1963 San Francisco
I looked out the gigantic windows in my second-grade classroom at Laguna Honda School in San Francisco. I could feel a little bit of the outside air breeze into the room. I wished I could be out there, anywhere but sitting here in the classroom.
SMACK! I jumped as Mrs. Applan’s yardstick hit my desk almost grazing my face.
“Mary, pay attention,” the teacher ordered.
I sat up straight and looked at the blackboard in the front of the classroom. Stuff was written on the board, but I wasn’t sure what it was all about. I was never sure.
“Did you hear me?” said Mrs. Applan.
I mumbled, “Yeah.” I slumped down a little in my chair.
“It’s yes I heard you,” Mrs. Applan continued as all eyes in the classroom focused on me and the teacher. This was beyond horrifying.
“Yes,” I said finally. I was usually the most talkative in the class except for now. In fact, I got in trouble for talking too much on many occasions. I had to write my name on the board so many times that I lost count. School was not my friend this year, but I attempted to make the best of it.
I only tried because I felt bad for my mom who read books every single day of her life. When I finished first grade, the principal called Mom in for a meeting with the teacher. I was there too. They told Mom that I should go to one of their “special” classes. At that time, they were called “mental retard” classes as if they shoved all the kids who were different into these so-called “special classes.” If you couldn’t speak English, you went to the mental retard class. If you had behavioral problems, chances are that’s where you’d go. Or if you had learning problems, and of course if you really were disabled. The weird thing was, I liked all the kids in those classes. I even stuck up for them in the schoolyard when people picked on them.
I assumed Mom would agree with them. After all, I still couldn’t read and even my younger brother and sister had learned. But no. She yelled at the teacher and principal. “My daughter is smart! She can tell stories off the top of her head and she memorizes every single song she hears on TV or on the radio.” Here I thought Mom was ashamed of me for not being able to read and live up to her high standards, but nope. She stood up for me. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t.
“She’ll get it and catch up, I just know it,” Mom continued. “I want her in the regular classroom.”
So that’s how I ended up in Mrs. Applan’s second-grade class instead of the “special” class, where truth be told, I might have fit in better. But I never told anyone that.
Many years later as an adult and a mom, I would find out that I had ADHD because my youngest daughter Megan had the exact same issues at school and had to be held back in first grade because of it. The psychiatrist who saw my daughter as a teenager was mad that no one diagnosed her sooner. When I was young, nobody knew much about ADHD. That explained so much. I would eventually learn to read and fall in love with books.
I listened to Mrs. Applan drone on about something and write on the board. I didn’t look out the window or even talk to anyone — at least not for a little while. I wanted school to be done so that I could run home and change into my play clothes. Then I could dash around the neighborhood with the gang or climb trees or do whatever I wanted. This was like torture I was forced to endure.
Then Mrs. Applan announced we now had a new music teacher who would come to our classroom three days a week. I perked up a little.
The door opened and a woman with long blonde hair, wearing a flowing skirt of all different colors. She held a guitar and swished into the classroom as Mrs. Applan exited. She smiled and the entire room lit up. I lit up too.
“Hi, I’m Miss Evans, your new music teacher! Let’s sing a song.”
She pulled the guitar close to her and began to strum. Such beautiful notes came from that guitar. Soon all of us sang “Rock Island Line is a mighty fine line,” at the tops of our lungs. Not one kid wasn’t singing. The world was bright and happy again.
She stayed at our school until I was in sixth grade.
That day, I knew I wanted to grow up and be exactly like Miss Evans.