The Day It Became Good to Be Me

By Daisy Gumin

“If you liked being a teenager, there’s something really wrong with you.” – Stephen King

 

We clinked our glasses and toasted to my graduation.

This day was more than the fake diploma that all of us graduating homeschoolers were handed at the end of the ceremony—a placeholder until we received our general letter of completion in the mail. It was the go-ahead to finally turn the chapter on the past four years—four years that no one expected to be so tender.

 

I hated being a kid. I hated the condescending remarks about how I was “too young” to fear never finding a partner; I hated how that among a host of other fears were dismissed because of my age. I hated sitting at the kids table; I hated the kids menu. I hated needing to be a part of “a group,” which came with the expectation that I was supposed to be making friends.

I don’t think I was meant to be a kid. I never felt like one. I was drawn to adults and the permission they were granted to be themselves. Being so sensitive meant being vulnerable, meant getting hurt a lot; it meant the price to be Daisy was too high.

I knew I wanted to be homeschooled since I was in 2nd grade, although I didn’t really understand what that meant. I felt exposed in school, like an open wound. And as I grew older, the kids got meaner. I was the only kid who cried in school, or so it seemed. I spent most of my time in the school psychologist’s office, whether it was because I was mortified that I felt slower than everyone else in class and was never called on to answer questions, or because I felt pummeled by the callousness of the other students. I thought, I’m not meant to be here.

Asking to stay at home with my mom was an automatic no because she commuted to and from the city for her publishing job every day.

Homeschooling was the topic of most of our conversations when I was in 7th grade, after I was bullied, as were the other Jewish kids in the school, by a group of 11-year-old boys who threw pennies and taunted us with slurs.

I was one of many called down to the principal’s office and asked if I’d heard anything about the incident, to which I said yes.

After I finished answering the principal’s questions, I returned to the lunchroom where my friends waited to find out if I’d told on “the boys,” to which, again, I said yes.

“Why did you do that?” they pecked. Apparently, being honest was such a dreadful breach that, according to my friends, I needed to apologize—apologize—to the boys.

They held their stance until the end of the school year. These were the early days of Facebook (at least early days for Facebook in my suburban middle school), and they had just learned to provoke via Status Update. Photos of their whereabouts, without me, polluted my newsfeed. I was shut out.

Still, I wouldn’t apologize, as much as I wished I would.

My mom took me out of school a few weeks early that year.

One night, she and I laid on my bed as I cried. She unfolded a piece of paper from her quilted green vest and read a quote from an old Apple Ad:

 “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Through tears and hiccups, I told her, “Mom, it’s really hard to be me right now, but it’ll be good to be me when I’m older.”

The day when it became good to be me arrived on the day I graduated from high school, because then, I no longer had to be a kid.

I no longer had to answer, “So, how do you socialize?”

I’ve never heard anyone ask my mom whether she has friends.

 

On graduation day, I wore my mom’s pink and red ladybug wrap dress. I’d never tried it on, but I’d seen it hanging in her closet since I was a little girl. I slipped into that dress and somehow felt older. I was about to be a grownup, and I was wearing a grownup dress.

There were about 14 homeschoolers who’d all finished serving our 12-year sentences and were set to graduate this year. I suppose I was a part of “a class,” but I only knew two of the others because I was, and still am, uncomfortable with “putting myself out there.” I didn’t feel like a part of this circle. And I blame myself for that, because as much as I hated the notion that I need to make friends to be “normal,” I also hated feeling like a stranger. I like being alone, but that was lonely. There is a difference.

The church room where our graduation was held resembled a black box theater, but with 45-foot ceilings and rows of worn red velvet seats.

The ceremony was, like our group, anything but traditional. One girl entered the graduation floor doing the worm. Another kid showed up as a cardboard cut out because his real self was WWOOFING (farming) in Italy. Another girl wore her purple wig and serenaded the families with her rendition of “Think of Me,” from Phantom of the Opera, while a montage of our baby photos was projected against the back wall.

There were a few commencement speakers, one of which was the Queen of Homeschooling, L. I met L the day I decided to give up on the fantasy that there might be a school out there where I’d feel safe. I met L at her house. My mom stumbled onto her website years earlier in 7th grade when she Googled “Homeschool NYC.” My intention as we entered L’s apartment that day was set to prove to her that I was “normal” – really and needed to be in a “normal” school with “normal” children.

But L proved me wrong. We stayed for over two hours, but I knew I’d be a homeschooler ten minutes in.

Two months later, I enrolled in L’s playwriting and improvisation class.

L believes in a passion-driven education. She encouraged each of us to live with curiosity, rather than going through the motions of traditional curriculums set out by institutions to which we have no connection. L calls schools “prison.”

She talked about her classes the way I remembered them: round-robin style seating, turning writing exercises about life’s in-between moments into plays, everyone wearing socks and communicating for thirty minutes in gibberish to encourage having intention behind our lines, my calling her at night with questions that I couldn’t answer about why my character was boring and why I’ve never been able to write a climax.

She spoke about how much she wanted each us to love to learn. She wanted us to care about learning.

The next commencement speaker didn’t use notes. T ran one of the homeschool bases, where several classes took place a day and where I had that first taste of L’s course. T wore a long, purple, pixie-like dress, and little black glasses that framed her twinkly face. She told stories about her own high school graduation, “back when kids wore safety pins in their cheeks,” and about Red, her favorite teacher, who had a bird’s nest of orange hair.

T said we needed to remember to live lifereally live, embracing all of the flavors of life, from the beautiful to the terrifying.

Although these last four years have been messy, I have lived, I have experienced. I trailed the woods for twelve weeks, three of those days completely alone. I was away from home for a year, and moved with my mom with only two weeks notice to New York City. I’ve climbed mountains (literally); I’ve lived with strangers who now feel like sisters, and I finished high school like I’d wanted to since second grade: as a homeschooler.

Graduating from high school meant it was finally okay to be me. Even if this demarcation was only in my mind, my mind was where it mattered most.

Share your thoughts.

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  • Alex Willging

    Thanks for sharing, Daisy. I felt the same way about not wanting to be a kid, or at least not feeling “normal” like the other kids. Your story is engaging and I’m glad you’ve found your joy in life since then.

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  • Mindy Spano

    Dear Daisy, thank you for sharing your story. It truly resonated
    with me because much of my experiences in adolescents were very similar to
    yours. I’m so glad that you now feel good and comfortable with being you and
    hope you always feel that way, no matter the challenges you encounter!

    I quit school at the age of 13 for some of the same reasons
    you described. I often thought I wasn’t meant to be there, never felt like I “fit
    in”, and honestly never really wanted to “fit it.” I knew people and I guess
    people knew me, but I was OK with not being popular and never really felt I
    wanted or needed to be a part of a specific group. Maybe much of this was increased
    because my family life was a bit unstable and we moved a lot, sometimes every 6
    months; which meant I had to change schools pretty much every time and start
    all over. It all came to a head when we moved, once again, to a new school. I
    ended up having a panic attack, collapsing in tears, and left the school,
    refusing to ever go back. A couple months later, when it was obvious to my
    parents and the school that no amount of convincing or threats were going to get
    me back there, the school district ended up sending a teacher to my house one
    hour a day to drop off and collect homework. I eventually tested out and received my
    general equivalent diploma at 16. I believe things work out the way they’re
    supposed to and while not typical I loved finishing out my schooling at home.

    I am turning 40 this month and I can truly say that I am now
    content with who I am and how I’ve turned out. I do still encounter challenges with
    raising my own children/teenagers and knowing when and how far to push them to
    socialize and helping them to be more comfortable in their own skin.

    Take care and best of luck on your journey!

  • Lou Pare-Lobinske

    That’s okay, I cry on the job (have done it twice at least). I wonder if low emotional control counts as a characteristic of introversion. And I am still learning that it is okay to be me. I bought the story on Toastmasters hook, line and sinker; it never occurred to me to look at it as extrovert propaganda until I read “Quiet.” Now I’ve quit my Toastmasters group (maybe never to return). Thank you for sharing your story.

  • AspiringMinimalist

    Stephen King, for the win!

    I literally spent three years during my high school lunch periods (after I finished eating) reading Stephen King…at a table…by myself…happy as could be. My senior I played hearts and cribbage with guys on my wrestling team. We played hearts and cribbage because I insisted. I insisted because hearts and cribbage appear in Stephen King’s writings.

    I too have always been drawn to people older than myself. This was true when I was in elementary, middle, and high school. I am now 28 years old and it continues to be true. However, I feel I am starting to find friendships with people close to my age are more desirable than they have ever been. Unfortunately, the process of finding (and keeping) close friends isn’t any easier (probably harder really) as you get older.

  • roger blomgren

    Nice reading thing, indeed. Got one question though, how can you make your own dairy? Just curious

  • Marlana Sherman

    I loved this. I loved reading about your homeschooling and how free that you feel now that you have graduated. Good luck to you.

  • Anamika S.

    After reading two of your essays, I have realized what an amazing writer you are… You express yourself so beautifully that it touches the heart… It’s like someone’s writing on my behalf, though with a different story line, but with the same emotional “outlook”(If you know what I mean…). So, they touch you in the heart even more… Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences (I say “wonderful” because even our worst experiences teach us something every time… so, they make our life wonderful, better later on… So, by that logic, every experience is wonderful..! (Provided, we are willing to learn…) (That’s the principle by which I live.)).
    Keep up with your good work and keep inspiring…. <3 🙂

  • Jenna Kersten

    Thank you so much for your words, Daisy! In addition to your incredibly courageous words, I loved your description. You really made both L and T come alive, even in this short piece. Beautiful writing, and best wishes with all of your future adventures! 🙂

  • lisafeythe

    Daisy, I have shared your previous entry with many introvert friends and included a link to it in my latest blog post for Highly Sensitive People (not all of whom are introverts). You are brave and I’m clapping with applause for your sharing of insights with all the Quiet Revolution readers. For me, elementary school was the place I felt safe. I loved school until I had to enter junior high … that meant going to a very large school farther away from home and the beginning of not feeling like I fit in, the beginning of realizing peers could be cruel. Like many other readers who have shared here, I am still learning how to cast off the inhibitions that have kept me from fully expressing and loving who I am. You inspire me. Thank you so much. We appreciate you!

  • I really enjoyed reading your essay and it reminded me of a saying I have quoted many times to nieces and nephews – “we spend most of our teenage year trying to fit in with others then after we graduate we spend the rest of our time trying to be unique and stand out from the crowd.”

  • Wendy

    Thank you so much, Daisy, for sharing your life and your experiences with us. Your essay really moved me, and spoke to me. I strongly related to your feeling regarding childhood and coming into your own being fully. I am 47 years old, and I am just beginning to understand that it is a gift to be truly me. I attended school from kindergarden through college. It was an intense struggle for me given my quiet nature, and my sensitivity. At the same time, my mother was not in a place where she could have home schooled me. I suppose that we all have to find the value within our own lives, and make choices to grow rather than to be quashed by the sum of our lives…

  • Patrick Wellons

    Thank you for sharing this. As I am just now at 45 finding it OK to be me, each person’s story is like another piece of the puzzle. I have a 10 year old daughter and 16 year old son to whom I am trying to pass on that it is ok to be yourself.

  • MBW

    I always felt a deep connection to Apple’s Think Different campaign but had forgotten about it until I read your essay. Thank you for the reminder. I needed that today. Best wishes for a great life – sounds like you are headed for big adventures.

  • Oh Daisy, I love love LOVE this essay! Thank you for writing it. It brought back so many feelings I lived through as a sensitive, introverted teenager. I totally agree that being an adult is socially easier than being an adolescent; there is not the pressure to fit into a mold that can be so foreign to one’s nature. I especially love this part: Through tears and hiccups, I told her, “Mom, it’s really hard to be me right now, but it’ll be good to be me when I’m older.”