As I sit here at my computer right now I am 2 assignments away from the completion of my high school classes. This blog post should really wait the week it’s going to take me to finally complete those 2 assignments, but it won’t because tonight I’m inspired. High school for me has not been an easy process. It hasn’t been a fun process most of the time. Most days I sat down to work it felt like a pointless process. I didn’t go to school in the typical manner. I didn’t start high school until the day after I turned 18. Before that day I’d never done any type of formal schooling. Not any. I didn’t start to care about what would happen when I grew up if I hadn’t gone to school until I was 16. By the time I finally started thinking about it I was so very far behind in school, knowledge, self confidence and social skills that I had absolutely no idea how I could fix it. I did what most teenagers in this situation probably would, I chose not to think about it. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t fix it anyways so I could just pretend it didn’t bother me. I watched my friends and family members do things like graduate and apply for colleges with a very real jealousy. I watched them complain about homework and I thought how much I’d like to have problems like that. Being blind means you can’t just walk into a school and say, “I want to go here, help me.” Being blind and growing up the way I did meant I wouldn’t have ever even thought of doing something like that. For a lot of years I simply felt bad for myself and did nothing because I couldn’t find a place to start. When I was 17 I went for guide dog training. My roommate told me about The Hadley Institute for The Blind. She said they had an actual high school program and that I could do the whole thing online. I was genuinely excited about the idea, but secretly terrified that I’d fail if I tried. I learned about the school in October of 2010, and it still took me until March of 2011 to finally sign up. I don’t believe i would have succeeded in any environment other then the one Hadley offered me. The classes are all broken down into assignments, and there are no tests. When you complete all the assignments in a class you’re done. You get your grade and move on to a new class. Finish all the classes you need to graduate and you’re done. When I first started I went into every assignment with the idea that I’d fail. “I probably didn’t do a very good job.” I’d tell myself this every time I’d hit send on another assignment. When I started actually getting good grades a different sort of fear would take over. I’d start an assignment and quit in the middle because I KNEW I just KNEW I wouldn’t be able to do it well enough and I needed needed needed to get an A! I learned gradually that I could do well. That a B wouldn’t kill me and was better than leaving work undone for months at a time because I was afraid to fail. I waisted a lot of time, years of time really, believing the work was to difficult and I couldn’t finish it. I’d go to bed night after night with assignments waiting for me and just let them go another day because I would probably fail anyway. During this 5 year learning experience there have been 3 classes whose existence I have cried over, cursed, and screamed about endlessly to whoever would answer their phone. Economics, Conversational Spanish, and Math. There were days where I honestly believed I could not learn whatever it was they were wanting me to learn. There were shame filled emails sent to teachers about how I’ve tried for months and I JUST CANNOT do it! There were hours of crying over my computer, on my bed, on the phone with my best friend, at the kitchen table with my boyfriend, about how it was just to hard. When the unlucky recipient of these rants would tell me that yes, I could in fact learn those 50 Spanish words, or write that paper about different market systems, I’d get angry with them. “No! I can’t! I just don’t understand it! It makes no sense to me!” I’d hang up, walk out, slam doors and continue with my self pity for a few more days or weeks. Eventually I’d sit down and work whatever it was until it was done and send it in. Tonight I was impatiently looking at my grades to see if my teacher had put my latest assignment in the system, so that I can do my last 2 assignments and finally be done, when I noticed something. Those 3 classes, the ones that I couldn’t possibly finish. Those classes I waisted screaming and tears over. Those classes that I let make me feel like a failure, I have A’s in all 3 of them. Most days I say it isn’t a big deal. I should have finished high school 5 years ago so finishing it now doesn’t really matter. But today, realizing that not only did I finish what I thought I couldn’t, but I did it perfectly, I feel like a superhero. There are a lot of days that quitting everything seems a hell of a lot easier than finishing it, but this feeling is worth all the work I’ve ever put in. The most important thing I’ve learned from getting through high school is that I actually can do what it is that I want to do. That is if I’m willing to shut up and get it done!
Kids will knock you out completely. They flip your world up side down and back again all in the same moment. They blow up what you thought you knew and make you want to be BETTER every single day. I’ve always believed I was a relatively good person. Never hurt others intentionally. Try to be honest. Respect myself and others. All of that. Seeing the world through the filter of, would I want my 14 year old doing that, saying that, knowing I did or said that, knowing I thought that, thinking that herself, has a real way of putting things in perspective. I haven’t had the usual amount of time to get used to being a mom of a teenager. Usually you have the baby and get to watch them grow up before you get slammed into the position of parent of a high school freshmen. This kid and i have a very different relationship. I met her dad a year and a half ago. When I was falling in love with him I knew he had a teenage daughter who lived with her mother. I knew he thought she was a remarkable child, but don’t all parents think that of their children? I worried about the fact that her dad and I have an age difference that makes me only 9 years older than her. I wondered what the dynamic of our relationship could possibly be. I was in no way prepared to fall head over heals in love with this kid. I had no idea she’d steal my heart entirely. I’m incredibly blessed to have this particular 14 year old. There really aren’t enough words to describe her. She is the most unique person. She’s a mixture of sweet, innocent, and silly, and strong out spoken and sarcastic. From the first moment I spoke to her over FaceTime she decided I was awesome. My blindness had come into play in my relationship, in a good way, more than it ever has in my life. I think it was a safe way for her to interact with me at first. Now it’s become just another part of who I am to her like it is with everyone else i’m close to. But for the first 6 or 7 months I knew her it was, “so Harmony, tell me something else I don’t know about you! How do you do that?????” We spent hours talking about how I text, type, and read braille. She watched me do completely ordinary things like eat or clean the kitchen with utter fascination while I laughed and told her it’s just me being me. Now I get to watch her do her hair and makeup and try like hell to learn which powders highlight and which powders create shadowing. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE! I’ve learned which Ari songs are amazingness and which ones are STUUUUUUUPID! In the middle of having youtube marathons I’ve learned the names of her best friends and the names of the girls she isn’t close with. I’ve learned that math and science are pointless and that lit and social studies can be fun. I’ve spent so much time watching her and learning her and getting to know her, that I forgot that she’s watching me closer than ANYONE in this world ever has. I naively thought that because she doesn’t live with me, because I’m not her mother, that what I do and say and how I act every day doesn’t effect her. The past few weeks have been very educational for me. One night while her daddy and I were on FaceTime with her, I was in a pissy girl mood for whatever reason. I snapped at my boyfriend without thinking and this kid said something to me that has changed the way I make my decisions. She asked why I was mad and joking her dad said, “she has other personalities that you don’t know about. She gets mad.” She said, “she doesn’t get mad at me.” I said, “You’re special kid.” And I laughed. I thought we were still joking. Then the kid says, “But you always say I’m just like Daddy. So what Harmony? Are you fake with me? Is this not how you really are?” And I was completely speechless. My boyfriend saved me in the conversation and bedtime came and we all hung up our phones happy but those words stuck with me. I never would have described myself as fake, ever. But I realized that night that the person I am with that kid is the person I want to be all the time. Am I fake with her? No. Not ever. But would I want her to know the girl I can be when I’m angry? Would I want her to know about the issues I’ve had in my past with body image and self harm? NO, NOT EVER. That conversation with a 14 year old has changed the kind of person I am. I live my every day with a kid filter on. Would I want her to see me do this? How will this effect her? Will this make me a better mom or not? Would I want her doing this when she grows up? Maybe this is how all parents who’ve had their childrens entire lives to get used to being parents feel. But for me it’s the most intense blessing, and the most insane responsibility all in one. I’ve never been more grateful or more afraid of messing up in my life. I thank God and this kid for who she is, and who she’s making me into.