When I was little I had the unfortunate fate of being born second. This would not have been so bad if my older sister hadn't been a teachers' dream student. She was eager to learn, smart, studious, quiet, organized, and timely with all her homework. She never got in trouble for anything. She never cheated, she never asked to go to the bathroom to get out of class, she never faked a fever with a heating pad hidden under the bed, and she was a successful learner. She was a naturally talented student. She loved school, and learned easily. My mom was very particular about the teachers we had in school, so when she found a teacher that worked well for my sister, she had hissy fits at the district if she couldn't get the same teacher for me. Heaven knows that little goofball me needed only the best teacher possible, and it stands to reason that since my sister did well, then so should I. I am sure that these teachers salivated in eager anticipation of having the opportunity to teach yet another historically superior student. It was…a Sellers girl. The day would arrive whereupon I would inevitably stumble into class, get my name on the board within the first hour, and at least three times a day right up to the last day of school. You could actually read the question in their mind...which one is adopted?!? How could these two people have the same parents, the same home environment, the same schedule…yet be so completely different? How? My sister never fibbed, never disregarded assignments, and ran home from school in eager anticipation every nine weeks with her report card. 'A joy to have in class' in the comment field and all 'A' marks. When you have a situation like this, it is impossible to pretend that you didn't get your report card too. There was no reprieve. I learned early on in my elementary educational career, that every nine weeks, I would be grounded for the following four. I could actually plan my events and activities around the nine week report card schedule. I knew which things I was going to be grounded for based upon the school calendar. I learned that there would most likely be a spanking, there would be yelling, and there would be the unanswerable questions that my mother was famous for. 'What is WRONG with you?' was my favorite. There is no way to be asked this question without appearing to be a mute idiot. There is no good answer, and if you don't answer…what do you do instead? I was never able to figure out what a good answer would be for my irate mother who appeared to be at wits end. The comment on my report card: 'is smart but does not apply herself'. I hated this comment, yet it was slapped on all my report cards from kindergarten to twelfth grade. What kind of comment is this? What kind of teacher would tell a kid EVERY YEAR that she wasn't trying hard enough. Why didn't THEY try harder? Why didn't one of them see that I was struggling with a learning disability? Shame on any teacher who ever gave this label to a kid without first trying to find out WHY the student was having trouble. No student wants to be the misfit who feels like they are not capable of learning. I hated school until I got to college. By then, I had learned HOW to learn (without anyone's help), and I built up my confidence one class at a time. I began to realize that I was not dumb. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could learn, remember, and take tests with success. An added bonus was the absence of the comment boxes on college report cards. :) A great irony that gives me a very dark satisfaction in the vindictive part of my soul, was this little nugget of knowledge: My super smart sister flunked out of college her first year. She sank like a rock in the university atmosphere, and flunked. In her defense, she was so busy pleasing my parents, who heaped praise on her schooling abilities, that she failed to tell them that she did not want to be an engineer like my father. She was not strong enough to voice her opinion and chance disappointing them. I had the benefit of them being chronically disappointed in me. I grew accustomed to the yelled question 'What is WRONG with you?' every nine weeks for 13 years. Sixty one times I fielded that question lobbed in anger and disappointment while clutching a pink piece of paper with letters in boxes representing my dismal school abilities. Poor sis…she was caught off guard! She had no experience with angry parents clutching any of her school papers with this horrific reaction. I had the benefit of 208 weeks of being grounded to contemplate my educational incompetence. Poor sis was woefully inexperienced at this added bonus feature of educationally disappointing our parents. After she had that unfortunate educational breakdown, it was decreed loudly, and repeated often, that there would be no more funding of college educations for any children now or ever. It stood to reason if my brilliant sister couldn't succeed in college, there was no hope. My parents aged at the prospect of having raised educationally incompetent children. A few years later, I did work my way through college paying for my education. I must say, it was the most satisfying money I ever spent. It felt very good to be vindicated, and released from my long running owner of the title 'family idiot'. I was able to generously hand the role off to my sister, where she took her new roll seriously. Life is gloriously ironic isn't it? To wrap up, as a new school year begins, I am begging teachers and parents to be very careful not to categorize children. Don't ever assume that your child 'is smart but does not apply him/herself'. Don't assume that your kids will have the same needs from their teachers. Because of my treasure trove of knowledge regarding the horrific-ness of sibling comparisons, that is ONE mistake that I know how to avoid, and I avoid it like the black plague. My children are kept completely separate educationally because my daughter is my older sister, and my son is me. Full circle. My son has wandered many halls out of boredom, he has tried to fake sick to avoid going to school, and he grows weary of the frustration that accompanies watching everything come easy to his sister, while he has to struggle to learn. He is me.
Labels: family issues