Seventieth Birthday Month Reflections, Part 3: Teaching High School English

Dale and me, circa 1972, in the middle of my three-year high school teaching career.

When I think back to the three years I taught high school English at the Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School (1970-1973), in between completing my master’s degree and giving birth to my first child, I mostly remember how ill-suited I generally felt to a teaching career. I’ve written before about how I went into teaching somewhat by default (amazingly, by far my most popular post of all time!), and how I didn’t feel like there were many viable options open to me at the time. I don’t usually look back on my time as a high school English teacher with a great deal of confidence that I was a good teacher and had a lasting positive impact on my students.

So it was a bit of surprise to hear from a former student by way of Facebook. She and her classmates are planning their 45th class reunion this year and as part of their celebration are collecting interviews with former teachers. She invited me to participate, and when I agreed, she sent me a list of questions that formed the basis for the interview. I met her and another classmate at the Mechanicsburg Area School District Archives (yes, there actually is such a place!), where we chatted about the old days and they video-taped my reflections on teaching.

The questions helped me remember details I thought I had long ago forgotten. Here’s a sampling of questions they asked and the memories I shared in the interview:

What do you remember about the class of 1973? Are there any particular people who stand out, good or bad? Over the course of three years of teaching, I had 15 different classes (five each year). All except one were 11th grade English, and in those days of separation into academic “tracks,” all but one were second-level college prep and “general.” The other was a top-level college prep class of 10th graders, during my first year. Class of 1973 students were in that 10th grade class and the five 11th grade classes during my second year.

I don’t remember many specific students (although perusing the yearbook helped jog my memory). I had previously known one student in the 10th grade class because she and her family went to the Grantham Church  (her parents were friends of my parents, and she was distantly related to me). She sat in the front row in the middle (in my memory, at least), and she always participated enthusiastically in class discussion. Her smiles every day in class were always positive reinforcements when I needed them badly. Another student in the same class sat just a couple rows behind her. He was a little unconventional but very bright and an excellent writer – so good, in fact, that I allowed him leeway with traditional rules of grammar because the result was creative and effective communication.

I remember another student in one of the “general” classes for the opposite reason. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure she had some kind of learning disability, perhaps dyslexia, but of course, I knew next to nothing about such things at the time and obviously had no training to know how to help her. I found her absolute inability to spell and make any sense in her writing very frustrating. I don’t remember being unkind to her, but I regret that I couldn’t do anything that would help her. I’ve often wondered what happened to her, and wished I knew then what I know now about learning disabilities.

Did you have any mentors to guide you through your first year of teaching? This question was easy to answer. The chair of the English Department was Jacob Kuhns, a small but mighty man. He had been my 11th grade English teacher when I was in the same high school, and he and his family also went to the Grantham Church. He assigned himself as my “master teacher” during that first year and was always available to offer support and advice when I asked.

Are there any embarrassing moments that you’d be willing to share? Yes, there is at least one that I remember vividly, but no, I’m still not willing to share it publicly!

What innovations or strategies did you use to make your English classes interesting? I sometimes used contemporary popular music to illustrate poetry – Simon and Garfunkel, for example. The student who contacted me recently says she remembers that I invited students to bring in their own records (and yes, they would have been vinyl records!) to illustrate particular rhythms in poetry. When I was teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn one year, I assigned group projects that were intended to get students more actively involved in the story. One group decided to build a raft, and took me to a parking lot after school to show me their project so I could evaluate it for a grade. I’m not sure whether the project really taught them all that much about the novel (and it certainly wouldn’t have taught them anything they needed to know for today’s state tests), but at least they were enjoying English class! It was the 70s, after all.

What made a good day at school? And what was the hardest thing about teaching? A good day was when I felt like I had connected with students, when they genuinely seemed interested in what we were doing in class, and when I didn’t have to stop teaching every few minutes to reprimand someone for misbehaving. The hardest thing about teaching was keeping order in the classroom. I was simply not a good disciplinarian, and I often felt out of control of the classroom. Some students took advantage of me, while I know others wished for better order and would have been interested in learning if the classroom atmosphere had been more conducive.

I was so young – only 22 years old when I started. During those three years, I became engaged to Dale, we married about a week after the first school year ended, and when I resigned at the end of the 1972-1973 school year, I was pregnant with Dana. I don’t regret ending my teaching career after three years and, in the midst of raising my two children, beginning to forge a different career for which I was much better suited temperamentally.

Reflecting on those three years of teaching, I usually remember mostly the “nightmare” aspect and all those Rolaids I chewed to calm my nerves. With generally negative feelings about my short-lived teaching career, therefore, it was life-affirming to be reminded that it wasn’t all bad, I actually do have some good memories, and I am remembered fondly by at least some of my former students. I’m grateful to Laurie and Pat, the two class of 1973 members who interviewed me, for giving me that gift!


Cat Stories

The recent untimely death of our beloved cat Sophie sent me on a trip down memory lane as I recalled the various cats that have been part of my life. For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve loved cats. On the mission stations in Zimbabwe and Zambia, there were always cats running around. Sometimes they were treated as family pets, and other times they were just part of the scenery or made themselves useful as mouse-hunters. One assignment when I was in primary school was to write an essay titled either “I Love Cats” or “I Hate Cats.” Can you guess which title I chose?! My dad, also a cat-lover, who was not one to dish out praise gratuitously, complimented me on my essay. I’ve never forgotten his praise!

I don’t remember the cats featured in these two photos. I was probably about 4-5 years old, and clearly infatuated with these kitties who had free run of Wanezi Mission (Zimbabwe) and showed up at our house for food – and perhaps for the brand of tender-loving care that 4-5 year-olds could give. One specific cat-related story I do remember from Wanezi (from accounts my parents shared) involves another missionary kid, Janet Musser (Kipe). During a missionary gathering in her parents’ house, she couldn’t find her kitten. One missionary auntie, of somewhat sizable girth, kept “meowing” until Janet was convinced the auntie was sitting on the poor kitten.

Some years later, when we were living at Sikalongo Mission in Zambia, my dad brought two kitten siblings from Macha Mission. I named them Ginger (orange) and Tabby (grey striped). When they arrived, they were “wild,” and we kept them in a chicken-coop-style cage in an out-building. Multiple times each day I would go to the cage and talk to them soothingly until gradually they allowed me to pet them and hold them. Even though they were outdoor cats, I took them in the house to play with them. To their great chagrin and kitty embarrassment, I’m sure, I would dress them up in doll clothes. One time, one of them got away from me while clothed in a doll dress and bonnet. He ran out into a nearby cornfield. I called and called for him, but no kitty. However, some hours later he returned, with the dress and bonnet still hanging from him.

I was away at boarding school when we moved from Sikalongo to Macha, and so learned from my parents that they put both kitties in a burlap sack to transport them. Apparently, they didn’t appreciate being confined together in that sack for several hours, because from then on they were mortal enemies. They continued to be my pets at Macha, and both allowed me to play with them, but never together! They fought with each other and other cats (often loudly at night), and had scars on their ears from wounds sustained in those fights. They stayed at Macha when we left for the U.S.

The next cat I remember lived with my family in Grantham after we returned from Africa. I think his name was Pawtucket (no idea where that came from). He would periodically disappear only to show up again not too much worse for the wear. I also don’t remember what caused his demise.

After Dale and I were married, knowing we would be moving to a rural log house in the country from our suburban apartment, we acquired a kitten. We named her Katanya, which was just an “official” name because we always called her “Kitty.” She was an indoor-outdoor cat and ended up pregnant. When her first litter was born, we kept one (a male named Tosh) and gave the rest away. After not quite two years in that house, we moved again and took Kitty and Tosh with us. Kitty disappeared, and we assumed she had tried to find her way back to the log house. Tosh stuck around, but eventually met an untimely death on the highway. Soon after, we acquired another set of sibling kittens – names forgotten. They too met early deaths.

Kitty “helped” me with my home-based writing and editorial work.

Dana with Tigger

For several years after we moved to Harrisburg, we resisted getting another cat. Then one day Dale unexpectedly came home with an adult orange tabby cat from a shelter who may have had a real name, but we also called her Kitty (we weren’t too creative with our pet names!). She settled in and became a member of the family. Along the way, Dana acquired a long-haired orange kitten she named Tigger. Unfortunately, Tigger was killed by a dog in our backyard. Some years later, we got a puppy – a mix, but mostly golden lab. Kitty wasn’t amused, but she adjusted to Sandy’s exuberant presence. Eventually, Kitty became ill and started having litter box problems. We took her to the vet, but I don’t remember the diagnosis. However, at some point, she disappeared and never returned.

We moved to our current home with our dog Sandy. We sometimes thought about getting another cat, but decided we would wait until Sandy went to doggy heaven. Then early one morning while Sandy was still with us, I was alone at work in our third floor offices on Front Street in Harrisburg and found a young calico cat. Who knows how she ended up on the third floor; she must have snuck in with the cleaning crew the evening before. She was obviously well cared for, because she was clean, sociable, and had a bell on a red collar around her neck. We put up signs in the neighborhood and I called the Humane Society, but no one claimed her. She and I bonded in the office, and after a couple days, she came home to stay. We named her Callie (creative name for a calico cat, huh?!), and she became a much-loved member of our family.

Aside: When I was growing up in Africa, our cats were always outdoor cats (kind of like farm cats), and Dale remembers the same thing from his childhood. So it was natural for us to allow our cats to come and go from the house at will. After several experiences of losing cats to accidents or “disappearances,” added to the growing societal expectation that cats not be allowed to roam the neighborhood, we decided that Callie and then Sophie would be indoor cats only. Callie often tried to sneak out (and succeeded a few times), but Sophie never did.

Our two oldest grandchildren remember Callie fondly because she was sociable, and allowed them to pet and play with her. My brother memorialized her in a beautiful and realistic stained glass creation he gave me for my 60th birthday.

Callie was a large cat – and I do mean large, like 19 pounds at her heaviest. When she started having some urinary problems and we took her to the vet, we discovered she had feline diabetes. We tried to control the diabetes with a change in diet, hoping to avoid daily insulin shots or other intrusive and expensive treatment, and she had started to lose some weight. But in March 2010, when we returned in the middle of the night from a vacation in Costa Rica, we found her lying dead in our bedroom. So sad. She was less than 10 years old.

Later that year, we started looking for another kitty and found Sophie. She was about four months old when she came to live with us. We felt like we had to sign our lives away to adopt her from PAWs (even listing references who could affirm that we would provide her with a good home), but she was worth it. When we first adopted her, we had no idea she would turn into a semi-long-haired cat with the softest and silkiest fur you can imagine. She always carried her fluffy tail as if she knew it was her best feature. We often referred to her as “Her Royal Furriness.” She was not particularly sociable, however, and hid behind the sofa when the grandchildren came (or anyone, for that matter). They loved shining a flashlight to see her staring at them from her place of safety. Occasionally, she would come out when they were here and try to be sociable, but she was always a little on edge. She was the quintessential “scaredy cat.”

Even with Dale and me, she was not really a lap cat (something I frequently lamented). When she did come to us, it was always on her terms, and the slightest move on our part would send her running away. But when she was in the mood, she could be very affectionate, purring loudly and rubbing against us. She would often wave her voluminous tail across my face or the screen as I worked at the computer. Earlier on the day she died, I was out in the sunroom with her, and she settled herself on the chair beside me, purring all the while. That evening, she died – way too young (not even eight years old), suddenly, and of an unknown cause. We miss her a lot; it’s just not the same in the house without Sophie!

Will we get another cat? I don’t know. I’d love another one, of course, but there are other considerations. In the meantime, I remember fondly a lifetime of loving my feline furry friends.

Seventieth Birthday Month Reflections, Part 2: Finding My Voice

Messiah College senior picture

When I was editor of the student newspaper, Ivy Rustles, during my senior year at Messiah College (1967-68), I wrote 15 editorials, using my platform to write about small and large campus controversies, philosophical and religious quandaries, seasonal reflections, interpersonal relationships, and more. At the time, I had no inkling that I would become a writer and editor for most of my professional life. Rereading the editorials 50 years later, however, I’m struck by how they foreshadowed some of the themes that have shown up repeatedly in my later writings and in the publications I’ve edited.

Last week, a current Messiah College student asked me what my vision was for the newspaper. Her question was perfectly legitimate, but it caught me off-guard. I can’t remember ever thinking of needing to have a “vision” when I became editor. I had served on the newspaper staff during my sophomore and junior years, and it seemed like a natural progression to become editor-in-chief. My main goals were to continue the same kind of coverage as others before me had done and to meet publication deadlines (in other words, I didn’t want to mess things up!). I simply don’t remember having any overarching grand vision, and I can’t help wondering: did anyone then have formal vision statements, or is the idea of having a vision for what you want to do a more recent phenomenon?

I started the year calling for “intelligent participation” from readers, which I defined as thoroughly reading each issue, constructive criticism, and direct participation (by writing for the paper). The closest I came to articulating a vision was in the concluding sentence: “In this way, Ivy Rustles can more closely reach its aim of being a successful college paper, and thereby an important avenue of communication.” A couple months later, I responded to some of the “constructive criticism” the newspaper must have received and lamented that a lack of adequate funding prevented us from doing more to address the critiques. I went on: “Neither the administration and the faculty nor the students seem to be clear on exactly what Ivy Rustles is supposed to do. . . . Is it a campus news sheet, a printed Wittenburg Door for all the campus grievances, a propaganda sheet for the editor’s views, or . . . something else?” So, even though I don’t remember ever formally stating my vision for the newspaper, I clearly wondered about its purpose and role on campus.

Several editorials were about interpersonal relationships: the importance of communication, listening to each other, and being a friend. My editorial about “listening to people creatively” seems almost prescient, given the current environment: “We should listen openly so as not to make rash, and consequently false, judgments. . . . Perhaps if we heard things correctly in the first place, we could more easily discern the motivations, evidence, [and] reasons behind the statements.” Creative listening, I said then, would be characterized by “learn[ing] to understand people as they really are rather than as we have previously ‘heard’ them to be.” The concepts I was advocating then are echoed in themes in Shalom! over the years: language and how we communicate, creating safe space for dialogue on difficult issues, relating to people who are not like us, let peace begin with me, and bridging the divide. Or these blog posts: “speaking truth with words that give grace,”“truth matters,”“a modest proposal for truth,” and “when people differ.”

I also foreshadowed some of my activist bent when I addressed campus controversies, such as what kind of music was being played in the dining hall (classical or the Tijuana Brass), the potential hypocrisy of prayer at basketball games (when the opening prayer for good sportsmanship would be followed by loud/rude criticisms of referee calls), and the apparently difficult relationship at times between faculty and students. I called for a New Year’s resolution to “put actions to our words: to do instead of merely to say.” My fellow senior English majors and I co-signed an editorial proposing a senior English seminar rather than the comprehensive exams we had to take.

Then there were the more philosophical reflections. I pondered the meaning and relevance of the “social gospel” and “secular Christianity” versus the more “traditional Christianity” of personal faith and evangelism. I’m sure this editorial was a product of my own intense spiritual quandaries that year. I wasn’t ready then to make a choice, but rather called for some kind of middle road: “We can retreat to our ‘spiritual fireside’ and our comfortable stock of religious cliches; we can forsake it [all] and become converts of secular Christianity; or we can find a median between the two which satisfies us personally and socially.” I still reject either-or solutions to choices like this.

In an editorial entitled “The Dilemma of the Liberal Arts,” I questioned whether the liberal arts and commitment to Christian faith could co-exist: “If we narrow our definition of liberal arts then how can we legitimately say that we are a liberal arts college and leave the illusion that we are completely open to anything, which we are not? On the other hand, if we broaden our perspective of Christianity, will we not lose the basic reason for the college’s existence in the first place?” I concluded: “I believe that much of the future of Messiah College depends on the seeming disparity which we presently have between liberal arts and Christianity. I further believe that there is a way in which the two can live in harmony. We need to find out how.”

Ivy Rustles, March 21, 1968

It is significant that this editorial appeared in an expanded issue that covered the college administration’s extremely controversial decision not to renew the contract of a favorite young professor who was in his first year of teaching at the college. I also wrote the lead front-page article in that issue, “Contract Non-Renewal Subject for Campus Controversy.” As objectively as I could, I laid out the sequence of events and the source of the controversy. Inside, the paper also published the college president’s letter to the professor explaining the decision as well as excerpts of the professor’s response to the Board of Trustees.

Looking back on what I remember as a seminal event in my college career when I personally sided with the professor rather than with the college, I am impressed that I was able in both my lead article and the editorial to maintain at least some journalistic objectivity. I didn’t use my editorial platform to express my own opinion (that the professor’s contract should have been renewed), but instead to explore what seemed to me to be one of the basic questions at the heart of the controversy: how committed to the liberal arts can a Christian college be? It seems to me this is still an interesting and legitimate question, albeit one that Messiah College has tried to answer with integrity in the intervening years.

Who could have predicted that the editorial skills and perspectives I honed as a senior in college would find their way into a 40-year body of work where I have explored ideas, mediated between various points of view, expressed deeply-held convictions, provided others with a forum to express their ideas and tell their stories, and advocated for peace and justice? I certainly couldn’t have predicted where I would end up, but it’s satisfying to see that as a very young and generally naive college student, I was well on my way to finding my voice.

Seventieth Birthday Month Reflections, Part 1: Advice from a Student

Circa 1969 during graduate school at the University of Idaho

To pay for my graduate studies at the University of Idaho from 1968-1970, I taught two sections of freshman English Composition each semester. I have very few specific memories of those classes, but I’ve kept a tattered and slightly yellowed piece of composition book paper from one of my students. I have no recollection of what the assignment was, but apparently there were at least four questions. Perhaps it was a course evaluation; perhaps it was a personal reflection on a piece of literature we were studying. I have no idea. This student, a young man who I vaguely remember as being more engaged in class discussions than some others (I think his name was Brad or another name beginning with B), chose to focus on the fourth question, explaining himself this way in the opening paragraph: “This seems to be the most important part of the questions, so I feel I will devote all of the time permitted to it.”

And then he goes on:

The most valuable part of this course is the teacher. You seem to have a unique understanding of respecting another person’s opinion. Although I am only a student, I represent one of the masses you teach. Thus, these masses, to you, must be of great importance. This is why I feel that I, a student, can give you some advice. Never lose your sense of open-mindedness. It has kept me enhanced through the whole semester.

During the last semester, I have come up with some very strange ideas. I related these to you through my writings. Never once have you criticized my ideas, no matter how alien they were to you. You have tried to understand, to realize that as a college freshman many ideas have entered my grasp. If they are right or if they are wrong makes no difference. Only time will tell. You seem to realize that these ideas are the person, himself. If you try and destroy these ideas, you can possibly destroy the person. I feel you have tried to cultivate a program of thinking for oneself throughout the course. This is good.

By respecting my somewhat far-out ideas, you have gained my respect. Thank you.

Wow! The fact that I still have this note says something about how much his comments meant to me. They were high praise and affirmation for someone who was really way too young to be teaching college freshmen and often lacked self-confidence. I had graduated from college at age 20, so I was at most 21 or 22 when I taught this young man. I had very little clue what I was doing.

The year I graduated from college – 1968 – was a tumultuous year in my life and in American life. Two things from my last year (semester) in college stand out in my memory: 1) my crisis of faith as I started questioning much of what I had believed all my life, and 2) the non-renewal of the contract of a favorite young professor who was seen as out of step with the direction of the college. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War was escalating and protests against it were increasing, President Lyndon Johnson decided not to seek re-election, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that summer was the scene of angry protests and police crackdowns. Recently, when I watched the Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War, I realized all over again what a chaotic year 1968 was. (I should also note, on the less chaotic side of things: 1968 also marked the beginning of my romance with Dale, when I sent a Christmas card from my Idaho outpost to Choma, Zambia, where he was in voluntary service!)

Both my crisis of faith and the turmoil of the larger culture around me made me less confident in black-and-white answers and more inclined to skepticism, which in turn likely contributed to what this student called my “sense of open-mindedness.” I wish I could remember what “alien” ideas he expressed in class or his written assignments; it’s possible he thought they were more alien than I did. But it’s equally possible I did not want to discourage him because I understood at a gut level how important it was to be allowed to express “alien” ideas without fear of ridicule, rejection, or judgment. A wise older professor friend had offered me the same kind of non-judgmentalism in college, and perhaps I wanted to pay it forward.

Reading that student’s comments now, it’s gratifying to see that he saw in me some of the themes that have been important to me in the decades since he was in my class: willingness to consider new and different ideas, respect for the opinions of others, and recognition of the inherent dignity and worth of individuals even if I disagree with their ideas or behaviors. Of course, over the years, I’ve come to believe some things very strongly, and sometimes that could be perceived as close-mindedness or disrespect for those who don’t believe the same things. But at my core, I still value of the kind of open-mindedness the student appreciated, and I think it has served me well in many complex situations throughout my life. I wish I knew what happened to him and could tell him how much his note meant to this very young and inexperienced teacher.



A Ten-Year Tale of Transformation

Actually, 11 years rather than 10 years separate these two photographs, but that doesn’t make for a nice alliterative title! In the first photo, I am dressed in my Townsend High School uniform, probably just before my brother (in his Hillside School uniform) and I left Macha Mission to travel by train to Bulawayo for school in 1961. In the second photo, taken in the summer of 1972, I’m posing in “hippie” clothes with Dale’s new motorcycle in front of our first apartment in Mechanicsburg. The obvious reason for the difference between the me in the first photo and the me in the second one is the passage of time – from age 13 to age 24, from adolescence to adulthood. As I look at these two photos, however, I see more than the normal passage of time; in fact it feels more like a lifetime. Knowing what I know now about myself, I see the transformation of a young and very shy, awkward, innocent, and naive teenager into a considerably more mature, worldly-wise, and self-confident young woman.

It’s a transformation that didn’t come easily. I’ve told the story before about my “re-entry” into American culture at age 13, and the difficulty of that transition. I came to the U.S. from Africa having spent the previous five years in three different schools – wearing a uniform to school every day, living a relatively regimented and ordered life, not really being allowed to express my own individuality. During school breaks, I was home out in the proverbial boonies on missions stations (three different ones – we moved a lot!), playing with dolls, sewing and knitting doll clothes, reading, playing with my little brother and other missionary kids, riding bike – and largely oblivious to what life was like in the U.S. I was completely unprepared for my introduction to high school in the U.S. Yes, I was prepared academically, but socially I was clueless.

Throughout high school and college, I struggled with self-esteem, and often felt ugly. I tried really hard to fit in, especially in how I looked and dressed, but I had no experience or know-how (and no money), and I was too introverted and embarrassed to ask even my best friends. I learned mostly by watching and imitating. I did not date because no one asked me out, which intensified my feelings of inferiority and rejection. On the positive side, I made friends and did well in school. My parents valued education, and encouraged my school success and pursuit of a career. I made it through high school, college, and graduate school, and got my first full-time job as an English teacher at the high school from which I had graduated only six years before.

Most people would not have had any idea of how much pain I was in emotionally. Sometimes I didn’t recognize it myself. Even when I allowed the pain to rise to the surface, I covered it up and put on a brave front, which I was good at because, after all, I did have some competencies and my mother always modeled stoicism very well!

While I was in graduate school, Dale came into my life. I had known him in college, but the trajectory of my life changed when we started writing to each other while he was in voluntary service in Zambia. Our relationship blossomed over the year and a half  between the time I sent him a Christmas card in December 1968 from my graduate school outpost in Idaho and he returned to the U.S. in August 1970, but I still didn’t know what would happen when he returned and we finally saw each other face to face. Those feelings of self-doubt were very close to the surface as we met awkwardly for the first time as boyfriend and girlfriend (I hoped!) at the old Harrisburg airport. And then the love that had begun in those letters deepened as we spent time together, got engaged, and then married in June 1971.

High school senior picture

That girl in the first photo could never have imagined in 1961 that in a mere 10 years, she would be married and look like the girl in the second photo. My high school senior picture taken two years after “uniform girl” shows the beginning of the transformation, but you can still see the naivety and innocence in my eyes and general demeanor.”Uniform girl” had difficulty blending into American culture in the early 1960s; by the early 1970s, “motorcycle girl” could almost pull it off!

“Motorcycle girl” – in her bell-bottom jeans, sleeveless crop top, and long straight hair – looks like she had almost completely acculturated. Some might think that’s a bad thing – especially those conservative, plainly-dressed folks in my church – but to me it represents an important and positive sea change in how I began to view myself. “Uniform girl” had a generally happy and interesting childhood that I wouldn’t trade for a different one, but I was ill-equipped for the culture into which I was thrown at age 13. I had been sheltered in so many ways. And most significantly and painfully, I felt very much alone. For a variety of reasons, I didn’t know how to talk about what I was feeling, or how to get help. My parents, though I know they cared deeply and understood some of what I was going through, were themselves ill-equipped to help. So I muddled through mostly on my own. A measure of the emotional pain I stifled during those years is how easily I can still feel it. The self-consciousness that was my constant companion then is something I still have to actively work to overcome. I still struggle sometimes with the social anxiety that was so real in those days.

When you’re young, 10 years seems like a long time, but at the age I am now, 10 years doesn’t seem long at all. The 10 years it took me to get through high school, college, the beginning of my professional life, and the beginning of my marriage seemed endless at the time – especially those earlier years when I felt so awkward, self-conscious, and ugly. Now they seem like a drop in the whole bucket of a good life. “Motorcycle girl” and the person I am now owe much to Dale (I probably would never have bought and worn a crop top without his encouragement, for example!), and I’m grateful to him for loving me as I was and as I am and for his part in my “transformation.”