I was born in 1970 to two young Italian-Americans. Both sets of grandparents were right off the boat from Italy. My mother was raised with a brother who is brain-damage and has cerebral palsy. Both parents grew up in a South Philadelphia, and both families were strict Roman Catholic. Our family was the first to move to New Jersey.
As I grew up, I learned my role in my family. I was taught that as a woman, we take care of our family before we take care of ourselves. I can remember my mother saying “You need to find a good guy to take care of you.” I was supposed to get married right out of high school and raise a family, just like my mother.
The neighborhood I grew up in was a middle-class neighborhood, barely any racial diversity in school or in our neighborhood. I had started out in a Catholic school and switched to public school by fifth grade. I began my very first week of public school being bullied and harassed because of a speech impediment. Besides having trouble talking, I was having trouble doing the work. Throughout high school, I was antisocial, suicidal and always in trouble. A guidance counselor actually told my mother that I would amount to nothing. Not one guidance counselor helped me, nor did any teachers. They seemed to pass me through the grades with all D’s and F’s, just enough to get by.
The only refuge I had was my art teacher, probably the only class I never skipped. I would have lunch in her class and helped her with all the special education children. The special education children didn’t care that I stuttered, and I felt safe, like at home. By 12th grade I dropped out and went for my GED.
My twenties were a finding path for me; odd jobs, living home, and I barely going out; I was petrified of world. The world I grew up in was harsh and my parents allowed me refuge in their house. One time, I dated a Polish man from Camden, my parents hated him. But to me, it was the most amazing time for me – because I saw a whole other world, poverty, graffiti, and lots of nationalities. I simply loved it.
It wasn’t until I was 32 years old, still living at home, that I met my current husband. He was a Rowan University Music Education graduate and had just got hired at a local elementary school. He convinced me to go to college and do something with my life. As I struggled through general education classes, he was working on his Masters degree in guidance counseling. He was convinced that there was a learning disability. A neuropsychologist found out that I have; ADHD-SCT, weakness problems in language processing and with my binocular vision. This came to no shock to me but at least I knew what was wrong and found out ways to work on it.
I’ve analyzed myself so many times over the years. I’ve been to numerous therapists to try and help me through all my times of depression and anxiety.
I feel as a mother, is it my place to make my daughter, better than me; the opposite of how I was raised. Every child in this world should be told that they can do and be anything. Joyce Putnam (2005) said “Often, conditions in schools are the opposite of those considered positive for learning communities” (p.62); this was so true for me. Every child needs someone to believe in; I had not one person growing up. I was pushed through school, struggling, and not one person helped or cared; until my husband. Children need to believe in someone.
According to Putnam (2005), “ If people develop throughout their lives, as we believe they do, then individuals can hardly be blamed for being at the development stage they happen to occupy” (p. 89). As a child, I was pushed into a life that I didn’t deserve. I was brought up to be something I didn’t want to be. I allowed my parents and childhood bullies to dictate my life. It wasn’t until my last suicide attempt that I realized that I couldn’t live like this anymore; I needed to take control of my life and stop blaming the past for what had happened. It takes one person to believe in you and I had to wait till I was 32 to find mine.
A I look back and reflect on what I have written down, I’m not sure if writing this cultural autobiography has actually helped me are just sent me into a deep depression. It’s a lot of feelings that I have suppressed among the years which I just rehashed. I literally cried the entire time I was writing the Narrative part trying so hard to condense it.
However, as I sit here and type this, I find that even more I want to be an educator. Why, because, the values that I was raised with and the shortcomings that I had to overcome is something that has shaped me. As I read the book Urban Teaching, Lois Weiner explains John Dewey and his educational theories. She states (2006)“ Dewey explains that being reflective has three aspects: being whole hearted, open and responsible.(p.20)” I was raised not to be anymore than what I already had, never to venture, sheltered and always afraid of the outside world. The world is amazing and beautiful place; there is art everywhere we look. All children can learn something, it doesn’t have to be all A’s or B’s and it doesn’t have to be perfect. Each child in this world brings an amazing gift of life and that gift needs to be shown every side, not just one close-minded side. That life needs to learn how to fly.
Putnam, Joyce (2005). Organizing and Managing Classroom Learning Communities: A Way to Prevent Bullying (Fourth Edition). McGraw-Hill Companies
Weiner, Lois (2006). Urban Teaching: The Essentials. Teachers College, Columbia University