Sunday, March 23, 2014

Don't worry.

All through elementary school my parents carried me up the stairs to the classroom, five days a week. Every year it was getting harder. I was getting heavier and they were growing weaker, but it was the devil we knew. We only had to cross a narrow street to get there and they could keep track of everything as they could see the building from our balcony and they were just a phone call away. After eight grades (which was how the education system in Poland looked like back then) we had to figure out what to do about high school. It was only going to get harder from that point on, I wasn't getting any smaller or lighter and there was no place I could attend that wouldn't require a drive through Warsaw every morning. My mother confessed years later that she was losing sleep over this for at least two years before my graduation. What will become of me? How can we make it work? It feels silly now. Years later I ended up at Warsaw University which required me to go half way across town every day, first with my parents, later without them, but back then it felt like a really big problem. For a while we considered a bunch of alternative secondary schools, such as "special" or integrated institutions. I remember how even thinking about it would get me really upset. I wanted to be like everybody else. I wanted to compete and be challenged and yes, dare I say it, be the best one in the classroom there is. Places designed for kids with disabilities at the time were known for being more like storage or day care than an actually stimulating place of learning. We've spent so many years, so many sacrifices trying to keep me away from that system and I was always one of the top students. And now I was looking at going back? I really, really, really, really did not want for that to happen. I felt I was being punished and I didn't do anything wrong. I was the success story, the example other parents used when they pulled their Cerebral Palsied kids from special schools and put them in "normal" facilities. If I could do it and succeed, they wanted to try to. And now it felt like we were hitting a brick wall. And it had nothing to do with me not being "able" enough, because just on my scores alone I could've competed for a spot in one of those top ranked Warsaw high schools. It was a host of reasons, very few having anything to do with my potential. We were powerless.  And then something happened . Another elementary school in our area was being converted into a high school. It didn't have a name yet (and I ended up getting diplomas with that section crossed out for about three years) but it was a regular school. A school that "walking" kids went to. I ended up applying and passing early admission exams to their advanced math, physics and computing profiled class. Granted, I didn't care about math or physics, not in the slightest. But this was the only "advanced" program of any kind the school offered and it was only a few blocks away. This was then that mu mother told she learnt not to worry too much in advance as things tend to sort themselves out in the end. Looking back I regret we were not more adventurous and ambitious. I could have easily tried out for one of those snobby schools in town. But then I ended up graduating from one of the top law schools in the country. My high school didn't have traditions, didn't have rituals or famous alumni, but as it turned out I got to compete in life with the best of them. Yes, my high school experience was not fun. I didn't have many friends, I was stressed 24/7 and I did not enjoy those years at all, but perhaps I emerged on the  other end a better person because of it? High school after all came with a set of challenges of its own. It took only a little concrete to create a ramp over the 3 little steps leading to my primary school's door. My highschool had an impressive set of stairs- a physical exercise just to get it. Problem solvers we are, we also found a solution. My dad designed an elaborate ramp that went around in twists and turns and then demanded that the local authorities build it. And they did. The school decided they should do their part to accommodate me as well. And they renovated one of the top level bathrooms to include a wheelchair accessible cabin. Of course you had to climb up the stairs to get there as the building had no elevators. At the time I didn't like the idea, as I was going through  my "I don't want to be treated any different" phase and this I felt put the focus and the attention on me. My parent's backs finally got some rest as it was my classmates who carried me to the rooms in my wheelchair this time around. And I got to stress over normal, every day things like every other kid- like my math teacher who scared the living daylights out of me or physics that I grew to loathe with great passion, or our biology professor who would routinely give failing grades on her first round of  questions.

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