Chapter 2.3: A Strange Little Girl

Chapter 2.3: A Strange Little Girl

 

I remember much of the time and place of my early childhood. Northern California was still a well-kept secret then. The seeds of a global technology revolution were germinating and things were simple and unhurried. Walnut trees and olive trees lined the streets, their fallen fruit crunching under my yellow Snoopy boots when we went for walks, exploring our little corner of the world. I recall feeling cozy and safe, watching rain fall through the windows of my bright kindergarten classroom. I remember late nights after our meetings at the Kingdom Hall driving through the streets of Santa Clara, half-awake in the back seat of the car listening to my parents’ gossip on the way home. I remember the musty smell of the library a few blocks from our home; the parks where we fed ducks with day old bread; and the front porch of the little yellow house we rented, where I’d sit on the steps and soak in the sun while watching the world go by. I remember it all like it was yesterday. It was a happy time.

*****

It’s not easy to write about one’s self, but it’s important to share a few things that will frame the rest of the story of my life. Certainly, many of the events of my life have been interesting, but a large part of my struggles and successes are due to who I am, not just what I’ve experienced.

I was a strange child. I know this because it was constantly remarked on by adults. My teachers lauded my intelligence and made sure my mother knew I was ‘gifted and talented’, but my gifts were lopsided. I didn’t embrace math and from a very early age struggled with numbers in every form. Even more troubling were my social challenges. I never quite fit in with children my age and always felt more comfortable with adults. In fact, I would prefer to stay in at recess and help my teacher than play out on the playground with other kids. I often felt that other kids were making fun of me (and in fact, they were).

I asked my mom to write a short description of what it was like to parent me as a young child, and here is what she wrote:

My girl was five years old. You could read. I would tell this to my gal pals and they would tell me, “Yeah I know, all five year olds are learning to read”. No, I would say, she can actually read. This is when I realized I had someone exceptional as my daughter. Others would tell me how lucky I was but they did not know how difficult this would be for you over the years. As a kid you was a mini-grown up. It caused issues at school and with peer groups. It was like you couldn’t relate to them because you were thinking like a thirty year old and other kids were thinking like well, kids. The only person that really understood you was [your brother]. He was always there for you. You could talk to him even if you were bossy to him. What I learned is my girl was thirty years old in a five year old body. While that isn’t a handicap like a missing limb, blindness or a illness, it is not average. I knew how to deal with average. I didn’t get it then but now that my girl is an adult I see the rose has bloomed and being average would not been enough. In a word, you make me proud to be chosen to be your mom.

It occurs to me now that I’m an adult with children of my own that were I born later I may have been diagnosed with some kind of mild spectrum disorder. But this was the 1970s and little kids that were quirky and weird just learned to adapt…or they didn’t.

Throughout my childhood I found myself in a position of being ostracized and misunderstood by other children, and many adults. I was blunt and tactless which caused people to immediately dislike me, and this caused me to quickly become very shy and withdrawn with people I didn’t know. This, in turn, made me appear ‘stuck up’ (I heard this ad nauseam as a kid) and even more unlikable. I had an incredible imagination, and would spend days playing ‘imagination games’ by myself or with my brother, incorporating school and our religious activities into those games. Finally, I was prone to hysterical crying on a regular basis. I remember my mother being completely exasperated by me because I was unconsolable over some small, inconsequential thing that nevertheless had overwhelmed me.

Physically, I was slight and weak. I hated running, and I actively avoided anything that put me physically in the center of attention like dance or sports. I had severe allergies and would often use those as an excuse to sit inside during gym or recess so I didn’t have to go out and play with other kids. I had a ‘best friend’ from the Kingdom Hall and my mom made sure I got to  play with her regularly. Some of the other Witness kids also lived in our neighborhood so when the weather was nice we’d congregate out in the streets and ride bikes or play games. Otherwise I was perfectly content playing imagination games in my room, reading, listening to music, writing and drawing.

We lived in a diverse, liberal place where differences were tolerated. Furthermore, these strange quirks to my personality were masked by the antisocial behavior of my religion. We were supposed to be different from everyone else, anyway. I didn’t salute the flag or celebrate birthdays, I wore a bracelet with a bible citation that said not to give me a blood transfusion in case of an emergency. We deliberately did not associate with people who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not even family members. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were our family, and we followed the biblical commandment to remain ‘separate from the world’. That I was a strange little girl who preferred to stare out windows was overlooked, and sometimes even encouraged.

*****

My parents have always been vastly different people but they have two things in common:

First, they are both idealists. They both look at the possibilities and seek opportunities to make things better for themselves and others. Today, they are completely different people than the parents I knew as a young girl. No longer married to one another, each has gone on a different path (although my father is still a Jehovah’s Witness) and each has transformed themselves in ways that are hard to believe. While members of my extended family have been unable to overcome the familial cycles of abuse, addiction and poverty, my parents have evolved and become healthy, productive people. They beat the odds. I attribute much of that phenomenon to religious intervention.

The second thing my parents have in common is that they are both readers. Neither of my parents went to college (though years later, after she was a grandmother my mom finally went to school and got a history degree), but they read incessantly when I was growing up. True, much of it was the Bible and religious literature, but it was their literacy that I attribute to being able to read fluently at age 5, and my life-long love of reading. They read aloud to me even as a baby, and when I could finally read by myself they asked me to read aloud to them.

The library was a second home for us, and my mom would take us there each week to select new things. At breakfast before work and school, my dad would read a chapter from a book like Charlie & the Chocolate Factory to start the day. We would beg for him to keep going when the chapter was finished, and once in a while he gave in and kept reading to our delight.

I lived in books, and they lived in me. Books elevated me and soothed my anxiety about the world ending. They were my friends. That my parents encouraged me to read from an early age and made sure I always had things to read is something for which I will always be grateful.

*****

My parents prayed with us, took us on bike rides, protected us from predators, sang songs to us and regularly told us they loved us. We took family portraits, ate dinner together at the kitchen table and practiced handwriting.

My dad would take me dress shopping, patiently waiting outside the dressing room at JC Penny while I tried them on, considering each one before offering an opinion on which was nicest. He took my brother on fishing trips. Mom was into health food at the time, and would bake bread and squeeze fresh juice for us. She’d pull up a chair to the kitchen counter and let me help her cook and bake. I also remember long Saturdays of her sewing clothes at the kitchen table while I played on the floor next to her with the scraps of fabric and pins, making clothes for dolls.

I was a strange little girl, but it was ok. My family and my religious community provided me with a safe bubble, a refuge from the world, which we believed wasn’t going to last much longer anyway.  My parents were vigilant in protecting me from everything terrible they knew was ‘out there’.

At least that’s how my life started.

 

Me & my Baby Brother – 1976

 

Me & My Baby Brother – 1977

 

Pre-school
First grade
Second grade

2 Replies to “Chapter 2.3: A Strange Little Girl”

  1. You are such an interesting person. A little painful to read because I honestly think we all feel like that as kids. I wonder if we could find a kid who felt like they fit in and were comfortable all their lives. Anyway – I love this story 🙂 Thank you.

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