I have an apology I need to make.
I have needed to make this apology for half of my life.
I’ve tried to find the person I needed to apologize to on Facebook, but finding someone named “Abby Anderson” on Facebook is harder than finding Waldo. I couldn’t ever find the right person.
Mrs. Anderson was my high school choir teacher. We met my freshman year. And I acted like a brat. I’m not sure why, because I’m not normally a mean person. I’m sure I was as self-absorbed as many teenagers are. If I had to figure out exactly why I behaved the way I did, I couldn’t even say. I’m sure I’m not the first former student to owe a teacher an apology and I won’t be the last. But I owe it, nonetheless.
Mrs. Anderson had a way of pulling shy, awkward, or picked on kids out of their shells through music. She fussed over them and made them feel special. I wasn’t a shy or awkward kid. I wasn’t picked on. I was pretty (though I didn’t feel particularly pretty) and athletic. I did well in school. I had a pretty singing voice. Outwardly, I looked like a popular, successful student. Inwardly, my self esteem suffered terribly. I wished I was one of the students that Mrs. Anderson fussed over.
But how could anyone have known I needed to be pulled out of my shell? I made sure the appearance of my shell was perfect, though I struggled with things no one could see. Of course they couldn’t see them. I would never let anyone see that I wasn’t perfect, and the pressure I put on myself wore on me. We all have our different ways of coping with things. Some use drugs or alcohol, food or lack of food, cut themselves, etc… and some of us become obsessed with being perfect. In my opinion, this can be just as much an unhealthy behavior as any other method of “self medication”, but we tend to accept obsessive perfectionism as just the way someone is. I don’t know about other perfectionists, but the more outwardly perfect I appeared, the more inwardly down on myself I was.
I’m not sure how many other people have this habit, but I’ve come across it in my marriage, too. I appear happy and fine to my husband, meanwhile, I’m inwardly struggling with X and Y, and he hasn’t a clue — but I expect him to know exactly how I’m feeling and exactly what to do. It doesn’t count if I tell him. Did you hear that, Chris? You’re supposed to know! Maybe this is a trait of being too proud to admit anything is wrong, or maybe it’s a female trait. I don’t know.
I think I was jealous of the attention some of my peers received. The longer I live, the more I notice that when people are very mean, jealousy is often the cause. Not that jealousy in any way excuses the way I behaved. There’s no excuse really. And apologizing, especially publicly, is so. freaking. hard. to do. Does anyone like apologizing? Apologizing requires humility. It requires the death of the ego… to admit we were wrong about things we would rather maybe forget. But I’m a Catholic, so I ought to be able to make a good confession here, right?
At the end of my freshman year, Mrs. Anderson asked for anonymous critiques about her class and how the year had gone. Mine was not nice. It was downright mean. To say anymore would be too awfully embarrassing. I can’t believe I could ever be so hurtful. Mrs. Anderson figured out it was me who wrote it, which made me want to cry. I wished I hadn’t wrote it, at the same time as not even understanding why I wrote it.
Fortunately, Mrs. Anderson gave me the benefit of the doubt and I remained her student. She didn’t treat me any differently after. She selected me to be on the Madrigals head table for the following year, and encouraged me to do solo and ensemble. I continued to love singing in choir, and remained in chorus throughout high school.
My junior year, I again found reasons to be unhappy and mean to Mrs. Anderson. She was adopting a baby from a foreign country that year, and during class, we would sometimes talk about the adoption. One day during class we had a baby shower for her, and one day we watched the video of her welcoming her new daughter home. Having never been a mother, I didn’t get it. I complained to my peers about spending class time on baby stuff. I started writing down all the things that made me unhappy during choir. I don’t even want to admit it, but I said I wished she would get fired. (What the heck was wrong with me?!) Mrs. Anderson heard about it, and her feelings were terribly hurt. Who wouldn’t be hurt? I should have been happy for Mrs. Anderson, but all I could do was complain and be difficult.
[I should say here that I was the last person I ever would have imagined as a mother. I was going to sing in a band or play sports in college or be a chemical engineer. I didn’t get the whole mother thing AT ALL. I wasn’t even a good babysitter. I would NOT have hired my high school self to babysit my children! I didn’t understand kids and I didn’t want them. I didn’t want to talk about them in choir. Still not an excuse.]
Mrs. Anderson spoke to me about my most recent conduct, which could have been straight out of the movie Mean Girls. I think I cried. I think she cried. We were okay after that. Mrs. A. still didn’t kick me out of her class or treat me differently. She chose me to sing a solo at the Christmas concert and again chose me for the head Madrigal table. She still loved me, despite my completely atrocious actions. When I think of the patience that some teachers have, and the terrible way that students treat them… and yet they don’t give up on those students, it brings tears to my eyes.
I don’t think anyone who knows me now or sees me on a regular basis… anyone who sees me parent my kids, or volunteer somewhere, or coach baseball, or teach snowboard lessons, could ever imagine that I acted like such a brat to my high school choir teacher. I did. It’s humiliating to admit. But my humiliation really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I want her to know how sorry I am. I have wanted to say sorry for so many years.
The spring of my junior year I became pregnant with my first child. I was scared and felt very alone. Everyone around me was telling me that I couldn’t be a good mom. That I wasn’t ready. Nurses and a doctor pressured me to have an abortion. Others told me I needed to give my baby up for adoption. The number of people who told me my future was ruined thanks to my pregnancy was depressing. And though I never wanted to be a mother and had never imagined myself as one, all I wanted was to mother the little person growing inside me.
But it was hard. I was tired. People were whispering about me and staring at my belly, though no pregnancy belly existed yet. I was having problems with dizziness and fainting in my first trimester, so I went in Mrs. Anderson’s office one day to explain that I was pregnant and ask her if I could sit in a chair during choir instead of stand. I expected another mean comment, like the ones I’d received from others — though I should have known better. Maybe I thought I deserved a mean comment.
But no mean comment was forthcoming. Mrs. Anderson — a new mother herself — smiled at me, and whatever emotion she meant to convey, I got the impression that she was happy for me. Not happy for me to go through being a pregnant teen. But happy for me to be a mother. I have to tell you that in the ocean of disappointed looks, dismay, and predictions of the ruination of my life, I welcomed her happy and supportive reaction. She told me congratulations. I felt she was looking out for me.
I have long been an advocate for better treatment of pregnant women, and though I didn’t plan for my apology to include this, I feel like I need to say it. Our culture should be ashamed of the lack of support we give pregnant women. The way we blame them. The way we view them as burdens. The way we take them to a clinic and pressure them to make a choice, as if that choice will never again affect them. The way we shame them and act like they climbed on top of themselves and got themselves pregnant. Perhaps, if we changed the way we treat pregnant teens and young women, they wouldn’t feel alone and desperate at a time when they already feel vulnerable from pregnancy.
If Mrs. Anderson — who didn’t owe me anything, who I’d probably nearly driven crazy — could see the light in my pregnancy in the sea of people who could see only darkness, I could begin to see the light, too. From that moment on, I was so strong that no comments could affect me, no stares could kill my happiness. I was going to be a mother, and I was going to be a good one.
I don’t think I deserved to be treated so kindly by Mrs. Anderson after what a pain in the ass I was. But if I think about it, none of us really “deserve” anything, yet time and again, we are lifted up by the kindness of people like Abby Anderson. (God’s work. Our hands.) I’m so glad she didn’t give up on me. I hope I am on my way to becoming a person who lifts others up.
The other day, one of my former classmates tagged me on Facebook in some high school Madrigal pictures. I looked closer at the pictures. Abby Anderson had posted them. Oh my gosh! It was Mrs. Anderson! She probably wished my classmate hadn’t tagged me. I knew I was a terrible memory in her time spent teaching at Sycamore High School. Maybe she forgot who I was and what I did. I could only hope. Then Mrs. Anderson friended me, and a short while later, I knew it was time to apologize. Her daughter, Sophie, is just a little older than my oldest child (I’ve gone on to become a mother of four. Mothering has healed my heart from adolescent pain like I never knew it could. And I can actually say that I think I’m a fantastic — not perfect — mother, despite always knowing growing up that I would make a terrible one!)
So that was a long way of getting to it, but here is my apology: Mrs. Anderson, I am truly sorry for how I acted in your class, and truly grateful that you always showed love and acceptance in return. I hope you can forgive me, but I sort of feel like you forgave me long before I apologized. You made a very real and huge difference in the way I viewed my teenage pregnant self. I guess I WAS one of the students you fussed over in the end.
I don’t think you ever got to meet him, but this is Devin: my first child — the child you were happy for me about when I didn’t know I was allowed to be. He would love to be in your class. He’s in his football uniform here, but music is his first love… he plays piano, trombone, drums, and a little bit of guitar; recently he played the part of the Beast in his school musical (Beauty and the Beast). He competes in history bees, loves writing computer code, he’s taller than me now, he’s a wonderful big brother, he was a groomsman in my wedding, I’m proud to say he has more manners than his mom did in high school… and of course, he sings in choir.
I understand now the joy of being a mother, and I know you must be as proud of Sophie as I am of Devin.