The awakening came long after my school days. As a fifth grader, Shyness was a fierce beast which chose the classroom to harass me at its finest. One sorry morning, I blinked my eyes open only to remember that it was oral report day. Unable to tell a lie, my only escape plan was to punch myself repeatedly in the stomach until I could look my mother in the eyes and tell her that I had an awful belly ache and needed to stay home. Too bad Mrs. Mooney wasn’t so easily dissuaded from calling upon me the next day; the only student left to stand in front of 23 faces who would gape at my raspberry red face and quivering book report.
In high school, Shyness gave me over to her inexhaustible friend, Shame. I had learned how to push Shyness down by being obnoxiously and uncharacteristically bubbly. But bubbly and introverted don’t mix well, in the long run. I was performing a show that must go on until the end of time, and with so much energy expended on socializing, I forgot to care about the parts of school that actually involved an education. It was my twelfth-grade year that I realized just how average I had become in my studies. As a favorite teacher passed back our midterm exams, I beamed when I saw 98% scrawled across the top of my paper. However, the teacher said she’d like to see me after class. At first, as I stood in front of her with a tentative smile, I thought perhaps she intended to praise me on my surprising test score, as she explained that this was the highest score anyone received in any of her classes. She went on to give examples of some of my classmates who scored lower than me, some who were heading to ivy league schools. I nodded along, confused. And then the blow that left me deflated for the rest of the school year: “Did you cheat on this test?” I was horrified. The girl who had made herself sick by punching her guts to avoid a lie was surely unable to cheat on a midterm. I suddenly wished those numbers had been inverted. An 89% would be expected of an average student. I spent that year settling into the mold of unintelligent and incapable that I had allowed others to pour for me. And I was cloaked in Shame.
It wasn’t until I had school age children of my own that the awakening began. It started slowly, not unlike the mornings that I inexorably press the snooze button..on repeat. The children asked questions that I did not know the answers to, and my reply of “let’s go research that” soon became automatic. Soon, I was curiously asking them questions, just so that we could research and wonder together. The snooze button had been turned off and my feet were dangling onto the bare floor. But the real act of waking up, the coffee pouring into the cup and being doused with a splash of cream, that came when I studied the habits of honeybees and hummingbirds, as if for the first time. When I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, A Little Princess, and Winnie the Pooh aloud. When I watched the reaction of baking soda exploding inside of a lemon.
There has been so much joy in this journey of motherhood, but the most unexpected has been the surprise of waking up to the world around me; to learning as though for the first time. I am ever-grateful that I get to be a teacher to my children. And a first grade student.
I spent my school years looking inward. Too concerned with my surroundings and my appearance (or lack thereof), and so easily overstimulated, I missed out on my education. But joy comes when the gaze is shifted outward. When the self is not front and center one has the capacity to delight in the habits of a robin in the birdbath, or to contemplate the comings and goings of the tide. I am so grateful that I was awakened to the world around me. It’s never too late to learn.
“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” Socrates
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:23