My fourth grade teacher was this large woman with a bouffant hairdo and plaid shirts. She carried herself like a man. Bold. Like a no-nonsense BOSS.
Mrs. Voskuil was tough and mean and hilarious. She was known for her “Texas fly-swatter” that she would slam down on your desk at any given moment if you should be so unlucky to be lured into a side conversation with a pal or at the very worst, to fall asleep. It’s swatter was the size of a dinner plate and when it met the smooth top of a desk it would radiate with a sharp “WHACK” that would leave even the sassiest of kids shaking in their L.A. Gears. The laughter that ensued from your classmates would have been salt on the wound, making the whole scene unbearable. The last thing any of us ever wanted was to be the reason for the Texas fly swatter coming off the hook on the wall.
Besides her disciplinary measures, one of the other stand out memories from being in her class was she and her husband had traveled the world. She had endless slides (!) from places like Denmark and Germany and China. It was wistful but boring. Looking back, I can appreciate all of the time it took to put that all together and share with us all she had gleaned from her adventures. I don’t think she had children of her own. I remember her talking a lot about her dogs.
I didn’t really do well in her class. I’ve been a terrible student most of my life. I never had good grades. I was always more concerned with the social happenings around me than to trouble myself with things like school work, homework or generally anything “official” going on. I used to cause a lot of trouble and be a bit of a dramatic kid ( hard to believe, right?). Spent a lot of time in the counselors office talking about my feelings.
Fourth grade was the year I became a published author! I wrote a poem about how much I hated math, and it was put into a collection of children’s poems.
It was also the year I stole something for the first time. It was a sterling silver bracelet from Montgomery Ward’s that I put in my neon parka while out Christmas shopping with my step mom. I wore it silently under long sleeve shirts. I loved how heavy and fancy it felt. I loved the secret and scandal of it all. Until my cousin Maria saw it two weeks later at my Grandpa’s funeral and asked me where I got it from (I never have been good at concealing my facial expressions). I got in HUGE trouble. One, for making trouble at my grandfathers funeral, two for shop lifting. Had to take it back and have a big embarrassing apology moment with some stern lady sitting opposite of me in a back room at the store. I was mortified.
Shame was born.
I could list a zillion reasons why I was a bad kid. They’d probably be psychologically sound and true. It would be a long list filled with words like, “divorced”, “remarried”, or “not in the picture”. “Jealous”, “spoiled”, “handful”, “manipulating” and “brat”.
But the truth that I heard whispered about me was that I was a “difficult pain in the ass”.
Even though the exact words weren’t said, it was communicated that I was a burden. A source of agitation. A disappointment. A screw up.
I started to believe those words.
I still do.
Except for now, instead of just being naughty I try really hard to please everyone around me. I go above and beyond to make people like me and accept me. I am fiercely loyal, sometimes to a fault…because I am desperate for the same loyalty back to me in return. The last thing I ever want to do is disappoint my family or friends.
Disappointment always leads to shame and shame must be quieted so it doesn’t crumble you to pieces. This cycle of thinking has been slowly killing me. Literally.
This week I’ve been trying to dig up the roots of my confidence…or lack there of. I came upon my old memories of Mrs.Voskuil. Not because of the funny fly swatter or dreamy slide shows. It was because later on, when I was in high school I would go visit her in her classroom.
( You can’t do this anymore I imagine?) I would get out of school and have to wait around for 30 minutes or so for my siblings to get out of school so we could all walk home. I would go to her class to kill the time and she welcomed the opportunity to encourage me. She began to entrust me with correcting worksheets and spelling tests. I felt important with that red marker, official even. After a few weeks she let me stand in the front of the class and lead a word game she would play with her kids to gobble up those last antsy minutes before the bell rings. I felt like a champion. Those kids started to look up to me and I was proud of myself.
She made me feel like I could actually inspire and teach one day. I started to believe her.
Sadly, I stopped going. I found more alluring ways to spend my free minutes. The cycle resumed.
Spending the rest of my high school career grasping at whatever might bring me love without conditions. Love that wouldn’t expire or reject me. Trying desperately to quiet the negative words that usually followed my name. Being a teenager really sucks.
Eventually, I found this kind of TRUE love in my faith.
But sometimes my old belief system keeps me from fully believing…robbing me of true confidence. Keeping me from being who I am meant to be…and thriving in it. I have to continue to press forward, even if it feels stagnant. I know I’m not there yet, but that’s where I’m headed.
In the meantime, take a moment to appreciate some unsung heroes from your own history. It did my heart good to remember ol’ Mrs.Voskuil and her bouffant hair. Wherever you are, I salute you!