Tuesday, June 02, 2015

When I Grow Up, Part Two

At the start of tenth grade, I came to understand that the teacher option wasn't for me. That left secretary and nurse as my choices. A career test provided by the high school indicated that retail was a good possibility for me but I didn't like the sound of that and my parents were adamant.

I learned of a volunteer program at the local hospital: I could become a Candy Striper, going one afternoon each week to fill water pitchers, distribute dinner trays, run errands for nurses, and even feed patients too sick to feed themselves. I'd read all of the Cherry Ames books back in junior high school and thought this might be the right thing for me. I was excited when I went into the uniform store across from the hospital to buy my jumper, and was careful to remember to wear a white blouse to school on Mondays.

I loved being a Candy Striper. I thought perhaps becoming a nurse would be right; but my sister had become a secretary and that had worked out very well for her. When it was time to choose courses for eleventh grade, my parents kept my options open again: they signed me up for Spanish 3 and for Typing 2 and Shorthand 1. Nursing school would require chemistry, but they pointed out I could take that in twelfth grade. It made sense.

A few weeks before tenth grade ended, my father died suddenly and without warning. This was the beginning of a horrible year. Alone at home with a mother who had always found -- and taught -- me to be a disappointment, I was not allowed to visibly grieve. My father's death was all about her, the grieving widow with the naughty child. It was tough. No counseling or support was offered to me; I was told my job was to do my school work and not make life harder for my mother.

By the end of the summer, she -- who had been a housewife for over twenty-five years -- got an office job at the local hospital, the same place where I had been a successful Candy Striper. I hated the thought of sharing this place with her. But somehow it worked out. My work on the med-surg floors was nowhere near her office. During the eleventh grade year, any talk of my future held two possibilities: become a secretary or go to nursing school at the local hospital. There was no option of a different nursing school. Things between my mother and me deteriorated further; having no place to deal with my grief and no support from the school counselors, I began acting out. Though this only made things worse at home, I was powerless to stop.

When it was time to select courses for twelfth grade, I was the one who wanted to keep my options open if I still could. I was pretty sure that being a nurse was what I preferred. I loved being helpful to the nurses, I liked interacting with patients. Besides, this path held the added bonus of my living in the hospital's nursing school dormitory -- away from my mother, though still at the place where she worked. I wasn't sure if it would work. My three years of Spanish filled one college admission requirement; I had managed to complete the necessary math courses. Nursing school meant I needed chemistry. The secretarial field called for Shorthand 2 and Transcription; an option for that career was something called Office Practice. I signed up for Chemistry. I wanted to take Spanish 4 because I enjoyed the language, but something deep down told me to sign up for Shorthand 2 and Transcription, just in case. My mother and I were in full agreement about the selections.

Senior year began; Shorthand met first period, followed immediately by Transcription. At third period, when Office Practice began in the same classroom, I left and went down the hall to Chemistry where I was introduced to the Periodic Table. Chemistry was going to be hard, but I thought I would like it. During the second full week of school, my mother surprised me at dinner: "I have wonderful news! I spoke to the director of the school of nursing and she said that you didn't have to live in the dorm! You will have special permission to stay at home and go to the hospital with me in the mornings!" Thus she let me know that I was still completely under her thumb.

At school the next morning, I went straight to the guidance office and requested a drop/add form. I swallowed the tears when I returned my textbook to the chemistry teacher. I pretended to be excited when I told the Office Practice teacher, "I've decided for sure. I really want to be a secretary."

(to be continued)


Karla said...

Broken dreams from the beginning, so sad. Nancy, how horrid to feel like a disappointment to your mom. I know this isn't coming from your mom, but it is coming from me, a person who admires you. (I don't admire too many people, so this is a high honor) you are NOT a disappointment to me, you are quite the opposite.

Hugs to your child self.

Millie said...

I am so sorry. Reading about the way your mother manipulated you really pisses me off. I always got a lot of grief when I was raising my son as a single parent. Everybody told me I was doing it wrong. I knew I wasn't. My belief was that parenthood was a losing proposition. At the beginning, parents had all the power, but it was my job to transfer the power and responsibility to him gradually so that by the time he was ready, he had the tools and knowledge to go out on his own and be a responsible adult, and make his own decisions. I know you "managed" but I am sending you a hug anyway.

Nann said...

Oh, Nancy, I am sorry that your mother wasn't able to see a bigger picture for you.

AnnieO said...

My sympathy on the loss of your daddy at such a vulnerable age--piled on top with your mother's inability to see you as a separate grieving individual. Your writing is fascinating as always.

Quiltdivajulie said...

How terribly hard it must have been . . . and how eloquently you are sharing the story.

Barbara Anne said...

Oh, Nancy. How sad, sad, sad to lose your Daddy suddenly and be left to hide your grief and with a mother who couldn't or wouldn't let you shine. As awful as it certainly was to change your direction in life, living at home during nursing school would probably have been far worse. It's apparent that your life choices since then have made you a blessing to so many people. How could you have imagined that all those years ago?

My mother was a secretary so I took typing (under duress) in summer school after my freshman year of high school.

Big hugs.

OTquilter said...

There is really nothing to add to the previous comments. You have endured difficulties and pain, but it's clear that you have also made some very wise choices to become who you are today, a wife and mother, a valued school employee, a spiritual counselor and thinker whose writings are important to so many of us in cyberspace. Thank you for sharing your story in your usual "thoughtful, near Philadelphia" style. You cannot know how many people will be touched and changed by reading your blog.

Tanya said...

I never would have thought that you had communication issues with your mother. You seem to have inherently got the knack for understanding and caring. I too was a "candy striper" in my high school days but was disappointed that we wore yellow and white pants suits! Ah well, I enjoyed it but didn't even attempt chemistry.

LoieJ said...

Funny contrast: my mom pushed me to take typing because I would need it for college. I know far too many people, especially men, who never learned to type.

Vivian said...

Wow, wasn't prepared for the Freudian shift this took! But I envy you, deep down (and good for you)you were a strong willed person and knew your own mind and worked hard to honor it as best as you could in every circumstance despite the difficulties it presented. While I eventually got degrees and made a living for many years in Bookkeeping and Financial Management, my only regret in life was not following a mid 20s desire to study Art -- at the time I didn't think it was "practical". Explains why I overindulge in quilting now!