Friday, October 25, 2013

The Lessons We Learn with Our Confident, Bright Young Girls

Katie had the day off school for Parent-Teacher conferences.  My meeting with her teacher was at 9AM.  I'm not a morning person, so Katie has learned to keep herself occupied until her mom is ready to leave the house by noon for fun, kid-centered activities.  If I can get myself out of bed at all.  We certainly usually don't have time to spend a full day anywhere, but because of the conference at her school, I was up, showered, and ready for the day anyway.  We headed out to the Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead to go on a hay ride, play at the pumpkin patch, and feed some baby goats.  Who knew it'd turn into a life lesson.

Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead
Overland Park, Kansas

My sertraline must be kicking in.  I went back on it recently and I feel much better.  I actually look forward to getting out of bed and participating in life again.  Especially when it means doing fun stuff with my kid.   I get a kick out of life's little lessons once again.

Becky and Katie Carleton
Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead Pumpkin Hollow

Other than the hayride itself, which was definitely the highlight of our day, Katie's favorite part of the Farmstead was inside the replica of a one-room school house.

Katie Carleton (left, pink jacket) in front of the one-room school house
Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead

A volunteer stood at the front of the class and had each child sit at an old desk with a slate and a piece of chalk.  The volunteer wrote her name on the chalk board at the front of the class.  She wrote in proper cursive like a real teacher would, "Miss Courtney."  

She instructed each child to write their own name on the slate in front of them.  

Katie writing her name on the slate inside the one-room school house
Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead

I watched Katie try to copy Miss Courtney's cursive, then erase her attempt with the cloth napkin provided.  They don't teach cursive in school anymore.  Katie re-wrote her name in her best non-cursive handwriting and held it up for the teacher to see.

"Good, good," Miss Courtney said.  

Katie set her slate down and beamed.  She would have made it back in the day.  Katie responds well to rules and regulations and structure.  I do not.  I don't care if my handwriting is sloppy.  I'm skeptical of, not eager to please, people in authority.

After Miss Courtney's prepared speech about the history of rural schools in Kansas, she asked if there were any questions.

Katie's hand shot up immediately.  When I was growing up I was too shy to talk in class.  I chuckled to myself and recalled a couple hours earlier, during my conference with her second grade teacher, being told how confident and bright our child is.  I beamed.  I guess the opinions of people in authority mean more to me than I admit.  

I'm a total sucker for good comments about my kid.  One of my goals as a parent, and it's a lofty one I admit, is to raise a confident girl, to break the cycle of depression and mental strife too common in my family. 

I know I'm working against genetics.  

My maternal grandmother had severe agoraphobia and would only leave the house to ride the bus to the doctor's office to acquire her "nerve pills".  My mother was admitted against her will to a hospital and administered shock treatment when she freaked out after learning that her husband was cheating on her.  I saw my first shrink when I was eleven after my mom took me to the doctor when I passed out in school and the doctor diagnosed me with anorexia nervosa, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  One of my brothers died of alcoholic liver failure at the age of 49.  My dad's dad died at age 48.  My dad, only 22 at the time, found his dad dead in the shower.  They said it was a heart attack, but Dad said there were tons of empty bottles of booze lying around the house.  It was a couple of days after Dad's mom left town with another man.  Growing up, Dad was a rageaholic, but he's mellowed with age and, I found out a couple years ago, he's on sertraline too.  When I was growing up, the worst thing Mom could say to me was, "You're just like your father."  A long time has passed since she last said that to me, and now that Dad and I are both on sertraline and more stable I take it as less of an insult.

The medications people have access to today have made life better for people with mental illness.  I don't kid myself.  I know not every person living with a mental illness responds well to medication, and I'm also skeptical of Big Pharma and their huge profits.  But my life is so much better now that I have medication that treats my illness.  

Raising a confident girl with my personal and family history feels like a Sisyphean challenge, but I'm compelled to do it no matter what.  I want my daughter's mental health journey to be as smooth as possible.  Each generation pushes the rock up so it's smoother for the next generation.

As I was thinking about all this, Katie's voice interrupted my thoughts.  Miss Courtney had just called on Katie and Katie was asking her question, "What's that?"  Katie pointed to the big black metal thing in the center of the room.

"That's the wood-burning stove.  That's what they would have used one hundred years ago to heat this building.  You were lucky if your desk was by the stove and you were not so lucky if your desk was in the back.  If you were a boy you would have to go out and split wood for the fire.  If you were a girl you would have to go to the well and draw water in a pail and haul it back to the classroom for drinking water."  Miss Courtney seemed delighted telling these modern, spoiled children how rough life was in the olden days.  She continued, her cheeks getting rosy, "One hundred years ago you did not ride the bus to school.  Or have your mom drop you off in a car.  You had to walk.  One, two, sometimes up to five miles, one-way, to school.  And then back home, where you would work on the farm until suppertime and then go to bed."

All the modern, spoiled children sitting there in these old-fashioned desks looked up from their smart phones and stared at Miss Courtney, their mouths hanging open.

"Life back then was rough.  You walked to school.  You had chores both at home and at school.  If you acted bad or didn't do your homework the teacher sat you in the corner and you wore the Dunce Hat."  Miss Courtney walked over to the corner and put on a cone-shaped hat with the word "Dunce" spelled out in bold, black ink.

She stood there, silent, for a moment.  I could hear the wind blow outside.  I was glad the fake school house was fitted with an HVAC system and I considered taking off my coat it was so warm.  

"Which do you think is better?  Going to school one hundred years ago, or going to school today?"  Miss Courtney asked, looking both ridiculous and wise, still wearing the Dunce Hat.

The fake class of modern, spoiled children said in unison, "Today!"

It was an unintended but wonderful lesson for Katie to learn on a day off from school.  I love instructional entertainment.

Another fascinating historical tour that will remind you of how good we've got it in this day and age is The Glore Psychiatric Museum.  Here's a little video blurb about it:

Here's a longer video, although still short at 3 minutes and 35 seconds, with more information about the mental health museum:

My sister Kit and my husband Will, both always up for an unusual adventure, agreed to go on a tour of The Glore Museum with me back in 2010.  I wrote about my mom's reaction here.

Mom is not a fan of psychiatry and does not understand my fascination with its history.  I have to remind myself that it's easier for me to face the history since my modern life is easier than Mom's was.  No matter what I've been through, Mom had it worse.  She was forced to submit to electroshock therapy over forty years ago, back when women had less control over their own lives.  Back when girls were raised to be less confident and more conforming.  Back when we didn't have blogs to brag about the lessons we learn with our confident, bright young girls.

Katie, modeling her Glore Psychiatric Museum T-Shirt