, and didn’t ever find me to be a problem. Goes to show what your parents tell you and what is actually the truth, I guess. However, let’s just stick to this packet, because there’s another section I want to quote here:

The Childrens Perception Test is a test in which the child tells stories about single pictures presented to them that have animals depicted on them in varying situations. When stories to this last test are subjectively interpreted, they yield information about underlying or subconscious concerns and motivations for surface behaviors. The house-tree-person drawing is also interpreted in light of the various aspects emphasized and yields information about underlying emotional issues.

Maggie tended to want to tell her own stories, but instead told stories from books/videos she had seen. She insisted on telling those and would give only very little on the cards presented to her. On the ones she did give, she tended to have themes of escape, getting stuck forever in goo. Maggie does not tend to want to reveal much of herself and seems to be strong defenses for a girl her age. Her drawing of a house, tree and a person are all very simply. The person is the biggest, but has no arms or hands. The house has a door and one window and a steep roof. The tree has a trunk and curly crown for the leaves. Her responses to questions about the house, tree ad person are very interesting. She indicates the person is a kid who is not healthy, that something is upsetting her. She said she had a dog and it ran away and came back and the kid started to be healthy again. She indicated the kid was more upset about the dog than the parents since she “didn’t like how the parents were treating her, pushing her and giving her nothing.” Sometimes fed her but gave her no attention and eventually left her and went to Paris to live. She says the parents do not care about the girl. She indicated the parents were nuts but the girl as not. The girl and the tree were indicated to be very strong, so much so that if a strong wind came along, it would blow down the house, but not the girl or the tree. When asked who was the girls best friend, she said “the house”. A subjective interpretation of all of the above indicates Maggie is still preoccupied with where she falls in relationships within the family and is concerned with getting enough attention. There is some anger regarding parents and desire to get what she wants. Maggie seems to expect the worst at times and seems to feel a lack of control over her environment (lack of arms or hands) and wishes for more interaction with those in her environment. But at times she feels “stuck”, perhaps in a pattern of behavior that doesn’t allow others to get close to her.

Results from the above indicates Maggie is feeling generally good about herself in the school environment at the present time but feels something lacking at home and in social situations. Overall she has low self esteem particular to having friends and feels her parents expect too much of her. In regards to friends, she indicates she is not popular with kids her own age, kids don’t follow her ideas, she often feels upset in school, feels others are better liked than her, would rather play with children younger than her and feels picked on by other children. Maggie has a low opinion of herself.

Keep in mind, this is all written up and tested by the time I was in FIRST GRADE, okay? I really think that puts everything into perspective. By the time I was 6, I already felt hated by everyone, felt trapped, stuck and hated myself and didn’t know what to do. That isn’t right. And what do my parents do? Do they talk to me? No. They have a school test me, as if that’s the only accurate way to understand a child. But wait, there’s a final section here I’d like to share, if you’ll so indulge me:

Maggie is currently a six year old first grader who has had a difficult time adjusting to the expectations of a first grade classroom. Test results indicate she is quite bright but has difficulty following directions from others. She likes to do what she wants to do and can resist instructions. She is also very likeable and fun to talk to. Her verbal skills are excellent and far above where her academic skills are. She tens to be a perfectionist at times and doesn’t want to do something unless she knows it will be just right. The Conners Questionnaire indicates a strong likelihood of her having an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or being on the Autism Spectrum, and this should be investigated with her pediatrician.

Social and emotional testing indicates Maggie has somewhat of a low self esteem and feels some conflict at home and in social situations. She now sees school as a positive place but that has taken some work by many staff members as well as Maggie herself in the last few months. She needs lots of encouragement and positive reinforcement to stick with things that are challenging. Counseling is recommended to help Maggie work with her expectations of herself, learn how to handle mistakes better, how to handle her frustrations, how to get attention from teachers in appropriate ways and find ways to increase her self esteem. These things are most likely impacting her in the school setting and in social settings. Her rebellion and immature behavior makes other students her age not want to be her friend. She very much wants friends and seems to deal best with adults in her world. Maggie likes to present herself as very sure of herself and yet is really very protective, feeling vulnerable and not wanting to show it. Instead, she begins to go off on a tangent about another story to distract people and uses her verbal and dramatic skills to get attention and applause where she seems to need.

I am presenting this to you because I think it drives home a strong, vindicating point. That you need to TALK to your children. My parents didn’t care. They didn’t push for these tests. These happened because the school felt it was necessary, and not because they cared about me, but because I was seemingly “disruptive”, despite so many contradicting statements within the findings themselves. They will say I deal with adults better than children my own age, say my verbal and some academic skills are way ahead and then two sentences later say I’m “rebellious and immature”. These places don’t know what to do with children because they don’t talk to children. They just slap some labels on them and go about their day, hoping everyone is pleased as punch with their “findings” and “tests”.

Second, despite it giving me two possible diagnosis to be checked into, my parents refused to ever look into EITHER of them. So, ya know, there’s that. The thing that strikes me as funny about this is how much praise they can laud on a child they also see as a problem. “Yes, they’re very bright and articulate, they do very well and we like them very much, yet they are an enormous problem”. You can’t contradict yourself like that, especially when it comes to a child, especially a child that isn’t even fucking yours and you only see, what, 5 times a week? That you don’t live with? That you know virtually nothing about? Growing up, I was told the opposite of these papers. See, my parents, they told me teachers and kids found me to be a problem. They never praised me. Teachers praised me, my skills, my reading skills, my academic skills (outside of the math area) and yet all the while I believed that I was a problem, that I wasn’t good enough because my parents told me I was. They left out all the positive shit because they thought that by telling me I wasn’t being right, I would try harder to be better. They never even anticipated the idea that that might NOT WORK.

I was much less a child and much more a social experiment, it seems. In the last few years, my mother has still tried to control me even from states away. My stepfather recently unfriended me on facebook and hadn’t spoken to me since he and my mother divorced back in 2008, and yet my father, my real father, who has barely been involved in my life, sent me an email in July. My father, who was for many years a heavy alcoholic, a drug user, was in an out of prison, who told me he’d come see me when I was a little girl and then left me sitting on the curb on weekends because he never showed up or bothered to call…

…my father sent me an email, and in it he stated, “I am sorry your childhood wasn’t better. I love you very much.” See, my father has worked hard at fixing himself. My father has stopped drinking, hasn’t used drugs in god knows how long, hasn’t been to prison in ages. My father has bettered himself. My father APOLOGIZED. The only time any other adult has apologized to me is when it works in their favor, a bargaining chip, something to be held up and used later so they can get me to do what they want. My father has nothing. That’s what makes it sincere. He just wants to be in my life. He said he was sorry. It isn’t that hard to be a parent. You just have to be a good human being at first. Tests can only tell you so much, but talking to your child, taking a real concern and interest in them? That can take you so much further than any fucking test ever could. These tests are bullshit.

I’m still bright. I’m still articulate. I’m still far ahead and don’t get along with people my age. I’m just broken because of it. I have low self esteem? No. Everyone else has a low esteem about me. They want to label me, but I know what and who I am.

I am Maggie Fucking Taylor. I am a shining, explosive, brilliant, uncatergorizable mess.

And no goddamned test can tell me otherwise.

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Everything They Didn’t Teach You In School

The bird, which couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old, had been laying there for a few days now. Long enough for ants to start marching in and burrowing deep inside it. Derek Fisher and Sandy Price were standing over it, in Derek’s parents backyard, as he poked it casually with a stick. Sandy took a puff off her cigarette and then tossed the butt to the ground, stomping it out with her hiking boot.

“School didn’t prepare me for anything like this,” Sandy said, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her dark blue windbreaker, “School doesn’t teach kids what they need to know about death or anything important. Everything they teach you is a lie.”

“I guess there’s some things that are bets left to parents, but even then most parents don’t want to take that initiative,” Derek said, “But could you imagine if schools did teach that kind of thing? Parents have a hard enough time with letting their schools teach kids about sex, I can’t imagine they’d even let them touch death.”

“Both those things are natural and inevitable!” Sandy said, “I mean, unless you’re asexual, but god dammit, why do people have such a hard time talking to their kids about stuff? Why did I have to learn from a dropout uncle that we killed the Indians and took their land, whereas school just taught me that we got along and were all friends and ate the first thanksgiving together? What the fuck kind of world is this? We’re just going to LIE to children, and then expect them to believe everything, and then get mad when they call something that’s clearly bullshit out on its bullshit?”

“I’m on your side, remember, don’t yell at me,” Derek said, kneeling down and turning the bird over with the stick. Sandy put a hand over her mouth, coughing a bit. Derek looked back at her, “Does this disgust you?”

“Well it’s not like you’re playing with a puppy.”

“Did your parents ever have ‘the talk’ with you?” Derek asked, making quote marks with his fingers when he said that, and Sandy smirked.

“Don’t do that,” she said, half laughing, “And yeah, they did. They didn’t have it with my brother. They figure it’s ok to give it to the girl, because it’s her job to be responsible, make sure to use protection. Apparently men can’t be bothered.”

“That is some serious patriarchal bullshit,” Derek said, “My dad had ‘the talk’ with me when I was, I don’t know…maybe 15? Like 3 years after already jacking off constantly. A little late to the game, dad, but whatever. I was happy he did though, like, sure it was uncomfortable at first but in the end, his advice came in handy. My parents never talked to me about death though.”

“No, like, I had an aunt that died when I was like 11, and we went to her funeral and everything, and they told me she was sleeping. Like, I was 11 for christ sakes, and they still fed me that bullshit. Why would they give me the talk, and then just gloss over death. Like, of those two things, death is the way more important one, I think. Sex is a decision you make. You CHOOSE to participate in that. Nobody chooses to die. I mean, I guess suicidal people do, but still.”

Derek stood up and wiped his hands on his pants, then looked at the glass door on the wooden porch that led to the kitchen, where he could see his mother and mentally challenged sister sitting at the kitchen table, doing a puzzle together.

“While my mother was pregnant, they learned that the baby might have some brain damage. They were given the option to abort her, in case they didn’t want to have to deal with that. It was never in the baby’s favor, by the way, it was always ‘in case WE, the ADULTS can’t handle it’ not ‘let’s spare this child pain and misery’. Anyway, they obviously didn’t, but that’s how they explained death to me. They talked about, ya know, aborting her and what that would mean, and they asked how I felt about that. I was like 9. The thing is, all I got out of that conversation was that my sister hadn’t even been born yet, and was going to have mental instabilities that she wasn’t to blame for or could control, and they might kill her. I’m not pro life by any means, but as a 9 year old, that set a really weird standard in my head. Your child isn’t even born and they might not want or love you. Certainly made me try and be perfect in their eyes from then on, cause I was a kid, and I didn’t want them to abort me somehow.”

“That’s fucked up dude,” Sandy said, as they sauntered over to the picnic table in the backyard, next to the plastic playground, and took their seats at the table. Derek watched Sandy fidget, clearly a bit cold, and he took his scarf off and wrapped it around her neck, holding onto the ends of the scarf and pulled her close, their foreheads landing on one another. Sandy smiled and shut her eyes.

“They also never teach you in school what to do if someone hurts you,” Derek said.

“No, they don’t. I imagine because everyone deals with it differently,” Sandy said, their eyes opened and locked now, both breathing somewhat heavily. Derek leaned in and pressed his lips against hers, his warm breath making her shudder. A few seconds into kissing her, the backdoor opened and his mother and sister came out. The kiss broke apart, and they went back to sitting there.

“Derek,” his mother said, approaching the table, “Are you staying for dinner, or do you have other plans?”

“I guess we could stay,” Derek said, glancing at Sandy, who was blushing and nodded, affirming his decision. As his mother smiled and walked over to the playground where his sister was playing on the swings, Sandy looked at Derek.

“If one of us dies, can we promise to haunt the other?” Sandy asked.

“I think we can swing that,” Derek said as he pulled out a cigarette and lit it for her. Sandy took it and placed it between her lips. She smiled and blushed as she exhaled the smoke into his face and he laughed.

“I wish they had taught me more useful things,” Derek said, “I don’t know how to balance a checkbook, but thank god I know what the volume of a cylinder is. How to handle heartbreak, how to deal with death, how to be careful with sex…none of those things are important, apparently.”

“Sometimes it takes another person to teach you, not an educational facility,” Sandy said, coughing, and Derek looked at her, then looked back at the bird, and sighed.

“Let’s take him home, clean him up and make him part of the family,” Derek said, “He might be dead, but he doesn’t have to be alone.”

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The Early Bird Gets Hunted

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photo credit by coyotefugly

When I was about 12, my stepsister and I went to stay with my aunt for the summer, and a family friend had enrolled us in “Sports Camp”. As a nerdy, shy teen starting to question her sexuality, this was not the sort of thing I was cut out for. My stepsisrer could be athletic. She was on cheer in high school later on, and she was always very active as a child, playing soccer on a local team and doing karate too. I, on the other hand, preferred to stay in my bedroom and read and fantasize about what it’d feel like to kiss a girl and then feel ashamed because I was a girl and everyone and everything around me said that that meant I was broken. We didn’t exactly see eye to eye. I failed sports camp, needless to say. I was downright miserable. Then, a year later, we stayed with her again and this time our family friend enrolled us in art camp. Now this I could handle!

Until I started realizing that “art” meant something entirely different to everyone else than it did to me. To me, art is personal; an expression of who’s making it, a statement they wish to say or an outlet for their pain or happiness that they want others to witness visually. But to other kids, and because kids are especially cruel and competitive, they turned it into a competition. Who could be the best artist. I failed that as well. I didn’t enjoy making art for a while after that. That school year, 8th grade, I took an art class, and I failed that too because I refused to simply become a shell of what the teacher thought we should be; an embodiment of her failed achievements as an artist herself, so she could live vicariously through her students. So far, my track record was 0 for 3, and 2 of those in something I enjoyed. After that art class, I didn’t make art for a year. However, that teacher liked a flower painting I did so much, she entered it into a local gallery contest for our town. I lost that too.

0 for 4 now.

A pattern was starting to emerge to me. I was no good at stuff, especially stuff I thought I liked and maybe could be good at. I stopped trying. The way I saw it, why bother? I clearly had a 0% success rate, so why continue to humiliate myself simply by participating. Soon this began to leak into every aspect of my life, and by middle school I’d stopped caring about homework, believed I was truly stupid and that I wasn’t someone anyone would want to be friends with. Failing at everything you do isn’t good for your self esteem. Things started to look bleak, and I was starting to become unsure of my future in any sort of career, especially an artistic one. Plus, it’s not like I was trying to succeed to impress everyone else. I was doing it to make myself feel better. If I couldn’t even achieve my own pathetic low standards, then why continue trying, right? I became apathetic and depressed beyond help, to the point of waking up everyday and wanting to be dead. It’s a weird feeling when you really decide you want to not exist anymore. It makes everyone else more uncomfortable than it makes the person contemplating their soon to be nonexistence, which I find odd, but that’s how it is. I enrolled in film classes at a trade school during high school, and things got even worse.

When you have siblings who outshine you (sometimes in hobbies they thought were stupid originally then stole the spotlight from you in later on), and then classmates who steal ideas for the film work you wish to do and then your film crew who tells you they’ve had enough of your work and are tired of doing what you’re doing, and when your parents split up, and your grandmother and your dog die at the same time, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve hit rock bottom. That’s where I was; rock bottom. I moved to a new town after graduation and I stayed in my bedroom and snacked and watched netflix and read and played video games for about 4-5 years solid. Only this past year did I really start to make art again, and have I been happy with it too. I’m happy to say I’m no longer at rock bottom. But when you get pushed that low, low enough to the point where you stop trying, caring and waste 5 years of your life doing nothing but watching crappy b movies and eating fritos, it’s a tough road to recovery.

See, I wasted a lot of time that could’ve been used to create things. I won’t blame the others around me for hurting me. I’m not going to do that, I want to be responsible, and mature, and accept the blame for my own problems. I was damaged, but I was also the one who reacted in an exceedingly negative light towards my own self worth for the next few years. I essentially wasted 5 years of my life doing absolutely, literally, nothing. I surfed the internet for 5 years solid, essentially. I’m not proud of that fact, believe me. But I’m trying to pull myself up from that, and I’m doing a pretty good job, especially with the great support system my girlfriend has become, who constantly believes in me, helps me edit my work and tells me how much she loves what I do. I have a positive support system now, instead of one that consistently told me that I wasn’t good enough even if they didn’t say it directly (ie; school, family, friends). If I want to get better, if I want to heal, I need to start accepting that while others hurt me, I was the one who should’ve reacted better to it. Sure, it’s only human nature to want to recede and disappear and feel terrible when people hurt you, but I’m at a point in my life where I can’t spare that expense anymore. I need to be strong. I need to be happier. I may need some help along the way, who doesn’t? But in the end, if I want to catch the worm, I may not be the early bird, but I’ll get there around brunch time.

I’m growing. Or at least I’m really trying, and that has to count for something.