My First Crush

Hi everyone. Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is first crushes. Let me share.

My first crush was a boy called MJ (that is, he had a double first name). I think he was a year younger than me. I was ten at the time and in the fifth grade at the school for the blind. Back then, we would always say we were like 90% in love with the other one. I don’t know where the percentages came from or if kids in other schools used them too. I certainly remember telling MJ that I had a crush on him and at that point, several kids in his class pushed me to kiss him. I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek but till this day feel intense shame about it.

I don’t remember feeling heartbreak when that “relationship” ended. It only lasted for a couple of weeks anyway. I do know that MJ passed away when I was in high school, something I didn’t find out about until many years later.

My second crush was a girl named Layla and I’m not even sure I’m spelling that right. I was fourteen at the time and had only met her once. She was in the grade below me at secondary school. At the time, I was still about as clueless about love as I’d been at age ten. After that first encounter, I never met Layla again and so I never told her I had a crush on her.

For years, I’d have fleeting crushes on various girls and boys who paid me attention, but I never told them. I never quite fantasized about having a husband (or wife, since same-sex marriage is legal here) when I’d grow up. In fact, when my now husband told me he was in love with me, I wasn’t so sure whether to reciprocate it. I did like him, but did my feelings go beyond mere friendship plus a little puppy love because he was paying me attention? In the end, it didn’t really matter, as our relationship and now our marriage is a happy one.

Early Experiences With Medical and Dental Care

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is doctors’ or dental visits. I have many early memories of medical care, probably because I, being multiply-disabled, often had to visit the doctor. Until I was about nine, that is, when my parents, my sister and I moved across the country and my parents stopped taking me to doctors altogether except when I had everyday ailments.

An interesting question Lauren asks in her original post, is whether your parents were scared of doctors or dentists. Well, truthfully, yes, mine are. My mother had her own fair share of traumatic experiences involving doctors, among which a situation that would’ve been considered medical malpractice had it been in the U.S. surrounding my premature birth. My father, I don’t know. He probably feels he’s smarter than most doctors and hence considers spending time with them a waste of his own time.

All that being said, up till the age of about nine, I was taken for medical care when I needed it. I don’t think I was really taken for health checks except those part of preemie follow-up. I don’t remember most of these visits, except the ones to the eye doctor. My eye doctor was always, and I mean literally always running at least two hours behind schedule. Waiting in the waiting room for her was the worst. Well, no, the second worst: the absolute worst was waiting for her to come back after she’d put dilation drops into my eyes.

I don’t think I was very afraid of needles as a child. In fact, when I needed to be put under general anesthesia for my various surgeries, as soon as my parents allowed me to make the decision myself between the anesthetic mask and the injection, I always chose the injection. I remember being horribly afraid that I would get the mask when I had to have cataract surgery in 2013, even though I’m not even sure they do this on adults.

One thing I did always remember was that the hospital staff would stick me in my toes rather than my fingers for finger pricks, because the nerves in my fingers should not be damaged because of the fact that I read Braille. I had to have a finger prick last year and told the medical assistant that she was supposed to stick the needle in my toe. She explained that she couldn’t, so I reluctantly agreed to have her stick the needle into the side of a finger I hardly use for reading.

As for dental care, I think I did have proper dental check-ups when I was young. I didn’t have problems with my teeth until I was about eleven and fell and a bit of one of my front teeth broke off. That was the first time I started worrying about my teeth. I did need braces, which was quite an ordeal as the orthodontist never explained properly what I could and couldn’t eat, so there were always parts of my braces getting loose.

I am not very scared of doctors. Dentists though, well, it’s complicated. I am scared of dentists, but also scared of losing my teeth. This has led to some rather odd situations in which I sought out dental care that I might not have needed and didn’t seek out dental care that I did need. Thankfully, now that I live in long-term care, I do get regular dental check-ups and the staff and dentist do try their best to make me feel as comfortable as possible.

Learning to Swim

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is “learning to swim”. There are no specific questions, but we are allowed to interpret the topic as we see fit. Here goes.

I got my first swimming lessons at the special school for the visually impaired I attended from first up to third grade. I, however, was very scared of the water and particularly of the deeper end. I vividly remember my teacher taking me to the deep end and my anxiously asking her if she could stand there. She was quite tall, but even so, she couldn’t. That scared me intensely.

According to my parents, my teachers were just overprotective, so my parents put me in swimming lessons at the pool close by their home. I didn’t need to start at the really shallow end, as I had had some swimming experience already, but could start at the 90cm deep second pool. Within a week, I was moved to the 110cm deep third pool, even though I think I protested.

It took me several more years before I earned my first swimming diploma. This first diploma at the time required students to be able to do breaststroke and backstroke, to swim one pool length with loose-fitting clothing, to tread water, etc., but it did not require students to swim underwater.

By the time I got my diploma, I had transferred to another school for the blind, where I had once again been put into the relatively shallow pool. I proudly showed my teachers my swimming diploma that I’d earned at home and was reluctantly transferred to the deep end.

From earning my first swimming diploma to my second, it took me only about eight months. The second diploma required students to swim 7m underwater. There was no way I could see whether I’d passed the 7m mark, so I had to guess. According to my parents, I swam about 11m.

After that, I had swimming lessons for the next three years that I was at various schools for the blind, but I never earned any more diplomas or certificates. The reason was, once again, the fact that my fear started to act up. After all, I wouldn’t swim under a mat. My parents, however, were okay with it this time. After all, my sister never moved beyond her second swimming diploma either.

I now can swim in a pool or lake. When my parents took me and my sister on vacation to Vlieland, I would also sometimes swim in the North Sea. I doubt I’d be able to save myself should I get underwater unintendedly though.

Report Cards and Progress Reports

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is report cards and progress reports. I am going to write mostly about traditional report cards in school, not the many psychological reports I had written about me during my childhood and adolescence.

Looking back, I was a good student academically, but it didn’t show on my report cards during elementary school. I attended special education and my teachers didn’t really believe I was more than just average intellectually. In fact, when I had a nationally standardized test in the sixth grade, the school’s principal called my parents in utter disbelief to tell them I had gotten a very high score. My father was like, duh, I told you so.

My behavior did get reported on. Though I had severe social and emotional challenges, I always got average ratings on those things that mattered to the teachers. I remember one day feeling disappointed when my rating on “correct behavior” had been lowered from the previous report card even though as far as I knew I hadn’t made mistakes about addressing the teachers formally.

In high school, I did get actual grades. Not letters here in the Netherlands, but numbers between one (worst) and ten (perfect). In my first year at grammar school, I got a lot of tens. These did get my classmates envious, so sometimes I’d argue for a lower grade. For instance, I had a ten on a drawing theory test and I hadn’t done any of the other drawing assignments because, well, I’m blind. Initially, I got a ten on my report card because that was the only grade I had. My classmates protested and my father and I agreed. Then the grade got lowered to an eight, reflecting the fact that I’d gotten a ten on that test and a six (barely passing) on drawing in general just for participating in the class.

Once in my third year, I was rebelling and hardly studying at all, so I did earn a few ones. One time, in my fifth year in high school (eleventh grade), I got a one in French for not doing an assignment because I’d had to do it with a partner and I hadn’t been able to find a partner, because I’d felt too anxious to ask anyone.

I wasn’t really punished harshly for failing grades or rewarded for good grades, but I did know I was expected to excel. Often, my parents made me do extra work, particularly before I was mainstreamed at grammar school.

My best subjects in elementary school were math and geography. In high school, those changed to languages, because high school math requires much more non-verbal intelligence and insight, something I don’t have. My best grade on my final high school exam was in English.

Now, as an adult, I do have an English-language blog, but I don’t think I learned to blog in high school. After all, despite the fact that grammar school is the highest level high school, I really wasn’t all that good at English after graduation. Other than English, I don’t use anything I learned in school really. I mean, during my year in special ed secondary school, textile arts was my worst subject and now I like to do macrame. Go figure.

Illness or Injury

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is, as Lauren describes it, “Ouchies, owies and boo boos”. In other words, we’re asked to share our experiences of illness or injury when we were growing up. Now is an interesting time for this, as I’ve just recovered from the worst symptoms of COVID. Even though I had a mild case of it, I am tempted to take back my assertion that it’s “just a bad cold” even in my case. I’m still exhausted by 9PM, or at least was yesterday, and today just a walk around the day center had me horribly out of breath. Forget the elliptical, which I told my husband yesterday that I’d try to go onto today. Anyway, that’s as far as my current state of illness is concerned. Now, let me share about my childhood illnesses and injuries.

As a young child, until I had my tonsils and adenoids out as a Kindergartner, I was prone to colds and the flu. I can’t remember whether my parents let me stay home for most of these illnesses. Later though, we clearly had the rule that, if I ran a fever, I was sick and had to stay home. Otherwise, I wasn’t sick and had to go to school. Not that I remember ever “playing sick”.

I don’t think I was ever given medicine, such as painkillers, unless it was obvious from outward signs that I was sick either. I mean, I do remember having to take paracetamol as a child, but not for a headache or toothache. We did have a licorice-flavored cough syrup, but I only took it when my parents directed me to. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I first learned to ask for medication myself. For the brief time that I lived independently and could take over-the-counter medications when I felt like it, I didn’t either unless a support worker directed me to. In fact, I remember buying a talking thermometer back then because I was feeling weak often and, relying on my parents’ rule that you had to have a fever to be sick, I wanted to know my body temp.

Similarly, I wasn’t taken to the doctor for minor illnesses or injuries usually, unless my parents decided they were enough of an outward abnormality to be taken seriously. I remember my father took me to the doctor one day when I was about fourteen because I had bad eczema on my neck. I didn’t see the need, but apparently it was so ugly that my father wanted me to get treated.

When I was about seventeen, I made my first appointment to see my GP by myself. I had a horrible earache, which turned out nothing to be the doctor could do much about, by the way. However, my parents said I also had to ask about getting treatment for my toenail fungus, which I didn’t consider particularly bothersome at the time. To be fair, I do now see they were right to be worried about my toenail fungus, even though it took me fifteen more years to finally get it treated properly. However, overall, I’d had it with their message that my outward appearance alone dictates when I should get help (medical or otherwise) and this was probably my first small act of rebellion. I never quite learned to gauge when I can trust my body’s signals (or my mind’s interpretation of them) and when I can’t. I’m finding that, for this reason, even up till this day, I rely mostly on other people’s judgment.

Mentors and Role Models

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is mentors and role models. Of course, last week, I already shared about my high school tutor, who was a mentor when I was a teen. Today, I’m going to share about other role models.

One of my first role models was my paternal grandmother. She was a fiercely independent, self-determined woman. In 1973, a year after women were legally equal to men here in the Netherlands, she divorced my grandpa. She went to college to become a social worker, eventually becoming the head of social work at the psychiatric institution in her area. In the mid-1990s, in her early 70s, she founded a senior citizens’ living complex, where she lived for nearly 20 years until she needed to go into a care home. She died in 2018 at the age of 94.

One clear memory I have of my grandmother that has stuck with me throughout life and which perhaps unintentionally inspired me, is her comment about her work as a social worker with troubled young people. She told me that, when some young people don’t want to go home to their parents, she had to sometimes honor the teens’ wishes rather than the parents’. Even though I was 19 when first going against my parents’ wishes, and their wish wasn’t for me to live with them, the point was that my opinion mattered even if I was “crazy”.

Later, when I was a teen and young adult, I sought out role models who shared some of my experiences. One of my first role models in this category was someone I met through an E-mail list for my eye condition. She was in her early thirties when we first met online and I was seventeen. Besides blindness, we had some other experiences in common. We eagerly read each other’s online diaries back in the day. She is still a Facebook friend of mine, but, because she has moved on to become more or less successful at life and work and I haven’t, we don’t share the same life experiences anymore.

Some people I considered inspiring, I never even talked to, such as Cal Montgomery, a disability activist whose article, “Critic of the Dawn”, I first read in like 2006.

Currently, indeed, what I look for in an inspiring person or role model is shared experience. That being the case, I consider many of the people I’m on E-mail lists or in Facebook groups with to be inspiring. Then though, our interactions are more based on equality, where any of us can be the inspiration for the others.

I don’t think that I quite have what it takes to be a mentor myself. Though I can provide people with inspiration and information, I don’t really have my life together enough to be a role model. This saddens me, thinking about the fact that I’m older now than the woman I met at seventeen was when we first met.

What do you look for in a role model?

Pocket Money Tales

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is chores and allowances. Let me share my experiences.

Regarding chores, I could easily be short and sweet: no, I did not have any. Neither did my sister. We were raised with the expectation that we’d leave the house as soon as we graduated high school, but we were hardly taught any of the skills of independence, much less expected to contribute to the household on a regular basis. My sister was occasionally expected to do the dishes once she was about twelve or so. Same probably for me, but my parents quickly decided I took too long, didn’t do it right or made too much of a fuss over it, probably all three.

My sister, who’s non-disabled, somehow managed the skills of independence by observing my parents anyway. I, being blind and multiply-disabled, did not. When I left for the independence training home right after high school, I had virtually no skills necessary for living independently. I am forever grateful I persevered and decided to take this step rather than moving out on my own right away.

Regarding allowances, or pocket money as it was known in our family, the situation was a little more interesting. I got my first pocket money at age seven. I got one guilder a week. A few months later, I’d turn eight and my father promised me I’d get two guilders a week provided I’d stop leaving the lights on in my bedroom when I wasn’t there. The reason being that, if I no longer left the lights on, he would save on electricity and could give me more pocket money. I doubt it’d seriously make a difference of one guilder a week, but I’m not entirely sure he hadn’t possibly calculated it somehow. That’s how he is, after all.

That brings me to my next pocket money story, some eight years later.
I originally couldn’t remember whether we already used euros at the time. Not that it matters for the morale of the story, but I saw the official documentation relevant to this story and now know we already had euros. I must’ve been sixteen and was rather angry because my sister got a higher allowance than I’d gotten at her age, so I now wanted more too. At first, my parents got all defensive, calling me selfish because I was playing the “not fair” card. Then, after both of us at calmed down, my father asked me to write a budget of things I’d need pocket money for. If it was within reason, I’d get what I’d asked for.

I had asked for €10 a week. I created a budget (that’s the “official documentation” I referred to above!) fitting all my personal expenses, including candy, jewelry, memberships to the children’s choir and the political party I was a member of at the time, into this budget. Ultimately, my budget showed I needed €555,60 a year. When my father saw it, he commented that I’d been far too careful to try to fit my budget into what I’d demanded. I particularly remember him saying he couldn’t believe I’d just spend €2,50 a week on candy, for example. And I must admit he was right. My father told me that €100 a month was a more reasonable allowance and so it happened that I got more than twice the amount of pocket money I’d originally fought for!

Were you taught about budgeting as a child?

Superstitions

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is superstitions, amulets and charms. I had quite many growing up, but not most of the usual ones. Let me share.

My sister was born on Friday the 13th, so no-one in our family dare believe this to be an unlucky day. However, I had quite a few lucky and unlucky days particularly as a teen. Friday the 24th was unlucky, for example. The reason was the fact that on Friday, September 24, 1999, I had realized that I wasn’t going to fit in at mainstream high school and was most likely going to struggle through it all of the six years it lasted. I was determined to make school a success though, and indeed I graduated. I earned my diploma on another Friday the 24th, namely June 24, 2005. Maybe it wasn’t such an unlucky day after all.

Like I’ve said before, I believed particular dates to be lucky or unlucky too. November 2 was unlucky. Again, this was the date I landed in crisis, twice, both times on Fridays, in 2001 and 2007.

Like Friday the 13th, I didn’t hold any of the other usual superstitions either. I never struggled to walk under a ladder, to walk on cracks in the pavement and wasn’t worried when a black cat crossed my path. I did get an old horseshoe at a horse stable once and kept it. My father told me it was supposed to bring good luck, but I never hung it anywhere.

As a child, I did keep fortune-telling charms. I used to have a particular blue, glass stone with a flat and a curved side and used to ask it yes-or-no questions, then throw it. If it landed flat on its back, the answer was yes and if it landed curved side down, the answer was no. Of course, now I know it is far more likely to land flat on its back.

I also would make a wish if I was able to peel off a tangerine’s peel in one go. I know the traditional thing is about oranges, but I never ate those. Then when I’d pulled off the tangerine’s peel, the number of slices I would be able to keep together predicted how likely my wish was to come true.

Now that I’m an adult, I no longer hold many superstitions. I did have a long-standing belief for most of my adult life that I was in for bad luck eventually. This specifically involved the idea that, once I’d feel secure at a living place, I’d develop some serious illness and die. Over the past year, I’ve slowly been able to let go of this belief. My faith helps me in this respect too.

Are you superstitious?

Friends and Buddies

This week’s topic for Throwback Thursday is friendship. I was never really good at making friends. I still don’t have any real friends other than my husband. I mean, of course I could consider some of my fellow clients “friends”, but our relationship isn’t as deep as that of normal adult friendships.

In early childhood, I did have one friend. Her name was Kim and we used to make mud castles together. Or anything out of sand and water really. Kim’s last name translates to “peat” and my father used to jokingly call her “Kim Mud” rather than “Kim Peat”.

When I went to the special school for the visually impaired at the age of five, I started in a first grade class despite being of Kindergarten age. All girls in my class were at least a year older than me and they enjoyed “babysitting” me. In exchange, for the next three years, I’d help them with their schoolwork.

By the age of nine, I transferred to a different school for the blind. Though I did have a friend there, I was also an outcast and got heavily bullied.

My best time socially was my one year at the special ed secondary school for the blind. I had one good friend there, but also got along pretty well with everyone else in my class and most kids in my school in general.

All that changed when I entered mainstream high school at the age of thirteen. Within a month, everyone had formed cliques except for me. A few months later, my favorite clique took me under their wing and pretended to be my friends, only to drop me again when they’d had enough of me. I was friendless for the remainder of the six-year program. I didn’t really care. Or maybe I did, but I was determined to show my parents and teachers that I could earn a mainstream high level high school diploma. And I did. Not that I use it for anything now, but oh well.

Another topic mentioned in the Throwback Thursday post title at least is buddies. This reminds me of the autistic student buddy program I was part of during my two months of attending university. This program assigned a psychology student volunteer buddy to an autistic student to help the autistic with planning their coursework or other activities related to their studies. It worked in theory, but the catch was that these buddies were volunteers helping only with certain things for one or two hours a week at most. At the time, you couldn’t get paid support workers for assistance related to college or university studies, as the reasoning was that if you could be a student in college or uni, you should be able to do the planning and related tasks yourself. Needless to say my buddy got overwhelmed within a week. I feel intensely sorry for her.

The reason I mention this, besides it being in the post title, is the fact that I realize I struggle to maintain a distinction between social and professional relationships and, with the buddy, things got even muddier. I mean, friendships are supposed to be reciprocal, while professional relationships are not. For this reason, I am allowed to unload my shit to a professional without needing to listen to theirs. Professionals, however, get paid, while friends don’t. With the buddy, the situation got complicated, in that my fellow students called on my buddy to calm me when I was in a meltdown. That clearly wasn’t her role.

This thing about lack of reciprocity, however, also probably killed off that mainstream high school friendship I pretended to have. I don’t blame myself entirely though: my so-called “friends” also felt obligated to hang out with me out of pity, and that’s never a good reason to be someone’s friend.

Too Many Toys

Today’s topic for Throwback Thursday is toys and pastimes. The first question Maggie asks in her post is: “Did you have a lot of toys?” The short answer would be that yes, I was privileged to have quite many toys, but I must say I wasn’t so spoiled that I always got the latest trendy toy.

I probably shared this story before, but I played with toys quite a lot until I was at least eleven. By that time, my parents and teachers were looking into options for secondary schools and their opinions couldn’t have been any different: while my parents wanted me to go to mainstream grammar school, my teachers felt special education at their low-level secondary school for the blind, preferably residential, was in my best interest. My mother one day took me for a “mother-daughter walk” explaining the school’s stance and said that the reason they felt I needed residential special ed, was my behavior. That, in turn, she attributed to my having too many toys. The logic, I never quite understood, but it must’ve been something like my being so spoiled that I somehow felt entitled to display challenging behavior.

She went on to explain that, at the residential school, I would only be allowed one doll and one soft toy. She had given me a Barbie doll for my birthday earlier that summer, but told me she regretted it as soon as she received the school’s report. Needless to say, I always felt weird about playing with dolls from that age on, even though I continued to play with toys and dolls and everything until I was at least fifteen.

Fast forward some ten to fifteen years. When I was in my mid-twenties and diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, I felt it might help my littles (child alters) if we had toys again. I first bought a box of old Barbies for €70 on a marketplace site. That wasn’t a wise decision as, though the box did arrive, the Barbie dolls were in such bad condition I eventually threw them away. I then decided to buy a couple of new ones at a toy store, but the littles hardly played with them. They prefer soft toys.

Speaking of which, one of Maggie’s questions is whether you still have any toys from your childhood. I don’t, as they’re probably all at my parents’. However, I do still have my stuffed whale Wally, whom I got when I left the NICU at three-months-old. I still sometimes sleep with it.

Wally

Did you have many toys growing up?