When I was moving up to grade four, they decided to take six of the most advanced from our grade, of which I was one, and add them to a split grade four/five class. Suddenly, the group I had been with since age five, I’d only see at recesses. I found it quite stressful to be in a new environment.
I’m not sure what their thinking was in splitting us up. If it was to give us an advantage somehow, I don’t think it worked. In fact, I’m sure it backfired. My marks plummeted for the first time in my educational career, beginning in grade six, and my shyness became paralyzing, even once I was back with my former classmates in grade eight.
Up until grade five, I was a good student, actually a very good student, straight A’s right through. The only comments about me personally, were that I was very shy. An understatement if there ever was one. In grade five I was even the teacher’s pet. My Scottish teacher, Mr. Morris let me do whatever hairbrained schemes I’d come up with, like organizing a beauty pageant in class. Yeah, dumb ideas like that.
In grade six, my teacher, Mr. Willinsky, was a hippie, and he was my teacher for two years, since I’d be in this split class until I finally rejoined my class again for grade eight when the upper half of my class went on to highschool. He also followed the thinking of the time, and put all our desks in a circle rather than in rows, and it ratcheted my stress level through the roof to have everyone looking at me every time I answered a question.e ev
If there was one good thing about that time, it’s that I became an avid reader, getting lost in the world of books such as Harriet the Spy, Island of the Blue Dolphins and Nancy Drew mysteries. I also turned inward and began writing. I was a dreamer, and to many I would seem to be clueless, but I was processing all that happened around me, and imagining better realities. My writing consisted of journals and stories, the most significant was one about a fictional best friend of mine who dies of cancer. I don’t think I even have it anymore, but my hippie teacher read it an encouraged me in my writing. I guess he wasn’t so bad after all, even though he was a hippie.
My shyness was at a crisis point, paralyzing my actions. At the same time, I became more solid in my faith and that made me even more pensive, looking at the world through a new lens. I had my first crush in grade five, and after that, it was one ‘love affair’ after another, all in my mind, of course. I was too scared to actually talk to any boys.
I didn’t struggle with acne or anything like that, but I had body image issues, like most girls. I kept my hair short and was slow to develop, so I would sometimes be referred to as a boy. It didn’t help that my real first name was unpronounceable and would always need to be repeated. See my blogpost, What's in a Name? http://piafinn.blogspot.ca/2008/09/whats-in-name.html It was so bad that in grade six one boy gave me and my friend nicknames. She was chubby and I was flat-chested, so he called us Fatso and Flatso. Horrible, wasn’t he?
Overall, not a great time in my life. My mother’s alcoholism became worse and since she was my only parent, I tended to want to be anywhere but home. I especially loved being in Christian homes. I was determined that was the type of family I wanted to have and would hold out until God brought a Christian man into my life. At the same time, my mother became more hostile to my new faith and at first, forbade me from seeing my Christian friends. My sister’s intercession, convincing her it was better I was there than in trouble somewhere, softened her stance, and my faith grew.
Some people I knew, two teens, had committed suicide by overdose. In spite of all my issues, that was never something that crossed my mind, thank God.
A book that was helpful to me at that time was Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hanna Hurnard. The main character in that allegory was Much-Afraid, and I could relate to her so well. It encouraged me that I could grow and overcome on this journey with The Shepherd, and one day have a new name.
Books became my friends, and I began reading fiction. I especially liked Biblical, historical fiction and recall a book called Twice Freed, about Onesimus. I also learned so much just from my Bible reading, although it would have helped to have someone to explain things to me or to even have a commentary or study Bible. I wasn’t attending church so I had no one to explain the big picture to me. That’s probably why I am particularly fascinated with writing the Scarlet Thread; Discovering Christ in all of Scripture. It is so amazing to see Christ in the O.T. narratives and symbols. It connects the testaments and helps me to see the Bible as one book instead of two, or sixty-six.
Our circumstances and environments shape who we are, and those critical years shaped my faith, my love for reading and writing, and even my introverted personality. I guess I can’t complain too much, since I survived, but I wouldn’t wish those years back. Overall, that particular small town holds more painful memories than happy ones, and it was not surprising that when I moved to Toronto at age twenty, I changed my name. I had mostly outgrown my shyness and I was stronger in my faith. It was a fresh start for me. Like Much-Afraid, I finally had a new name.