I remember being probably about three years old, spending the afternoons laying on my grandma’s bed in her red bedroom, working through a learn-to-read series. I loved the books, but often I’d wind up daydreaming instead of paying attention (this was to be a theme in my life). But I do remember that when she spelled out “A-P-P-L-E” I just heard the phrase “pee-pee” and giggled at the bathroom humor (which was also to be a theme in my life).
When I was about to enter kindergarten I took a test, I guess it was basically so my teacher could see what things I already knew. This is just my assumption. Anyway, in this test, apparently, I was told to count as high as I could go and I had to be stopped somewhere after the 70’s.
In third grade, I was tested for my school’s GATE program (they called it CORE) and despite the fact that the only question I still remember today, I got embarrassingly wrong, I was entered into the program. Four days a week I’d leave my classroom and spend an hour doing cool language arts stuff (cause my school was a kickass language arts magnet).
While I loved being a part of CORE, and I’m so glad I had that opportunity (especially as school got harder for me), it also saddled me with certain self-esteem issues. Because being a CORE kid came with expectations. My teachers would regularly point out to the whole class (which. wtf were they thinking? WHO benefits from that?) that the CORE kids were super fast workers, while I was still only halfway done with the assignment. I often frustrated teachers with my daydreaming because they felt that if I just stayed focused I’d reach my potential. I never seemed to meet the expectations that the “smart” kids were supposed to.
Please understand that I am not – absolutely not – knocking teachers. Teachers are some of the most important people in our culture and I highly respect them. And nearly all of my elementary school teachers were not only good at their job, but I remember them as people who I loved very much, and I know they loved me back. Overall I was blessed with mostly good teachers.
Maybe it’s because things were just different back in the dark ages 30 years ago, or maybe it’s because we know so much more now, and I’m sure it’s because my attention issues are really mild and probably not diagnosable as anything even by today’s more comprehensive standards, but I was left alone to come to the conclusion that I wasn’t actually as smart as the other CORE kids, or as smart as everyone seemed to think I was. It was a sort of weird place to be. It was obviously considered a high honor in my world to be considered smart – to have been labeled “gifted” – and I was proud of that just as much as it made me feel like shit. I don’t think I ever talked about this as a kid. Maybe I was too ashamed of myself and afraid people would figure out they were wrong about me or maybe because I just couldn’t find the words to express it. I don’t know. But the seed was planted.
And then when I was in fourth grade my mom suffered her nervous breakdown and my life went to shit. I was absent more days than not and tardy on the days I showed up at all. The kids around me would ask why and I didn’t know what to tell them. Teachers would scold me for not going to bed earlier (not that easy to do when your mom keeps you out until midnight, you know?) and I felt ashamed of all the mistakes I was making. I began to hate school when I’d always loved it before. My grades started suffering and everything fed into those insecurities that had already been planted in me.
And that’s just how it was. I did OK in English classes, usually getting B’s, sometimes C’s. Math classes were nearly always D’s if I was lucky. I didn’t understand how to study, and I had no interest in grades at all, except to hate myself when they weren’t good. I feel like in many ways I slept through my education, wandering bewildered through where I was told to go, only vaguely aware of the goal at the end.
In ninth grade something happened where I was suddenly able to gain control of small parts of my life and I suddenly stopped having all those absences and tardies. I cannot tell you what changed in me that year, but it was not the only major change I made in my life. I suppose it was my Oak Tree calling me to the next step of growth.
Even after that, though, I was still only a mediocre student in high school. I didn’t take it seriously. In fact, in my first go at biology I wound up with a 17% in the class. That’s, like, not even an F. But it wasn’t because it was a hard subject for me. It was because I just never did any work. In fact the next year when I retook the class, they put me in an honors-level course (as is per the custom when someone flunks a class?) and I wound up with a B.
Senior year something clicked and I worked really hard all year and received my first (and so far only) 4.0. But when I entered college things started sliding back downhill quickly.
In high school I took all the AP courses, but never took the AP tests. I think I was too afraid. While I wasn’t consciously aware of it, I think I believed I’d fail them. And I couldn’t handle failing. So I just didn’t try. I think the college-choosing process went similarly. I wound up going to the community college for lack of aiming for anything else.
It’s a strange loop to be stuck in. Too afraid to fail, desperately wanting to be a smart as everyone acted like I was, and unwilling to try because I was too fragile to handle failing.
And being at the community college, instead of a four-year school, just confirmed for me that I wasn’t smart. High school counselors and teachers acted like community college was for the people too stupid to go directly to university (or maybe that was just my perception). So, basically, I failed before I ever began. And since I didn’t really have any actual goals in mind for transfer or career, I just sort of dropped out.
And I struggled with this for years. Well, to be honest, I still sort of do. I definitely have some insecurities that I am still working on.
But there came a time when Harry Potter came into my life. Don’t laugh. Harry Potter is real, man. Of the four houses, I’d wonder which one I’d get sorted into. I knew I wasn’t Gryffindor material. I’m not that brave and I certainly don’t want the glory. None of the glory. That’s my motto. (I’m OK with recognition. Just not glory.) (And by “recognition” I mean that I’d prefer it if it’s given discreetly and that no one looks at me all at once and we just move on with things quickly, please.) And I didn’t relate to any of the Slytherins at.all.ever. Which left Ravenclaw, renowned for their intellect, and Hufflepuff, described in the books as “for everyone else.” (I paraphrase because I am too lazy to go look it up right now. Don’t judge. Those books are all the way across the room. And I can’t even accio them. Stupid muggle genes.) Since I assumed I wasn’t smart enough for Ravenclaw, I figured I must belong in the catch-all house intended for people who are just leftovers, not good enough to be sorted anywhere else.
I KNOW BETTER NOW.
I don’t know why Hufflepuffs aren’t more celebrated in the books, but I think that’s why the house is so generally disrespected. It wasn’t until I got deeper into the lore of the Wizarding World that I began to really understand the complexities of the different houses, and to understand what Hufflepuffs actually are. They aren’t leftovers at all. They are characterized by being loving and loyal. By operating on feelings rather than glory or knowledge. And I began to see that Hufflepuff is, really, possibly the best house (aside from it’s unfortunate bumblebee colors, I mean). I mean. Helga Hufflepuff took everyone into her house because she saw that everyone is amazing. Because you don’t need to be brave or smart or driven to be important. That’s what Hufflepuff is. And I’d be proud if I were in Hufflepuff House.
And I do think I’m sort of on the cusp of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. A lot of my social anxieties are based in my intense desire to want to make people happy and know that they are loved (of course, one can also be loving and loyal without the anxiety part). But if there is one character who I most relate to in the Harry Potter stories it is by far Luna. She was flighty and dreamy, she was fiercely loyal, she believed in unbelievable things, and she was a Ravenclaw.
And then when I was sorted into my Pottermore house, I was sorted into Ravenclaw. And it might sound crazy, or fanatical, or childish, but that changed me. It gave me the confidence to begin to be able to see that I am not stupid. That I can get good grades and that I can finish college. That I had the ability all along, I was just missing the support, and the sane life, and the help to find my strengths among my weaknesses.
And so a few weeks ago I finished my first college course in something like 16 years and I got an A. And now I’m a week into a physiological psychology class which is challenging. Parts of it are fascinating to me (and therefore easier), but parts are more abstract (hello, molecular biology!) and things that are less tangible are sometimes harder for me to comprehend (when my son was born and my midwife handed him to me I said, “Oh! A baby!” cause I was legit a little surprised). But I’ve learned so much about myself, and I was given the confidence to believe that I can that now I’m able to see the parts that are challenging for me, and work harder at them. Because I know that I can understand this subject. I have the capacity and I will. It’s only taken me 30 years to get to this point.
Girlfriend, I shit you not, I passed chemistry (got a C) with a 20%. Bless that teacher’s heart cuz I got to graduate high school. I made sure to come back and thank her when I graduated from UCSD.
Oh yeah, and I also didn’t apply to an schools during my senior year cuz I didn’t even think I was the kind of person who could get into a 4 year. I just had no clue. So to Southwestern I went. And I’m so glad…had some great teachers :). I think you are at a great time in your life, I can just feel it.
I was thinking to myself, “Bonnie, this post is legit making me tear up,” and then I got to the part about the midwife handing Elliott to you and you being “legit a little surprised” and I had to laugh. BRAIN THING.
You said such nice things about my house (Hufflepuff), and you a cerebral Ravenclaw. Thanks!
And dude, I don’t know why I’ve never seen it before, but you are Luna Lovegood. I mean, not completely…but yeah. I can definitely see a resemblance!
However you came to the realization that you are definitely not stupid and you can in fact use your brain to learn anything you want, I am glad that it happened. The fact that it happened because of Harry Potter, well…I can’t really think of a cooler way to have that realization.
I am sitting here, having read your story, with tears streaming down my face. I am exactly like you: outrageously intelligent, but really shy and not self confident. People who meet me see the “public” me now, the me that is outgoing and friendly and not afraid of anything. They see the “me” that has taken me years, decades, to form. They see the “fake it til you make it” me. My family (and yes, even my ex -arsehole- husband) would see me being quiet and shy and introverted, and would not understand why I was like this. They would try and *coax* (ie bully me) into being outgoing and friendly, but couldn’t understand why I wasn’t. I had teachers of subjects that I was fascinated in, write in my reports that I was a pleasure to teach because I read the books and asked the questions and did the work. Other teachers of subjects that I found easy or boring (because I found it so easy) found me difficult or disruptive. I did 2.5 years of maths in 5th form (second year of) – ie year 11 – in less than 3 months, because my teacher challenged me and recognised that I actually loved it. And because I needed to have the marks to enter the Air Force (I wanted to be a pilot). I was told from a young-ish age that I was highly intelligent, and there were the pressures put on me (unintentionally) by parents and teachers because of this. Other kids treat you differently when you are “gifted”, and after a while you want to fit in rather than not.
I applaud you for your honesty. I still – at 40 – have many moments of uncertainty in my own self, but am working through them on a minute by minute, day by day, basis.
How beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this. I can relate to a lot of it and I am so excited for you on your latest adventure in schooling. And glad that you are going into it with such a great attitude. <3
I was constantly underestimated. Which is refreshing, because I almost never feel pressure from anyone. But also slightly annoying when I end up doing particularly well and have to deal with the ridiculous reactions of people. I still remember in high school, there was a teacher’s aid who would use a break time to exercise at the same time I had gym. Her son was a year older than me, she asked what my ACT score was (the standard for university in my area) and was surprised to find out it was almost ten full points higher than her son’s (perfect score is 36, so ten points is a large difference). She told me “oh, I had no idea you were so smart!” Um, thanks?