A Teachable Moment

“Mom, I think you’re really smart,” said my thirteen year old. I let out a giggle as the humming of cars passing muffled, roars of the biplanes overhead became distant and the neighboring children’s whining cries dissipated. “Why do you say that?” I asked as I gazed at her adoring eyes.

Before she could answer, I thought back on the conversation we’d had the night before. As Sophia complained about a writing assignment, I jumped at the opportunity to share my own struggles in hopes that she’d realized how fortunate she truly is.

The Essay

At school, I never felt challenged. I was never assigned mandatory reading. I missed out on all the classic books most students read and spent a lot of my free time watching tv. There was an 80’s show called, The Facts of Life and I clearly remember an eye-opening episode of a teenage actor called, Samantha, who shared a struggle about writing an essay. An essay? The word alone sounded funny. It wasn’t a –what’s up ‘ese,’ sort of term. This ‘ese’ had a serious connotation and it was causing this character much anguish. On tv land, Samantha got it done and felt accomplished. In real life, I was left wondering why I’d never been taught to write but quickly dismissed it as –something pertaining only the rich kids.

High School

During my senior year in David Starr Jordan High, a school located in Watts, every time my English teacher felt like leaving the class to go out for a smoke, she’d instruct the class to write a story, no lesson, no structure, “just write,” shed say. “When I come back, you can share your stories.” I’d escape from my little world and get lost in my dreams. “Ok, who wants to share?” Mrs. Johnson would call out shortly before the bell rang. “Have Teresa share,” someone would say. “Her stories are so funny.” Without hesitation, I’d share my unedited story of a girl who’d go on extraordinary feats that would end in victory. The bell would ring soon after, and onto the next class I’d go without feedback or instruction, but the reassuring laughter of my classmates.

Fake it ‘ til You make It

Fast forward to my college years, while seating in my remedial English class, working on my first real group essay, I’d intently listen to what my peers, the essay experts, had to share about a current issue. “What do you think Teresa? You can’t just sit there, look pretty and smile. You have to contribute to the group.” What did it matter? ‘Who cared what I’d have to say, you guys are the smart ones,’ I’d think to myself. That night, we left class in agreement that we’d all write a first draft to share during our next session. Dreading the next meeting, all three members shared their excuses as to why they couldn’t do the work. Meekly, I handed my draft to the instructor’s assistant, who read it out loud. Surprisingly, he was impressed and so were my group members. My group “earned” a B+.

Sophia’s beautiful, big brown eyes looked wider, lost in thought, she carefully constructed her words. “You know mom… you are really smart. You came to this country not knowing a word of English, trying to master a new language while playing the catch up game, and you still managed to keep up with your school load.” I was taken aback! My daughter just made me sound like a genius! I turned away and discretely wiped away a tear or two.

All through life, I’ve walked alongside doubt, allowing my past to define me, disregarding the reassurance I’d received from loved ones. At forty-eight years, my thirteen-year-old daughter gave me the boost of confidence that my college degree, twenty plus years of teaching, or life itself failed to give me… or perhaps, I was too blind to see.

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If we listen carefully, we can learn a thing or two from the most genuine of souls… children.

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