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.

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