“I want to tell you that Rachel is incredibly special in so many ways, and yet I want you to know that she’s not special at all. I want you to know that there is nothing in her that is not in each and every single one of us, and that once it’s awakened, it can move mountains.” – DOAM.
I grew up the last of five kids who were eleven, nine, seven and five years older than me. From as far back as I can really remember my childhood they were already growing up and moving out. I always felt so far behind.
I was the awkwardly tall girl in elementary school. Tall and fat. Like uber-fat and had short hair and I liked to play football with the boys in my neighborhood. Can you see where this is going?
Anyways, my siblings gave me a lot to live up to. My oldest brother got like one answer wrong on the Math SATs and is literally one of the nicest human beings on the planet. My other brother, devastatingly handsome and the football star in high school, was the hilarious smart-ass who has always been much more brilliant than he has ever given himself credit for. My oldest sister has worked for MIT and other top slots as a business recruiter. My other sister graduated college with a dual degree and now works in state advocacy for persons with disabilities. There isn’t a dud in the bunch.
Then there’s me. I will let you in on a little secret. I didn’t graduate high school. There. It’s out.
Not for lack of trying. Well, actually that’s exactly why I didn’t graduate. I didn’t try. I didn’t like school back then. I found it so hard to pay attention in the classroom when my social anxiety and chubby sense of humor got the best of me. I wouldn’t say I was the class clown but I wasn’t exactly quiet and focused on academics. I wasn’t a popular kid but I suppose I was well-liked enough. I wasn’t a trouble-maker but I was not a saint. I didn’t drink, I have never tried drugs and I always had a decent part-time job throughout high school. SGM says it sounds like I was Switzerland – kind of a neutral entity. He pretty much nailed it.
The truth was that I didn’t want to try and then find out that I wasn’t in the same league as my siblings. So I rebelled a bit, found myself skipping classes and then manipulating the vice principal to avoid Saturday detention. (I had been teaching Catholic Catechism classes at my church which I really loved doing and convinced the administrator at school that I was a good kid already doing community service.)
My guidance counselor was kind of a joke. My senior year he tried to convince me to repeat because I was a half-credit shy of my English requirements. I told him plainly that I spoke the language fairly well having been born here and that my writing was sufficient enough to score him a beautiful letter of resignation if and when he grew a conscience and decided he had chosen the wrong profession. We did not part ways on good terms.
I decided instead to take the easy way out and spend two Saturday mornings pencilling in some bubbles on the GED. I passed, with Honors which I found rather absurd at the time that there even was such a classification.
The short version of the next several years is that I tried a couple of different colleges with really no success. My grades were iffy and I just wasn’t finding my place. But I worked and had some good jobs, some fun jobs, and I was independent. I just hadn’t really grown up yet.
Then I met my husband. It was a done deal from that first date. We were living together within two weeks and within a year we had a house, I was raising a teenage stepdaughter and expecting a baby of my own. By then it wasn’t a matter of when I was going to be grown up – I was a grown up.
But marriage and motherhood suited me. Military life worked okay for me, too. I could appreciate the time apart from my husband while he was away, because it made the time together more precious.
I went back to school again but this time I was motivated. I had a 4.0 first semester and at least nine years on every kid in my classes. I was accepted into the honor society Phi Theta Kappa. That’s Phi Theta, not Phi Beta Kappa – I was attending community college. But do you know what the President of the school told us at our induction? He said, “Do not ever believe that because you began here, that you have not earned the right to finish there.” He was speaking of Harvard and Yale. It was a life-changing moment for me. After believing for so many years that I was not in control of my life possibilities, that instead there was some sort of station that I had already cemented myself within, I now was free to do or become anything I wanted.
After I became pregnant with RM, and SGM was leaving for deployment number one to Afghanistan, I understandably took a break from school. It was good timing and would allow me to process the possibilities of what to pursue next. But RM’s arrival was a complicated one, and the road since has been bumpy. School would have to wait.
When my daughter was diagnosed with autism and I found out what little services are available to our military families, I was OUTRAGED. I mean, seriously? My husband gets shot at by Taliban and our kid gets left behind on the battlefield back at home? So. Not. Cool.
But who am I? What could I possibly do to change this cluster%#@&?
Well, actually, little ol’ me who never graduated high school and still has yet to earn a college degree, did do something about it. I spoke up.
I just spoke up. I said THIS. IS. WRONG. I said our military families deserve better for their children with autism.
There is not a class for this. Well, actually I am sure there is somewhere and it is probably very informative, but it is not a prerequisite to make the world a better place.
So, whether you’re a Late Bloomer like me, or you have advanced degrees in ass-kicking advocacy and legislative endeavors – do something. You are just that incredibly special in so many ways, and yet I want you to know that you’re not special at all.
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