Friday, April 7, 2017

Confessions of a Late Bloomer

I have a confession...I am a late bloomer. Frankly, I didn’t have the luxury of being a late bloomer as a child. I was a latchkey kid who at the age of six, got myself ready for school every morning. How did this happen?

Being the youngest child of older parents who divorced when I was five probably had a great deal to do with it.  I will also let you in on a little secret you probably don’t know unless you are the youngest in your family. The “baby” learns a survival skill their older siblings don’t: How to manipulate others to do our bidding!  Siblings get exasperated by our lack of independence but they always just sigh and do it for us anyway. I had the double distinction of being the youngest cousin on both sides of my family and referred to as “the baby” until I went to kindergarten. I have a memory of my family getting ready to go somewhere and mom asking, “Where’s the baby?” I was four!

Like all late bloomers, I had a knack for finding friends who were willing to do my bidding when my family wasn't around to do it for me. My mother lamented often and loudly about my messy room. One day, she walked in to find all my clothes and toys neatly put away. "You cleaned your room?!" She said, excited. "Naw," I replied. "Donna and Lee Ann did it."  Did you notice how shamelessly I fessed up to the fact that my friends had cleaned my room for me? 

Well as great as it was to have everything done for me as a child, it didn't make the road to adulthood very smooth. While all my classmates were anticipating college, I didn't have a clue if I would even graduate. Though it worried me, it didn't worry me much. That, I believe is another side effect of being the youngest in the family. We are eternal optimists. No worries. It will all be okay.
Not all youngest children are late bloomers but I painfully was. I graduated from high school later than my classmates. When I did go to college, it was at the age of twenty and only after my older sister Linda filled out the paperwork and drove me to take the ACT. My mother saw to it that I was enrolled because my Army colonel dad insisted.

Though he didn’t have the high expectations for me that he did for my brainiac older sister Linda, he did have my college career mapped out. His plan? Go to business school and become…wait for it because this is hilarious…AN EXECUTIVE SECRETARY! Isn’t that a hoot? Dad was extremely intelligent but HELLO! Pampered, absent minded (a.k.a. ADHD) late bloomers like me do not make good executive secretaries. Can you imagine?

After two painful years of business school in which I suffered from extreme anxiety, upset stomach, and dismal grades, I quit. Or should I say Dad let me quit? Off and on for the next ten years, I worked in a daycare. Oh, and can I say this? Childcare work is the most thankless job in the world. It did, however, teach me one thing. I learned I loved children and I knew I wanted to be a teacher.
My twenties were spent in relative solitude. My business school stint had turned me into a shy person. I didn’t date and I stopped going out with friends. My mother, bless her soul was my greatest fan and unfortunately, my greatest enabler. When not working for a tyrant at a daycare, I spent my time reading and worrying because I now knew I was a late bloomer but felt helpless to make it better. 

At the age of thirty, I met a coworker at the daycare center where I worked. For Heidi, the daycare was just a temporary stop on the road to college. Heidi was on fire. She was going to be a teacher and further, she was going to change the world. Even after she left the daycare, and started college, our friendship continued. She couldn’t imagine anyone not going to college and so for over a year, she pestered me to apply for college. I was scared but she wouldn’t let up. I applied to college and started part time in the fall of 1994. 

Unfortunately, my friendship with Heidi didn’t last past the first semester of the night class. I was, after all, a late bloomer and I felt so out of my element with girls who had been in college for a year and who knew exactly what they wanted to teach. Heidi and her college friends seemed snobbish to me. Side note: Heidi is now a professor and child advocate in Florida. Hello. Can we say Facebook stalking? I'm rather shameless about it so don't bother. 

 After that class, I started taking day classes and I made my own friends. These girls didn’t know any more than I did and a few were bigger late bloomers than me. I found my voice and then no one could shut me up. For the first time, I found I was good at school. Making A’s was my fix and I loved school and people asking to make copies of my notes because I always seemed to know what I was doing.
"The Mac Daddy Caddy"
Despite my success in college, I was a late bloomer who lived at home with my mom and didn’t own a car but I tell you what! I was straight A student! Doesn’t that count for something? I graduated at the age of 36. My dad, I think for the first time was proud of me and for my graduation, he gave me his 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. It was in mint condition and the size of a small yacht. My nephew Mitchell dubbed it the “Mac Daddy Caddy.” It drove smooth as melted butter and I loved it. 

The summer after my graduation, I met Kevin, my future husband. My friend Lee Ann (who as a child had cleaned my room) kept telling me about this great guy she had met who was looking for an old fashioned girl. I kept putting it off but finally said yes. It was instant like/love for both of us that July night. 

A month after meeting Kevin, I heard about and applied for a job at a school district thirty miles from home. I got the job. Kevin and I married the following March. Was my reign as the queen of the late bloomers finally over? As much as I made up for lost time, my life's ongoing theme of late bloomer continued. I didn’t have my first child until I was almost forty-four. That wasn’t really my fault but despite my advanced age, I was as inexperienced as most twenty-year-olds. I am now and will always be a late bloomer. Like my childhood self, I have managed to surround myself with people who get that and love me in spite of it.

In the eighteen years, I have been teaching kindergarten, I have met several late bloomers and their despairing parents.   In an effort to calm their fears, I tell them to not give up and that I too was a late bloomer. A late bloomer who has a Master’s degree in education and graduated with a 4.0! That’s the thing about late bloomers, if given enough patience, love and a little push in the right direction, we do eventually bloom.