When I was seven, we moved from Virginia to South Florida. Everyone in my family was going through something. The ‘better job’ my dad took, the one that moved us 1,000 miles, was terrible. He immediately began looking for a way out. He would spend the next five years looking for a job closer to his family, five years he would be incredibly stressed and depressed, which is bad enough when it isn’t aggravating migraines. My sister was starting 6th grade, and, again, I won’t tell her story, but she had a difficult journey. The move, the age, the grade: she was beginning to learn how difficult it would be. My mom, well, my mom was trying to support my dad and figure out how to help my sister.
I had stomach aches that took me out of my class and to the nurses office two or three times a week. I didn’t need to go home. I just needed to call my mom and lay down for a little while. This came up when trying to diagnose my digestion issues in 6th grade, but it wasn’t related. Looking back, understanding myself the way I do now, as an adult, my issues in 2nd grade were anxiety. I felt like my family was falling apart.
Would it have been different if my dad hadn’t taken that job? Sure. But my sister would have faced the same challenges wherever we were. Even if my dad hadn’t been depressed and over-stressed, he wouldn’t have had any more insight to help mom. His migraines might not have been worse because of the stress, but they would have been worse because of the weather patterns in Virginia vs Florida. My family life would still have been overwhelming for a sensitive and empathetic child. To be honest, I think the world would have been overwhelming no matter what.
However, one thing I have always been grateful for is the series of teachers I’ve had. My second grade teacher was phenomenal, especially considering the anxiety I was dealing with. She never gave me a hard time about going to the nurse, never tried to convince me to stay in class. She gave me extra attention and found ways to let me help in the classroom, which made me feel special and useful. I really think she understood more than she ever said.
I didn’t like my third grade teacher at the time, but she was also very good. She challenged me. She believed in me. She just didn’t speak to me in a way I understood, and my fourth grade teacher was new. But my fifth grade teacher was another life changing teacher. He always had extra credit at the back of the room for if you finished your work early. I learned how to tie a tie, among other things. He made his science class interactive, and I still remember his lesson on wave lengths. He changed something in the room every Monday, and if you noticed, you got extra credit. He had games like Othello and Mastermind in the back of the room, and every Friday was game day (not the whole day, but still). Once a quarter, he offered an after school movie. I watched Fiddler on the Roof, Victory, Singing in the Rain, and Ghandi in his classroom. Movies he felt we should all see and wanted to ensure we had the opportunity.
Sixth grade was a different kind of education. I went to an integration based magnet school. I loved the academics and had no problem with the ‘general population’ of the school that we ate lunch with. (Even as a kid, I remember thinking that keeping us isolated in our little pod was hardly integrating the school, but that’s a different issue.) What I learned was that friendships could be toxic, and that walking away for your mental health could be necessary.
I had two friends that either loved or hated each other, and when they hated each other they would put me in the middle. They would refuse to reconcile without going to the guidance councilor, which they wouldn’t do without me. And they wouldn’t just exist without being friends. The only thing they would talk about while they were fighting was each other. For some reason, I didn’t think “I don’t want to be there anymore; I have to get away from them,” was something my mom would understand. So, I told her I was afraid of the fights I saw in the hallway every day. I should have been honest, but I did get myself out of the situation that was tearing me down.
Do I believe I wouldn’t have had good teachers in Virginia? Well, I adored my kindergarten teacher, but I’m glad I didn’t continue in that school. My point is, though, that life would have been different. That’s all. Just different.
I’m grateful for Mrs. McCormick and Dr. Labush. I’m grateful for what I learned in third and sixth grade, even if they weren’t exactly pleasant experiences. I don’t have it in me to regret the move. I simply don’t. It would take emotional energy I don’t have to spare.
I don’t want to forget the bad things, and reliving those memories still hurts, but what I choose to bring with me into my present, what I choose to carry with me and hold on to are the people who built me up, the lessons I learned. And when I do remember the bad, the painful, I feel regret without bitterness, without anger. It’s taken years to cultivate that perspective. It’s a choice I made a long time ago: to work through the pain and reflect on the positives before releasing the memories and refocusing on the present. It isn’t white washing; it isn’t suppression; it’s reframing, and it’s constructive.