When I was 16 years old I was in High school but secretly living on my boyfriend's boat. I say secretly because I had to hide it from his parents, because they did not have a "live aboard" slip permit and they didn't really want to "Harbor a runaway" anyway. I had to hide it from my school because as far as I knew if they found out I would be kicked out; that happened to me when I was 14 and ran away from home and still tried to attend school. I had to hide it from my parents because if they knew I had a place to stay, they'd blow it for me, so that it wasn't so "easy" for me to be out on my own away from them. So- I lived on a boat several miles away from my school and I would get up every morning and roller skate to school. My first class was Volleyball during "zero period" at 7 am. so I had to get up very early to get to school. I was always warmed up and ready for Volleyball, while all the other kids were whining about how tired they were and how cold the gym was, I was relieved to be indoors- out of the fog- in the light.
I was in an honors English class, and I only mention it was honors, because I am trying to talk of determination and motivation and integrity and responsibility and I believe that having made it to honors English when my home life obviously sucked so bad is a testament to those traits. I loved that class and the teacher; Mrs. Wickstrom, because we got to do a lot of creative writing and that was an amazing outlet for me. From reading my papers, Mrs. Wickstrom could glean that I did not have a typical home life, but she never let on and would just encourage me to continue writing. I always got A's on the content part of my page, and B's on the execution. This was back in the day when there was no computerised spell check and I didn't have a parent's help or even a dictionary on the boat. I know so little about writing now, I am surprised I got B's in that category. (Maybe she liked me and was just going easy on me.)
One day I got to the boat and did my homework then fell to sleep especially early- leaving my backpack and roller skates on the floor. I woke up to discover the floor of the boat had inches of rainwater- and my skates and backpack were in that water. My school papers were in my backpack, and therefore also wet. All the clothes I owned were either in that backpack, or in my locker at school, so the only solution was to put on my wet skates and get to school early so I could change into a different outfit then the one I was wearing. High school kids and teachers notice if you wear the same thing two days in a row and it's a sure tip-off that you are not living with dear old Mom and Dad.
Wet homework is another sure tip off, and I had an English paper that was very wet and damaged and I certainly couldn't turn it in like that. I went to the public restrooms at the top of the dock and unrolled about 3 feet of paper towel and took it down to the boat. I copied my barely legible wet story onto the paper towel and rolled that up into my backpack, put on my wet skates and headed off to school.
Roller-skating in the rain is not as bad as you might think. Once you commit to it, it's actually fun. Visually, when you skate in the rain, it's like driving in the snow- you can see the drops coming down but you are skating towards them, it all seems to look like it's coming at an angle- so it looks like you are skating into a tunnel. Once you surrender to the fact that you are going to be wet when your skate is over, it's not as cold as you may think- as your clothes get wetter, your body is getting warmer from the skate, so that kind of cancels each other out and you are just about the temperature you started with. Skating on wet pavement just makes you go faster than usual and creates a super sound effect like an amplified whoosh whoosh that makes you feel like you are skating even faster still.
When I got to school I had dry sweat pants and tennis shoes waiting for me in my gym locker. I was so grateful to be at school and it was such a safe haven for me that listening to the other kids complain really started to annoy me. I would often reply to their whining with comments like "If school is too hard for you then why don't you move out of Mommy and Daddy's palace and get a job!" My ability to keep my "situation" under wraps was waning. And now, I had an English paper written on a paper towel.
I showed up for English class a few moments early and told Mrs. Wickstrom that I did my homework, but it had gotten rain damaged and would she please allow me to fix it? I planned to borrow some paper from a friend, copy it onto dry paper and hand it in by the end of the day. I showed her my paper towel assignment so that she would know that I wasn't trying to get away with anything. She told me it was okay, and that this once I could just turn it in on a paper towel and she would grade it like a "normal" paper. I apologized and folded it neatly on her desk so that no one would know it was my homework. As I turned around, to my horror, a boy who sat in front of me had seen, I knew I had been caught.
I sat down and tried to play it off. As class filled up he was shielded in the anonymity of the class, he began to tease me for bringing my homework in on a paper towel. I was so mad that I got caught. I was so mad that the teacher was gonna cut me some slack but one of my peers would not. I was so mad that I just couldn't control myself and ignore his comments. I jumped up and yelled at him- for the entire class to hear; "I bet you have a solid oak desk at your house, with piles of multi-colored paper and pens and pencils falling out of the drawers! I bet every day when you get home, your Mommy has home made cookies and ice cold milk in a frosted glass that she serves you, and I bet- even with all that help, you still didn't do the assignment, and I did it on a PAPER TOWEL!" Like you would expect a bully to do in a situation like that- he just sat there- shocked that I would stand up to him at all, or draw the rest of the class' attention to the fact that I DID MY HOMEWORK ON A PAPER TOWEL.
In front of the whole class and the teacher too- I challenged him loud and clear to a duel; I bet, on the very next assignment, I would get a better grade than him. I bet him 5 bucks that even though he had everything he needed to succeed, and I had no resources available to me at all, I bet him that I could get a better grade than him. He shook my hand and I sat down, and Mrs Wickstrom was so bewildered and amused by what just happened that she chose to ignore the whole thing and just started in on the regular lesson.
It was a few days before the next assignment grades came out, and I imagine this boy forgot all about the bet. He had to because otherwise wouldn't he have worked extra hard to get the very best grade possible? When the papers came around with all the red pen marks- I asked him what grade he got. The class got quiet. I raised my voice; "I got an A in content and an A in execution- what did you get?" He shows me his paper, and I had the better grade. "Pay up" I demanded as I put my hand out to him. "NO!" he replied. "I'm not giving you anything!" I couldn't believe it. I was so mad, I felt taken advantage of somehow- I lost my temper and jumped out of my desk and brought my fists down on his back- cursing at him. He was cursing back. It was just a flash of insanity- I think they call it a "crime of passion" I had already re-gained my senses by the time Mrs. Wickstrom yelled at us. She sent us both to the principal's office. As we walked across campus we talked- He didn't really care about the 5.00 or his grades. I was more worried about being kicked out of school than I was mad at him. We went from fist fighting to allies- trying to figure out how to get into the least amount of trouble at the principals office.
The principal wasn't there- only the school counselors. Back then there were many counselors employed by the school, and "your" counselor was assigned by your last name. For instance-all students with the last name starting with A-F got to go talk to "Mr Smith" if they needed something. Usually this was for planning what classes to take, more than talking about trouble at home. I remember my boyfriend always saying that Mr. Schneider was awesome,but he wasn't assigned to my last name, so I never went to see him.
Well, this time only Mr. Schneider was there, so we had to go to him instead of the principal. After the boy explained that he had reacted in self defense- he was excused from the office and Mr. Schneider said he was going to have to call my parents. I told him he would have to call my boyfriend, since I was living on his boat, but that my boyfriend always spoke highly of him and perhaps he could help me out. We talked for at least an hour- I explained that I had not lived with my parents for months, but that I wanted to continue in school and get my diploma to spite them- in spite of them. I guess he was moved because he didn't call my parents, and he gave me special tickets so that I could get a free breakfast every morning after zero period and before first period. Now I had food and an adult on my side who would keep my secret.
I don't know why I had such determination to complete High school. Perhaps it was because I had already had several jobs by the age of 16 so I knew that if I didn't get an education, I would be doing the same thing forever. Perhaps because school was so much easier than working at the burger stand till midnight. I didn't see any reason to NOT succeed in school. Perhaps I did it because I felt alienated from all the kids at the school. They seemed to have such an easier life yet they complained about it. I wanted to finish school so I could be away from them, at least enter the "Next world" on a level playing field with them. I couldn't stand the thought of them being superior to me forever. I know I did it because my parents thought I couldn't and wouldn't. That was certain. But I had so many opportunities to give up- perfectly good reasons to just say "Oh my skates are wet, I'm not going to school today". It's not like I would have been in trouble with my parents. They were not there to drag my ass out of bed and drive me to school. By my senior year, many of the kids who had their parents driving them didn't get their diploma.
I don't know how to teach determination. I don't know how to help my child have it. I don't know how. School was easy for me- you show up, you do the work, you get the grade. It's like work- you know what is expected and you just do it. Parenting is so much more difficult, and so much more important. You can always get a different job or re-take a class or re-do an assignment. But every little mistake you make with your child is a black spot on their perfectly sunny light. I need help to teach my son the values and morals that have helped me be okay- in spite of my homework being wet. I had that within me before my parents kicked me out. I had that by the time I was 16. How did they teach it to me? Where did I learn it? I am now determined to be the best mom possible, but I don't know how to do it- and I fear determination alone isn't enough.