I sat in the car waiting for the a/c to dispel the heat that had waited for me after class. More than the heat, I wanted my fears dispelled. I poured the green tea over the ice. I had found the bottle in the fridge this morning with a note: Some mint and honey for my honey and some Sweet Leaf for my “sweet tea.” Enjoy this on your way home- A little birthday treat! The smooth taste of honey and mint were enjoyable, but this birthday wasn’t.
It was my birthday and also the day of a big presentation. The presentation had gone well, but in my abundance of information, I hadn’t included enough meaningful writing. In breakdown of the presentation, the heads of the program told me that I was a great presenter but I also heard these words: “more intention,” “more focus,” “more direction,” “more writing,” And to top it off, I should watch out for errors in my handouts since they reflect on me as a writer. I felt embarrassed. Not because I had made the mistakes, but because I always make these mistakes. The presentation was me- full of passion and information, but unfocused or mis-focused and most of all, sprinkled with errors. I had stepped in the same holes as always. I felt plagued by my shortcomings. Yes, as I get older, the holes become shallower. Age and maturity shoveling hard-earned dirt into the craters of my youth, but the holes never go away. I wondered if we can change fundamentally or are just shiny, more well-adapted versions of ourselves?
Experts tell us that the energy that we devote to changing our flaws would better served enhancing our strengths. I needed answers from my past. I needed to see if I had changed. Flashback to February 1986. Dionne Warwick and friends had the number single, and Whitney Houston was a hot new singer with plenty of promise. I, on the other hand, was a nine-year-old fourth grader with problems.
The school had me tested and pronounced me weak in reading comprehension and math- so weak that I was sent to the resource room and given an IEP. They recommended that I be evaluated for ADD, yet my parents refused to put me on Ritalin. Other noted weaknesses were handwriting and spelling. My word attack was a first grade level. For those, like me, who think that word attack is getting in a fight with sentences, you are wrong. Word attack is the ability to decipher what letters and words say. But I had a seventh grade word comprehension level, three grades higher than average. I knew the word, but I just couldn’t say it. The tester noted poor levels of impulse control, coordination and reality contact.
My current body is a court-approved example of lack of impulse control, and I still often live in my own world. In addition, I still occasionally mispronounce words that I already know. My students are always amazed that I am an English teacher with poor handwriting who sometimes misspells words. The tester noted that I was physically restless and chewed my collar. Well my collars are now safe, but I can’t say the same for my fingernails or lower lip hair. The test also noted a tendency to give up on difficult tasks although she did say that I responded well to humor and to an unfamiliar adult. Saxophone, piano, and guitar lessons are further evidence to my lack of determination, and many a slumber party was spent in the kitchen with the parents.
I was given the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. As age nine, I had the vocabulary of a fifteen-year-old and a verbal IQ of 140. During the Wechsler Intelligence Scale, I scored a 16 on both the similarities and vocabulary sections, both in the superior range. But I scored a 7 on the digit span almost borderline, which is one group above defective (their word. not mine). Digit span is the short memory of numbers. Today I usually a small notebook in my shirt pocket. It is filled with lists. If I don’t write it down, it is gone.
There it is- a picture of nine-year-old Richard Long. Who am I kidding? There it is- a picture of thirty-three-old Richard Long. We all change. We are all miles from the child that we were, but like our shadows, the child is never far away from us. Christmases or family reunions, we all fall into place. Some adapt, and some don’t. I am okay with it. I’ll chalk this experience up to some hard-earned dirt that makes those holes a little shallower.
– July 2009