AUTHOR’S CAVEAT: This piece has not been edited since written years ago. It’s a good story with a good moral ending, and if you can edit it for me, I thank you.
I was ten in February of 1966 when my father took mandatory retirement from his U.S. Department of Defense position as Education Adviser. Four weeks later, I was enrolled in Park Lane Elementary School in beautiful Aurora, Colorado. In my ten years of life I had attended several schools in Lybia, Nueremberg, Heilbronn, and Stuttgart. I had behind me a most educational six week tour which began in a ship in Bremerhafen, anchored in New York, then began with a ride to the top of the Empire State Building, on over to Miss Liberty’s crown, and as low as the New York City subways. After my parent’s white and red 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix arrived in the docks of New York from Bremerhafen, we took off to visit friends in New Hampshire, Toronto, Chicago and Saint Louis, where the new arch had just been unveiled. I got to know Howard Johnson and McDonalds.
When we got to Denver I was enrolled in my fifth school, Montclair Elementary, where I remained for six weeks until my parents bought a house in Aurora. That’s where Park Lane comes in. I was accustomed to entering a school in November or April and being withdrawn in the middle of a school year. My father was constantly taking on new assignments which required moving. This was no exception. With the exception of the three junior high school years, I can only remember entering a school in September three times. As a result, I was overlooked. I got lost, and became the one child left behind. And nobody knew it until now. I’m putting it out there in the hope that it will bring me closer to serving my purpose on this plane.
At Park Lane I was placed in Miss Straub’s fifth grade class, where they were learning multiplication tables. I remembered having started these tables in Germany, but during the two weeks we took between New York and Denver, and the six weeks at Montclair, besides counting VW’s versus Mercedes’, not once do I remember doing any math. I had not yet mastered division. Three years earlier, I had been pulled out of Miss Henri’s second grade to be placed in a new school in Stuttgart, nothing new. They were learning subtraction and I was still struggling with addition. I dealt with it the best way I could, throughdenial, and after playing an endless game of catch up with mathematical concepts I did not understand, I finally gave up. No one diagnosed my problem. No one came to the rescue. There was no way I was going to catch up.
Many years later, when I read the comments in my abecedarian report cards, I approached my parents. “Couldn’t you see I had a problem,” I asked. “I always got along well with other children. I was respectful, orderly, a pleasure to have in class, and always behind in arithmetic.” On more than half of the report cards my father had written comments like, “We are happy to see Alan has pulled his three S-’s up to S+’s and his two S’s up to O’s. We are concerned about his N in Mathematics and will work to bring this grade up to an S, (along with his seven Incompletes).” Then he signed it and handed it over to his Queen Christina, (Mummy) who attached her seal and returned it to me by dropping it on her table. She never once wrote a comment. Many years later, she defended herself.
“You were so good at everything, I didn’t worry.” It’s the only thing Mummy didn’t worry about – me. It was then I realized my mother felt it best to delegate all matters relating to her son’s education to her husband, the United States Department of Defense Education Adviser. Do you remember the story of the cobbler’s children going to school with worn out shoes? I do remember Mummy gave a slide presentation at Park Lane Elementary on (West) Germany that first year. After she left, many of my classmates commented on how pretty my mother was. Either I didn’t hear them say “co-dependent” or maybe their just didn’t say it. Either way, I was unnecessarily proud.
Remember the yearly placement tests? Four years and two schools after Miss Straub, I sat at North Junior High School in room 106 in Aurora, Colorado with my two sharpened #2 pencils ready to demonstrate what I had learned in my seven years in the system. It was 1969 and my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Masters, who looked much like her name implies, was proctoring the exam. Mrs. Masters was still wearing cateye glasses and spiked heels. As any member of my family would have told her, spike heels went out over a year ago and the hemline was no longer at the knee. The block heel is in. Mummy and I discussed this over cocoa when she came home from Back To School Night. Mrs. Masters, in her spike heels, explained the rules of the exam.
“Are there any questions” she asked.
“Can we get up to sharpen our pencils,” asked one of the thirty students.
“May we? Yes,” she said, do it now if you must. After addressing all questions, she set the timer.
“Ready? Go!” she said, and the test began. Tick tick tick tick tick I moved speedily through the English exam. Ding! Aced it, I thought. We moved on to the tick tick tick History section. Tick tick Ding! I whizzed through that, I thought. Next, tick tick tick Mathematics, tick. Suddenly my brain came to a screeching halt — tick. For me, advanced math meant counting on more than twenty digits.
It sure is quiet in here, I thought.
Here I am stuck on the first question and my shoes are tied. I looked around. My twenty-nine classmates were all working diligently. I looked out the window at the trees blowing in the wind. I looked up at Mrs. Masters, hoping I might catch her eye and with it some retrieve from this hell I was going through but she kept her head buried in her book. I looked at the clock above the door. Seven minutes left, I thought. I looked down and to the right and there she was across the aisle, Tomasina Smith. Just then, she closed her eyes and leaned back, as if visualizing the right answer. The graphite bubbles on the page before her begged to be read, as if calling out to me,
“Read me! Copy me! Do it!” I looked up at Mrs. Masters turning the page of her book, still engrossed. I simply wanted to avoid embarrassment, pass the test. Just get me through this i thought. Flunking any section of this exam is just not an option, Alan. Alan? This is my chance I thought. Having not yet learned the laws of cause and effect and knowing full well why I was doing it, I began copying Tomasina’s answers onto my paper. The thought of consequence did not occur to me. Until that experience sharing the silence with twenty-nine other junior high kids, I had no idea how far behind I really was. Nobody needs to know I don’t know my multiplication tables or that I don’t know what 2 + xyz3 is. I still don’t know what x is, and I still don’t care what y and z are.
I was about to get to know Tomasina Smith a whole lot better. It turned out Tomasina was a straight A student and future Senior Class Valedictorian. Her decision to lean back to visualize in the middle of the math exam landed me in Mrs. Bolger’s advanced placement Algebra class, where I spent my time trying to figure out which eye was the glass one. I’d heard the story. The words ‘lost’ and ‘confused’ also took on new meaning to me.
It was there I began sketching houses, trees, and cars, developing my talent as an artist and failing at not at my artistic perception, but by math perception. Instead of listening, I would nudge my neighbor, Dianne Cowen with no eyelashes, and show her my sketches. Dianne would look at what I’d drawn then point to the teacher. Her focus seems to be on paying attention to the teacher, I thought. How can I pay attention to a teacher who keeps an eye on me and is speaking Greek? Dianne did her best to give me the attention I was not getting from home, or from Mrs. Bolger.
Every afternoon I walked my Algebra book home and set it down on Mummy’s antique table at the front door. Every evening she would take the book up her stairs to the bedroom she allowed me to sleep in and place it on the desk I was leasing from her. The next morning I would pick the book up and walk it back to school. It just looked good, like the right thing to do in a controlling, dysfunctional household in which everybody talked and no one listened.
No one ever asked if I was reading the book. That Friday, Mrs. Bolger called me to her desk and asked why I had not turned in any homework. I stood there speechless, trying to figure out which eye I should look into. ‘The dog ate my homework’ excuse didn’t work before. I had been cornered by someone smarter than I. I took a gamble and looked into Mrs. Bolger’s right eye, my left. I wanted to be right about this.
“I don’t understand any of it,” I said.
“Well you got this far,” she replied “how’d you do it?” I had to admit I’d cheated. If Mummy taught me one thing, always tell the truth. Any time I had lied, she found out.
“I copied during the exam,” I said.
After admitting to my guilt, Mrs. Bolger had me reassigned to Miss size 22 Dermody’s Basic Math 101. I never saw Dianne again and I never thanked her, or Mrs. Bolger for being so understanding. She could see how heavily my confession weighed on me and let it go at that. Thank you, teacher, and Dianne Cowan. Junior high kids, being what they are, called Miss Dermody Dermotank. They also referred to their parents as their ‘old lady’ and ‘old man’. My parents were 73 and 50 and I never referred to them in any manner other than the proper, “Mummy” and “Daddy”.
I, and my 20 year-old sister seemed to be the only ones to do so. There I sat out the rest of the school year in Basic math, sketching flowers, trees, ladies’ shoes and dresses but without Dianne sitting next to me. There was no one to nudge but myself, but it would be years before I would realize that. I never did learn what I needed to learn in any school system, and I attended the best Uncle Sam has to offer. I had many inspirational teachers along the way who did a fine job of letting me pass, among them Joi Dyer, and Bea Mitz.
It wasn’t until twenty years later, when I myself became a teacher and had to take the NTE (National Teacher’s Exam) and the CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test) that I made it a point to learn my multiplication tables, or as I still call them my times tables. During the C-BEST exam, I was allowed to use my fingers and toes so I wore flip-flops and actually aced the exam. It really was easy; the operative word in C-BEST being basic. The NTE was an exam of a different magnitude.
I passed, but some parts barely.
No cheating this time, I had learned my lesson from Tomasina Smith, Mrs. Bolger, and Dianne. Allright, because I know you are all dying to know, yes, Tomasina was very pretty and of dark African American decent. After passing the NTE and C-BEST, I retired anything to do with mathematics to the archives of my brain. Today, if I anticipate running into an equation involving counting with more than ten digits, I wear flip-flops and if I think I may need to count to twenty-one, I wear loose pants.
Please pray for me, I won’t need to take them off.
Now to our spiritual mind treatment.
There is one life.
This life is God.
This life is perfect.
This life is my life now. I speak my word for all when I say I use the situations around me to better myself. Every day I take fearless moral inventory of my character, and use the knowledge I gain from this inventory to align myself closer to my Higher Power, God, whatever I see Him or Her to be. I know this God wants me to succeed.
I know this God loves me to the extent I love Him.
I accept this knowledge.
I release my affirmation, knowing my word is divine cause.
And so it is.