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Baby Brain Cells

When I was in high school there was a lot of pressure to do well and I'm lucky that my own experiences gave me a lot of opportunities. In fact, the junior high I attended was grades 7-9 and the high school was 10-12. Since I got pregnant with Mallory as a Freshman, I was technically in junior high.

It was a shock to so many people because, for one thing, it was just not common. For another, I played basketball, volleyball, ran both cross-country and track and was in show choir ("jazz hands!") and was in the high-track classes for math and English. It just didn't happen to girls like me.

I spent that year being embarrassed about my growing belly and hoping that I didn't lose too many friends not to mention the prospect of raising a baby. My confidence level was shot and low-self esteem came to reside in my brain for many years after that. I had a baby in May of 1986, spent the summer trying to figure out just how I got HERE, and started school at the high school in the Fall wondering how I would juggle it all.

It never occurred to me that everyone would think that I lost brain cells when I gave birth.

When I got my Fall schedule for classes they took me out of the high-track classes and put me in the lower ones. They didn't ask my permission or give me a test which I failed, they just assumed I couldn't do well and all my friends that I made in the "smart" classes seemed to have left me behind. All of a sudden my counselor was suggesting I go to cosmetology school so I could get a job right away. No one asked me if I wanted to finish high school. I wondered why they thought that when that baby came out they thought my brain cells slid out along with her.

It was something I decided to fight and while they refused to put me in the elite combination class called Humanities (2 hours, 2 teachers, high-performing students take Social Studies and English all together in a cluster) they finally gave me a high track English class where I did very well and where I determined that I would major in English Literature in college if I ever got there. Why did they think my reading level was lowered all of a sudden? Why couldn't I, too, appreciate Arthur Miller and Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot?

Slowly, the confidence continued to dwindle, no matter how well I did in classes. Since I decided to take the ACT along with my classmates I was feeling better about staying in school while raising a baby, but I scored so low on it that I've only ever told one person that score and he is sworn to secrecy BECAUSE I CARRIED HIS SONS IN MY WOMB FOR 9 MONTHS. It is an embarrassingly low score and when I told Ken my score one day after he badgered me to know it I cried, but doing poorly on that exam set the tone for how well I would do in school for a long time to come.

By the time I was a senior, I had determined that college had to be my way out. That I wasn't the first 12th grader with a child (a 2 and a half year old by this time!) who has aspirations to continue schooling. I got wise and asked another counselor to help since that batshit who was supposed to encourage me kept on and on about me doing people's hair and nails for a living when I clearly WASN'T ABLE TO DO MY OWN.

Am I the first girl with a kid who wants to go to college? Has anyone else ever wanted to do that? Are there other single mothers at university?

Finally, someone softened to me. She helped me find a university with married housing (there WERE other single mothers there!) and secured financial aid and she did her actual job: she encouraged me and supported my efforts to get to school.

My confidence levels have taken years to get back up. They, the collective "they" of people who thought I wasn't worth a damn, kept me from feeling any sense of worth for a very long time. "They" looked at me with disdain at the Welfare Office when I collected food stamps and a check to live off of for the month. "They" were certain I acquired a taste for government cheese and wanted to spin it so I could work the system. "They" were assured of my low-intellect because I wore a backpack full of books and a kid on my hip. The kid was what they really looked at. They ignored the backpack.

When I spend time freaking out about not doing well in a class, all of those memories flood me and I am paralyzed with fear and loathing and I hear a voice in my head.

You are so stupid. You can't do this. What are you thinking?

That voice needs to shut the hell up. I passed my statistics final and got an A in the course.

"They" can shut the hell up, too.

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Reader Comments (38)

Life happens to everybody. Some of us embrace it and make it work for us, others bemoan what "fate" has made of them. It's obvious you have the courage to embrace life and all it's vagaries and your spirit will encourage others to do the same. I admire your fortitude! God bless!

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie Henderson

oh my, the six hours it took to apply this mascara was shot to hell in the few minutes it took to read this. I cried. It is hard enough to be a teen and not lose all confidence and then have these extra burdens you had along the way.

I always thought it was just me who told herself that she was stupid but I realize now that I learned that from my Mom (who was NOT stupid in the least but had heard that all *her* life from her verbally abusive Dad). It has taken me years to take a new picture of who I really am. I never gave up on me and always seemed to have at least one good soul in my life who didn't give up on me either.

I really respect the path you have trodden to get to this day. You earned that A in that freaking class because you.arent.stupid. I just love you for that, for all the work and sweat and heartache is just part of living a full rich life, isn't it?

I raise my cuppa to you this morning my dear, glad to know the real you, who didn't lose any brain cells during child birth (that comes later, right? During teen raising years?!?)


May 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdeannie

Kelly! You have just become my new inspiration. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for putting yourself out in the open. I have been so afraid to go back to college because I'm 27 and I will need to start over. Four years. Or longer because I won't be able to go full time. But damn it (sorry for the curse), I think I can do this. I CAN do this.

Now...I just have to save some moolah to get this to work.

Congratulations on passing the STAT final! I knew you would. You are an intelligent, compassionate woman. I thank the blogging Gods everday for showing me the way to your wisdom!

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDana

Ummmm....Kelly???? What did I just do? I tried to subscribe to your site because I thought everyone was doing it...and now I have a login name and password? I dunno what I just did. -sighs- See? I'm blogger challenged! :P

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDanaFiles

Kelly, this has got to stop.

You are a constant challenge to my willpower, much as the box of Frango Peanut Butter & Fudge candy that was, for a very brief moment, in the cupboard last week. I keep telling myself that I can't continue to read blogs because they are far too addicting. Especially yours, with its scrumptious new design and, oh yes, its ever-fascinating and challenging themes. Your entry today might even be my absolute favorite so far.

Ok--I get it. I should have known about the stats course. You are one of those people who fret about failing while they're preparing to pass with flying colors. Just for that, I'm going to tell Steve to come over here and post a long comment in statistics-ese. You can pretend that you don't get it, but we'll know better!

Super job!

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSusan (aka LazyClio)

Really, cosmotology not for you? And I thought I had you figured out.

Anyone who reads your blog, understands you've got an above-average mind at work and a drive to succeed knew you were going to kick ass on that exam! & THAT CLASS.

Beautifully written, poignant post. It's hard when those messages get internalized, when somehow you're simplified and boiled down to a minimum because of life choices, life styles, cultural differences, race, gender...whatever. You ran with it, tho. Took that government cheese and showed that with a lil' boost, you'd rock the world. (Maybe I need government cheese?)

As long as you're overachieving in this thing called life - 'cuz girl, you are - I hope you take time to pat yourself on the back, go down the list of all your accomplishments and say, "I done good...AND my hair looks good, too."

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfizzle

Wow.....There is stunned silence for a moment...
Then... the crowd goes wild!
"They", WE, are in awe of your triumph and of course inevitable rise above the BS that was placed before you.
So replace that recording with..

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterImHir

Everyone else said it well, so just let me say I wholeheartedly agree, and am also raising my cuppa in respect and solidarity. F*#@% those people who see only what they expect to see, instead of reality. You ROCK. and congratulations on your "A". I'm sure the people who actually know you are not at all surprised.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDella

Congratulations! You are an inspiration.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Inspiring, indeed. What is it about having a kid in your teens that makes for such strong people later in life? Good on ya, Kelly. Nice work in stats, too. I don't think I got an A in that course. Probably not, anyway.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermike

Kelly... this is incredible!! The inspiring blog entry AND, well, THE BLOG. What a transformation since I last looked at your dot com. I'll be back again and again. Wowee wow. :)

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrenda

Yes, I know you called for people to de-lurk like weeks ago, but I don't follow the rules very well. So here I am now! Wonderful post! The kind of post that makes me want to print it out and shove it under 'their' noses and demand they read it and become human again.


May 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commentersmothergirl

WOW. I think you just gave everyone the most amazing life lesson EVER. The next time I'm feeling sorry for myself and like an overwhelmed clown for not being able to juggle my life and kids--at age 42--I will shut the f^%$ up. Because I can ASSURE you, I never would have had the poise or conviction you had to perservere, at 14, 24, or now. YAY and genuine bravo to you. I mean it.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

Thank you for sharing your story, and I'm so glad you got an A in that class! Stats isn't fun.

As everyone else has already said, you're an inspiration. It makes me so happy that you're an educator, that girls have a strong, capable, intelligent role model like you to look up to.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterErin

Way to go!!

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBusy Mom

Congratulations! Rock it, momma.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commentercoolbeans

I am so happy you passed. I knew you could do it.

As far as the high school thing, I had a simular thing happen to me when I got pregnant at age 20 with my first son. No one could believe I was pregnant. What was I going to do? I told them I am going to raise him and do the things I need to do to be successful. I may not have done all the things I need to do, but I think so far both my sons have come out pretty well.

Thank you for being a strong person and thank you for not giving up. It may not be easy, but you are definately a light in the world.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered Commentertanilan

That post needs to be forwarded to high school guidance counselors and administrators all over the U.S.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

you are an amzing woman...i don't think i have told you that lately! this entry is amazing, this new site is amazing, the layout is amzing, and i really wish it had smell-o-vision, as i need a mid-afternoon pick me up! Thank you for being an inspiration to us all!


May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJenna

Love your new space..found the link on Siobhan's page. Thank you for the wonderful inspirational writing. I'm a new blogger..and must read yours for inspiration. God bless!

Jin (fr Malaysia)
mummy of two gals.

p.s I was in Illinois too..for 6 years while I did my undergrad and grad course in Music.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJin

Oh hell yeah! An A!!!! You rock. Drops in self-confidence plague many of us in high school. I'll never forget the teacher who wrote "average student with average grades" on a questionaire my high school guidance counselor sent out. Never mind that I was a national merit finalist. This woman saw me differently. I say, "screw 'em." If they can't see our fabulousness it's because they're too worried about their own imperfections.


PS: From a teacher's perspective on the whole pregnancy thing: at my school, we give extra time, but that's it. You have to keep up, and we still put in recommendations for the upper-level classes. We don't have enough high-level kids to be pickin' and choosin.' You've got the grades, you're in.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaty

We JUST talked about this! I feel for you. However, you were only fat for how many months? Try be fat your entire life! I wasn't "fat" for about a year in high school. Something happened to me (I will tell you in private if you want - but I've only ever told 2 people) and I decided I didn't deserve to eat. I hurt my body on purpose. My diet was lemonade and popcorn. I worked out 5 times a day (in the summer) and even broke the exercise tape! This still haunts me today with my adventures in dating and my weight issues. Part of me thinks that if I lose a lot of weight - all of those bad feelings will come back to me. I don't know. But enough about have done some AMAZING things since you had your first (and beautiful) child. Be proud! You have an amazing family (and don't forget that I am going out with your husband to the movies tomorrow). And I KNOW that you wouldn't change having Mallory for anything in the world. You just got to grow up A LOT faster than most people.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJ to the Wall

Wow. Now ain't this new site fancy? Your story is awesome, but I'm nosy and I want to know more. Who helped you with the baby when you were a high school? Has Mallory's birth father ever been a part of her life? I read an article one time that this happens to "the smart girls" more often than one would think because these girls tend to be naive. I was impressed with you before as I come back to your blog over and over because you write so well. Now I'm even MORE impressed!! You really are inspiring.

May 18, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMizAngie

isn't there a saying: the one laughs till the last laughs the best? well, Kelly, i've been hearing you laughing all these days!

it wasn't easy, i know. i was a signle mom while in college and working on part time jobs to scrape by.

our past made us who we are. i'm glad we pulled thru.

May 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAafrica

Great post, Kelly. I love your new format.

May 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJill

I am just so glad I know you, you amazing, talented, eduma-cated woman, you.

May 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda

Aw sweetpea! Everyone who knows you knows you are ALL that and a strawberry pot tart. The way you were treated because you were a pregnant teenager and young mom is tragic. But I'm willing to bet your experience is a big part of what makes you rock as a teacher.

Basically the old farts punished you wrongfully and unmercifully. And still you prevailed. My mom went back to college with 5 kids and beat the academic pants off everyone who crossed her path.

I push my smart young nurses to continue their education. I am surrounded by so many smart young things who have rug rats hanging from their skirts we ought to run a daycare. Know what I tell them? Do it while you're young. You don't need to sleep. You don't need fancy cars and fancy clothes. You need to take advantage of all that energy and suck up everything useful that you can while your brain is still functioning like a Ferrari.

I hereby award you the NursePam Award for Awesome Women Who Have Great Things In Their Future.

BTW, congratulations on that A. Professor Prick, eat your heart out.

May 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNursePam

i got pregs with D16 while still studying.. late teens. So glad for my life journey, though it was hard.
HUGE APPLAUSE to you for growing tall and strong through it all. solidarity sista!!!
and congrat's on that fab grade.. A's all the way baby.
:o) k xx

May 19, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkate5kiwis

Yeeeehaaaaa I am doing a dragony "happy bum dance" on your behalf. I TOLD you , didn't I? I knew you would make Professor Prick eat shit! And you did! Mwahhhhhhhh. Go tell Ken he has to smooch you with all he's got, from us :) So proud of you for sticking in there with Prof P and showing him what you are made of. I had a teacher like you, My english teacher as a matter of fact. Mrs Leaght. She rocked my world. She encouraged the "four eyed nobody square bear teachers pet" when no one else would even LOOK at me. My dearest wish is that my boys have the pleasure of having a truly passionate teacher like you in their lives. I can't be as poetic as everyone else. Just know I have a grin from ear to ear just FOR YOU!

Professor Prick........ F%@# YOU! nah nah nah nah nah nah.

Sorry :)

Love to that delectable rear end, and the rest of you as well. Is Ken rewarding your hard work? hmmmmmm lol

And yes I'm wearing pants, but only cause you MADE ME!

Love Yvonne

May 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterYvonne

Hi there Lady,

Love this entry (particularly the way you ended it *grin*). It's funny all the women I know have that little nay-saying voice in the back of their heads. No matter how beautiful, intelligent, talented, and/or loving these women are, the voice whispers to them that they are flawed, selfish, ugly, stupid, etc. And the thing is, it's never true. I think if we could all learn to look at ourselves with love, like our friends and family do, we'd all be happier and be able to accomplish so much more with our lives. 'Course, easier said than done - so thank you for doing it in this entry.

As far as your comment on my blog: please be sure to visit Ms. Rowling's fully caffeinated site (rather than just the text-only version I linked to in my entry). You should find the regular URL down at the bottom of my blog in the "Trip the Web Fantastic" list. As for MuggleNet - beware, from it you're only one step away from the Leaky Cauldron website (which is also addictive). *grin*

And yes, I cut and pasted some of that last bit...cut me some slack, it's Friday morning and I haven't had my coffee yet.

I don't know when I stumbled on to one of your sites and then was redirected over here. I am not much older than your daughter and my sister is about the same age as you. My parents died when I was 14 and I moved in with her and people treated her as how I am guessing they treated you. She recieved many dirty looks for appering to have a teenager at such a young age. I sort of know the struggle that you two have had and I am so moved by your story. You have incredible amounts of courage and I applaud you.

May 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Congratulations!!! on the A in Stats!!!!! And you were so worried... You are amazing! I so wish that would have been the fate of my daughter. But I do know several girls who have succeeded as teenage moms and not by going to cosmetology school! Geesh! Sometimes I wonder how counselors get their jobs. Keep it up and NO MORE LOW SELF ESTEEM for you girl!

: ) Sue

May 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSue (Mominator)

Miss Mocha, your blog looks FANTASTIC! I'm putting the new address in my blogroll right now.

I skimmed through the comments, Nurse Pam accidentally called you a "pot tart". BWAhahahaha! I have a Cafepress shop and would be happy to sell your "All that and strawberry pop tart" t-shirt. Just need someone to design it.

I saw your comment on Mary's BlogHer post. Woman, when you, me and Belinda find each other at BlogHer, there is gonna be some SQUEALING!

May 19, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth


Your admiring fan,

May 20, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGraceD

Thanks for sharing. I have had my own encounters with "they" out there. I am happy that you overcame, that you can tell your story, and that you're still going!

by the way, congrats on the site...see, another great accomplishment!

May 20, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMamaAce

Wow, You never cease to amaze me. Congrats on your "A" and for also always believeing in yourself!
Love ya, Lizzie

May 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLizzie

Whoooa; HOLY SHIZZNITS!! I thought MY junior high life sucked, If i ever start complaning just feel free to slap me, cuz i don't deserve your sympathy. :0 whoa.
congatz on the pass too.

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjube jubes

[...] Perhaps you can start by reading this post that talks a little about it, but I can certainly offer some details here until that “About” page comes together. Some things are just factual and some are lessons I’ve learned along the long hard road I like to call You Dumb Ass Girl, What Were You Thinking? [...]

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