Posts Tagged 'childhood'

‘Tis Better to Live an Uncensored Childhood

Well readers, last week I saw an article online about a small publisher which was editing the classic poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to “meet the needs of today’s children.” I guess some parents have been frantically tearing out pages of children’s books because of the stanza about the pipe Santa held tight in his teeth, and the smoke that encircled his head like a wreath. Yes, parents are afraid that hearing these two lines in a fictional children’s poem will corrupt their children and they will grow up to be smokers.

     How fitting that I should see this article during Banned Books Week because while controversy over this poem didn’t get the media saturation that The Hunger Games and Harry Potter received, to me such altering of a classic is just as troubling as banning a book.

     ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was my absolute favorite poem as a child, and still is today. We have a Christmas CD that my mom purchased to support the Make a Wish foundation even before I was born, on which Rush Limbaugh recites the poem. (Yes, I know all about him and don’t condone his views, especially his recent commentary at all, but I put politics aside at Christmas because he does an amazing job with this classic). And guess what? Despite hearing the unabridged poem all my life, I have never touched a cigarette or pipe and have no plans to start. Maybe it could be argued that this poem is different for sighted children because when they get this poem from children’s books, they aren’t just hearing the words but also having them re-enforced by an illustration of Santa’s pipe. But I don’t think that makes a difference because my sighted peers who heard this poem as a child aren’t all smoking either. That is why even though I am the furthest thing from a parenting expert, I wish I could tell parents just from my experience as a recent child that the opportunity to live an uncensored childhood is among the best gifts my parents gave my siblings and me. The interesting thing is, my parents didn’t purposefully declare “our children will have an uncensored childhood!” or make a conscious point of exposing us to all kinds of influences. We simply lived our lives.

     If my parents or teenage siblings wanted to watch a movie or TV show with violence or profanity, I was never sent out of the room. Those “due to the graphic nature of this program, viewer discretion is advised” warnings meant nothing. When it came to profanity, my parents instilled in me from as young as I can remember that “these words are out there in the world but they are not nice words and you should never repeat them.” (I do find it unfair that my parents let my older siblings get away with a little swearing, but if I so much as say “dammit” when I stub my toe on something, they freak out. When I mentioned it to Mom once she laughed and admitted that she didn’t want her youngest precious angel to take up swearing, which I can understand. I’ll probably be that way with my youngest child, but that’s besides the point). The point is by being allowed to hear these words all my life, it wasn’t a big deal when I got in to the less innocent world of high school and college where I heard them right and left.

     Violent movies never scared me because I never had much of an imagination, so I knew the plots were fictional. But my parents even let me watch stories of real violence; Dateline murder mysteries, the local news, even America’s Most Wanted which occasionally mentioned cases of children kidnapped from their bedrooms or backyards and brutally murdered. These cases scared me the most, especially when John Walsh would say, “he could be anywhere tonight.” Could he be under my bed, or lurking outside my window? I would wonder. Sure it may have been nice to grow up in blissful innocence, never hearing these stories, but I have heard that children sheltered from such stories grow up to be too trusting of the world, do foolish things like get in a car with a stranger and thus they are more likely to be victimized. But instead of turning off the program when I seemed troubled by it, they would use the opportunity to remind me that most people are good. There are just a few bad people out there. If I took basic precautions–never trust a stranger that tries to lure you with candy or a lost puppy; scream loud to attract attention if someone grabs you; never answer the door alone, etc.), it was statistically unlikely that anything would ever happen to me, and nothing ever did. I have heard experts say that children are innocent and delicate and shouldn’t be exposed to such things, but by being exposed to these things, I feel like I am safer. As my parents hoped, I believe that most people are good, but I have a healthy awareness and respect for the dangers of the world which keeps me from doing foolish things.

     Maybe I was unusually airheaded as a child, but somehow I really don’t think I was that unusual in the fact that as small children, you are often in your own little world of play and innocence where the last thing that occurs to you is to analyze poems and even songs you hear. Getting back to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas for example, I completely overlooked the implications of Santa smoking a pipe. (As a matter of fact, I never even thought about them until reading that article last week). As a child, the visions of sugarplumbs and the child witnessing the arrival of Santa and his reindeer were all that I noticed. As an older child (young adult), I loved the poem for its fun rhyme and rhythm and the expressiveness of Limbaugh’s recitation. The same is true of many songs I loved as a child. In preschool, one of my absolute favorite songs was Reba MacEntire’s song Fancy. I loved the sound of Reba’s voice and just the beat and almost theatrical quality of the song that I would want Mom to play it over and over on our CD to the point that my older siblings told me when I was older that they longed to bash the CD player in with a hammer. Eventually, my obsession with this song waned and I even forgot about the song until the summer after sixth grade, the first summer I had my very own CD player in my bedroom. That was also the summer when a whole bunch of old CD’s that had been misplaced re-surfaced, including the once beloved Reba CD! Just for the nostalgia, I asked Mom to hand me the Reba CD so I could hear Fancy again. She didn’t have to tell me what track the song was. I recognized it instantly. Instantly, I remembered how much I loved the sound of the song, but the nostalgia was tainted by the fact that as an older child who knew more about the world and paid better attention to lyrics, it occurred to me that this song I loved so much as a preschooler was about a poor mother who spent every last penny she had on a fancy dress for her teenage daughter whom she turned out of the house, encouraging her to go in to prostitution! But you know what? My mom with her wisdom knew I wasn’t paying attention to the words, that even if I was, the adult ideas of the song would just glide right over my little head. (We were discussing this just the other day and she told me that if I had asked questions about the song, she would have explained it in an age appropriate way because it is a reality of the world we live in.) But she knew that while little children are generally oblivious to adult lyrics, they are very aware of how their parents react, and thus frantically rushing over to the CD player to skip over that track would have only gotten my curiosity up. “Why do you always skip that song Mommy?” I likely would have asked, backing her in to an unnecessary, awkward corner. She understood that children just play and live in their own little world, so if you just go about life and not frantically tear out pages, skip tracks on a CD, change a channel, shoo kids out of the room or yell “hey! little ears!” if a guest tells an inappropriate joke or something, children likely won’t even notice and no harm will be done. After all, how can you be corrupted by something you are not even paying attention to because you are too young to understand?

     Getting back to the article on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, it occurred to me while reading it that just the previous weekend, I had another experience in which I had never really paid attention to a song I had heard a million times. My parents and I were in the car running an errand listening to the oldies station as usual when it dawned on me, “Whoa! Did that song just say I get high with a little help from my friends?”

“Yep!” they answered, “it was written in a different time, the Hippie era when many didn’t know or perhaps knew but didn’t care, about how harmful drugs were.”

     Of course, as an adult it was no longer necessary to approach subjects delicately, but what a perfect way to address a situation, one which any parent could use if their child did notice the lines about Santa’s smoking. They could just gently explain, “this poem was written long, long ago when people didn’t know that smoking was harmful to health.” This could also be a perfect opportunity for a rudimentary “just because you read about something in some poem or book doesn’t mean it’s right” discussion. If a parent isn’t interested in deep discussions, they could even just say that since Santa is a magical, immortal being, he can get away with smoking, but regular humans don’t have this power.

     I am already thinking about hoarding copies of this and other controversial classics in case this editing becomes the trend because I want my kids to have the privilege I enjoyed of an uncensored childhood. Because to be honest, I would rather risk my children taking up smoking when they grow up than raise them on censored poems and risk them growing up to accept without question a George Orwell type world where erasing and re-writing history “to suit the needs of people today” is the norm.

     But the risk is low of them growing up to take up smoking anyway for other reasons; education about the dangers most importantly; the fact that it is now banned in so many places; the cost of the habit–(I saw a Facebook status just today from a boy who decided to quit when he saw that with all the taxes, one pack of cigarettes now costs over $8)–and the positive example of non-smoking parents which as I said earlier, kids pay much more attention to than lines in a poem or song. And although I haven’t officially researched this, it seems as though people I know of who do smoke do so out of a natural college thrill of rebelling against parents, and a feeling of invincibility. I never was tempted to smoke because it smells disgusting to me, but I rebelled in other stupid ways as a college freshman–eating spectacularly unhealthy meals in the dining room, and walking to class on single-digit days with no coat on for instance–so while I don’t understand the appeal of smoking, I can understand the thrill of doing something your parents don’t condone and feeling invincible while doing it. I understand how out of love, parents would want to do everything in their power to keep their children from doing stupid things, especially since smoking is addictive and one cigarette in college quickly can become a lifetime habit. But the hard truth is, the natural desire of young adults to rebel against their parents is out of any parent’s control, and has nothing to do with Santa, so I predict that even if this censored poem takes hold, it will make absolutely no difference in smoking statistics.

     But more importantly, as I have said so many times already, it is what the parents do, not the media children are exposed to that matters. Reba’s song Fancy did not spark an interest in prostitution because by the time I understood the implications of the song, my parents had cemented values of honest work, Christian morals and self-respect. Despite hearing profanity at an early age, I don’t curse like a sailor–in fact I hardly curse at all, only when I stub my toe and my parents aren’t in earshot–because my parents have talked with my siblings and me about how people who curse on television go for the cheap laugh, but being funny or making a statement without using a stream of curse words takes more creativity and intelligence.

     I hear a lot about parents who are very strict about what their children are exposed to and think that in this way, they are teaching good values. But blocking any references to violence, profanity, prostitution, smoking or drug use also blocks teachable moments. An uncensored childhood and good values can go hand in hand, and in fact, I think that by taking advantage of these teachable moments and not trying to shelter me from the realities of the world we live in, my parents shaped my values more firmly.


Trick or Treat

Last week, Mom and I were shopping at Target when we saw Halloween candy on display and decided it was time to stock the big wooden salad bowl, just in case we get trick-or-treaters. But last year, we only had a couple trick-or-treaters and the year before, the pumpkin lit with a candle was outside the door, the porch lights on, “The Monster Mash” playing on a stereo we place outside and not a single trick-or-treater came.

     Since answering the door and being the one that got to say, “and who do we have here?” to the little witches and goblins that came to the door was the extent of my Halloween celebrating once I reached an age when it was no longer socially appropriate to be a little witch myself, this absence of trick-or-treaters was disheartening.

     I have tried to replace the tradition I outgrew with new traditions. Well, they cannot really be called traditions because they only lasted a year or two, but you know what I mean.

     The last two years, Dad and I celebrated by dressing up as burritos to win a free burrito at Chipolte Mexican Grill. This year however, my dad has a new job and will probably work too late to continue this tradition and well, I inherited my love of stupid silly fun from my dad! And anyway, it still wasn’t the same as trick-or-treating.

     Two years ago, Dad also took me to a haunted house, but I wasn’t that haunted by it. I’m not sure if it was because that particular haunted house was geared towards little kids or if it was because I am blind and the scariness of it was more visual. But whatever the reason, I left that house puzzled about why haunted houses draw such long lines.

     This year, I am starting what I hope will be a tradition that I can carry over to the office job after college. I am going to live vicariously through my guide dog Gilbert and put him in a costume for Halloween. It is no longer socially acceptable for me to dress up I suppose, but dogs never have to give up their cute innocence right? So along with the candy, Mom and I picked out an adorable $6 old man costume for Gilbert, complete with a purple hat and orange tie. This will be the most fun tradition yet I think, especially when it is time for my Creative Writing class, a very intimate, fun class with only five other students, all of whom love dogs, especially Gilbert and have been looking forward to seeing him dressed up for days. But even this tradition will never live up to the fun I had trick-or-treating.

     Of course, since our neighborhood hardly has any trick-or-treaters these days, my parents and I have been enjoying the candy all week and will have plenty left over, but somehow, this candy just doesn’t taste as good as it used to.

     To hear me rave about trick-or-treating this way, as if it was so much fun that nothing could ever live up to it, you might think trick-or-treating was something I looked forward to for months just like Christmas. Actually, trick-or-treating was met with a mixture of excitement and dread for me. I thought it was fun to dress up and I loved eating the candy of course, but earning that candy was hard work in my neighborhood.

     Now that I am an adult, I appreciate our neighborhood more. It is a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood with two-acre yards, spread out houses, long driveways and a paved country road that can go hours at a time without seeing a car. In the spring, you can smell lilacs and honeysuckle from the road, making it a wonderful neighborhood for taking walks. But for little short-legged children, this neighborhood is torture.

     I have vague memories of my older sister pulling me through the neighborhood in a little wagon with the candy bag in my lap when I was really small, but most years, I walked. Some neighbors would drive groups of trick-or-treaters from house to house, but my parents never did that. Though I wasn’t aware of the increase in childhood obesity then, perhaps that is the reason. They didn’t want to spoil our fun like other parents by rationing our candy, but we could at least walk to earn it.

     To add to the misery of trick-or-treating, many Halloweens were cold and windy. I remember trudging through snow one year. In kindergarten when I dressed as a princess, the wind blew my crown off my head and my mom had to run after it. I vividly remember several years of wearing my winter coat over my costume and coming home with a nose tip that I am told was red and which I could tell was cold to the touch. So when I arrived at each door, rang the doorbell and removed the scarf from my mouth to say “Trick-or-treat” I felt I had earned the pile of candy lovingly dumped in to my open bag by each neighbor.

     Being blind made the process of trick-or-treating annoying because every neighbor has a different configuration of steps that lead up to their door, which made getting up to the door even more tedious than it was for “normal kids”, but I thought it was fun not being able to see the kind of candy being put in my bag. This meant that in addition to every other kid’s eagerness to get home and eat the snickers bar they saw, walking home for me was like waiting through the night of Christmas eve. “What treasures did the neighbors put in my bag this year?”

     As soon as I was in the warm cozy house and I had taken my coat off, my parents let me go wild and dig through it all! If I saw M&Ms or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I had struck gold, but I loved anything with chocolate. I wasn’t as fond of fruity candy like Smarties, so those I generously shared with my brother. (smile)

     It’s funny how when we are little, we cannot imagine being big. We don’t appreciate how special trick-or-treating is because life seems timeless and the notion that one day we will be too old to say “trick-or-treat” never crosses our mind. But all of a sudden, puberty sneaks up on us and says “boo!” and we realize we aren’t one of the little kids anymore.

     Now that I think about it, the onset of puberty was also when Halloween candy no longer seemed to taste as good as it used to. Sure, this could be due to the fact that with maturity came a greater consciousness of health, so guilt got in the way of my enjoyment when eating candy. But I think there is more to it than that. In the same way that I always felt a sweeter sense of victory and satisfaction when I did a difficult homework assignment or cooked a meal all by myself, working for my candy, walking for what seemed like an eternity to my short little legs, fighting my way through cold, wind and sometimes rain and snow, made the candy taste even sweeter.

     Thus it has occurred to me that my mourning about being too old to trick-or-treat is not about the costumes or candy, or even the void that was created when I outgrew this tradition. It is about the simple joy of earning my candy instead of having it handed to me, which brings me back to my disheartened mood in recent Halloweens when we hardly get any trick-or-treaters. Mom pointed out that many of the children in our neighborhood are now past trick-or-treating age. But on summer days, I hear a lot of little children’s voices shouting and laughing in yards all over the neighborhood. I hope that maybe I’m just a poor judge of age. Maybe you cannot judge a child’s age by their voice. I hope there really aren’t as many children as it sounds like there are. I hope that all the children I hear playing in the yards aren’t going to more compact neighborhoods where they don’t have to work as hard for their candy, because I have found that earning my candy on Halloween and in life is half the fun.

Thinking of You Kelso

Well readers, I know I promised in my last entry that the next entry would be about my internship experience. But in light of an event that happened last week, I couldn’t get inspired to write about internships. So the entry after this one will be about my internship, but I need to use this entry to set straight a lie I told in the early days of this journal. Actually, it’s not an outright lie, but you could call it a lie of omission. You see, in the beginning of this blog, I wrote a profile of Indy, our pet German Shepherd that died when I was in seventh grade, and a profile of our cat Snickers, who will turn eleven on June 20 but is still as feisty as ever. Then I wrote a profile of my brother’s dog Mojo whom we adored and loved to dogsit. In that entry, I remember writing that we did not have a dog of our own because we couldn’t find one that we felt was suitable to our family. Well, this is true, but what I neglected to mention was that for six months, we did adopt a puppy, but had to return him to the humane society as he had serious behavioral issues we couldn’t handle. I didn’t want to share this experience at the time as it was still a source of sadness, and a little bit shame for our family and I could tell my parents weren’t wild about me putting it on the internet. But in light of the event last week, I feel it is time to share this experience to clear my conscience. This dog deserves to be mentioned and to know he was loved even if we couldn’t handle him. And, sharing this experience might provide comfort and reassurance to any readers who happen to stumble on this blog and are going through or have been through a similar situation.

     So here is a letter I felt inspired to write to this dog whom our family named Kelso. I am also going to post it in the Note to Dog community, so for those of you who have both my journal and this community on your friends page, I apologize for the redundancy, but I felt that this entry should be in both places.

     So without further ado, here is the long overdue tribute to Kelso.

Dear Kelso,

     Do you remember me? My sister and I were the ones standing outside your cage at the humane society over eight years ago begging and pleading with Mom to adopt you. We had lost our beautiful, loyal German Shepherd six months ago and so desperately missed being greeted by a wagging tail when we got home from school or hearing a watchful bark when the doorbell rang that we fell in love with you on the spot. You were very mischievous, and I still remember being in the viewing room of the humane society with Mom trying to get you to settle down, to no avail. We were a little concerned, but figured that you were just being a typical puppy and we just weren’t used to puppies anymore, since by the time Indy died, she had been moving slow for a while because of arthritis.

     But once we got home, it soon became clear that your behavior was not typical puppy behavior. We noticed some aggression, and you were eating so many unusual things my mom feared you would be seriously injured or killed if you got hold of something one day when we didn’t notice in time. You would bark all hours of the night from your crate, and you could be playing outside for hours without relieving yourself, only to come in and relieve yourself in the house.

     Sure enough, my mom did some research and discovered that the behavior you displayed is characteristic for puppies taken from their mothers too young. We read some training materials and tried some tactics. But despite our efforts, it wasn’t long before I was afraid of you, and since our family didn’t have the time to give you the intensive training you needed, you spent most of the time locked in your crate. One day a little over six months after we had adopted you, Mom greeted me soberly at the school bus and told me she had returned you to the humane society. It should not have come as a surprise, as we had all realized we were not the right home for you for quite some time, but every day when I got home from school, you were still there as Mom couldn’t bear making that final decision. I only made her agony about this decision worse by accusing Mom and Dad of giving up on you. After all, though I don’t know the specific details about what happened to you before you came to the humane society, I do know it wasn’t your fault, and by returning you, I felt like our family had betrayed you. Besides, as much as I was afraid of you, I missed the presence of a dog in the house so much that I wanted to hold on to the hope that maybe you could be trained to overcome your trauma and become a beloved pet like Indy was. So when my mom greeted me at the bus that fateful day, I cried for two days.

     We never adopted another dog after returning you. The whole family was so emotionally drained we didn’t feel like we could handle another dog. But when we needed a doggie fix, my brother would bring his dog Mojo to visit. Remember him? You didn’t play nice with him as a puppy, but I bet you would think twice before fighting him now as he has become a big boy with a fierce bark.

     Then about three years ago, I received a guide dog named Gilbert. Although he is primarily my dog, he is so mellow and adorable he is loved by the whole family. In fact, Gilbert has healed our emotional wounds so well that I admit you hadn’t crossed our minds since he came home. That is, until last Friday afternoon when we got an unexpected phone call.

     “Do you own a black lab named Kelso?” the caller asked my dad. Apparently, you had been found running loose in a nearby town and the information in your microchip implanted by the humane society before we adopted you never got updated.

     My dad explained to the caller how we no longer owned you, but when he hung up and told me what happened, your memory came flooding back to me.

     I have matured a lot over the years, especially when I learned that even guide dogs are frequently returned by handlers who felt that the dog wasn’t right for them. Thus, I no longer view our family’s decision to return you as a betrayal. Spending your days locked in a cage because we cannot handle you is no way to live when there might be a family out there who would know how to train you in to a beloved pet or as my mom thought, someone with a sprawling farm where you could run wild, live happily and not get hurt.

     It has been a busy week as I am doing an internship now, but you have been on my mind constantly. How much have you grown? Is the fur on your coat still curly as I remember? Were you adopted by a loving family that was perfect for you and just ran away like dogs do, or have the last eight years continued to be traumatic for you and you were abandoned again? I don’t know how to find out. We didn’t think to ask the caller, and even if we had, they might not have known or been willing to tell what they did know since you are no longer our dog. So I guess I will never know. But there is one thing that has offered our family some hope that your life maybe did take a turn for the better. My mom said the town where you were found is surrounded by farmland.

Best wishes,

Allison, the youngest child of your former family

Osama, Osama! Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye!

Last Sunday evening, May 1, 2011, my parents and I ordered The King’s Speech from our cable company’s on demand movies list. The war on terror was the furthest thing from our minds when about an hour in to the movie, the phone rang. My mom paused the movie to answer it. It was my sister.

     “Mom! Are you watching the news?” she asked excitedly.

     “No! What is going on?” Mom asked, concerned at first.

     “Oh my Gosh! Bin Laden is dead?” Mom gasped in shock and amazement.

     Upon hearing this proclamation, I think my heart skipped a beat, and needless to say, my dad and I did not object when Mom quickly hung up the phone and decided we could finish the movie the next day. All week, I haven’t been able to get enough news coverage of such an amazing event that I honestly thought would never happen.

     My emotions upon hearing this news were nowhere near as deep as those who lost friends and loved one on September 11, or in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed. Even so, I could identify somehow with the spontaneous celebrations in the streets of New York City and outside the white house. Although I am not the kind of person who enjoys going to sporting events, I couldn’t help wondering what it must have been like for the audience in that Philadelphia stadium, where it was reported the crowd erupted in cheers of “U.S.A., USA.!” Monday morning, I saw a New York Times article which reported college students singing “Osama, Osama, hey hey hey, goodbye!” This song has been stuck in my head in a jubilant way all week.

     Like all Americans, I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the terrorist attacks on September 11. I was a sixth grader, sitting in class about to take my first Science quiz of the year when the principle came on to the public address system.

     “I have something very serious I need to tell you,” she said, and then proceeded to tell everyone who was in an elective like Gym to get to their homeroom. She would come back in a few minutes to give us the news.

     I went to school in what is considered an affluent and very safe school district. Even so, I couldn’t help getting a little frightened, wondering if a bomb threat or something like that was discovered. I also couldn’t help remembering news coverage of the year before when I was introduced to the world of middle school that I would be entering next year with a report that an eighth grader had brought a gun to this school. (The gun was never used, but still a scary discovery nonetheless). Well, I was right about the safety crisis part, but I never imagined it would be on the national level, not just the school level.

     “Two planes have crashed in to the World Trade Center, which is made up of two towers in New York City,” she announced solemnly when she came back. Then she told all the teachers that they could turn on the television so that we could see some news coverage. (I would find out later that the teachers had been informed of this tragedy but were told at first not to tell us students.)

     I don’t remember how long we watched the television coverage, but I will never forget the collective gasp of horror when the second tower collapsed, and one of the news anchormen calling that day “a day that will go down in infamy.” Despite not being able to see the carnage on the television screen, I had never before heard such a reaction from an event, so I knew it had to be horrible.

     Awhile later, the principle came back on the public address system and told the teachers to turn the televisions off and try to resume our normal class work, gently telling us students that the news coverage would just show the same footage over and over and it wasn’t good for us to watch it all day. So the teacher turned off the television and we took our regularly scheduled science quiz, and went through the rest of our classes like nothing happened, but I know students and teachers alike were merely going through the motions.

     When I got home from school, my mom was at her usual post at the end of the driveway where the bus let me off. At first, she didn’t say anything, probably so that she wouldn’t alarm me in the event that I hadn’t been informed about the tragedy at school, but when I told her I had heard what happened, I will never forget her account of the event. She was just thinking about what a beautiful day it was, the sky the most perfect blue, with not a cloud to be seen, when Dad called from work to tell her to turn on the news.

     I will also never forget the fact that she had made rice krispy treats. I don’t know if she had planned to make them anyway, or if it was a desperate attempt to salvage a tiny ray of sweetness and innocence out of such a tragic day, but I will always remember eating my rice krispy treat and Mom commenting that “this tragedy will effect all of us.”

     At first, I didn’t understand what she meant by this comment. I even remember thinking “no, this won’t effect me. Sure it was a horrible event that for a few days will make me stunned and sad for the families who lost loved ones, but since our family didn’t lose loved ones, it wouldn’t have a lasting effect on us.” As it turned out, Mom was right. Maybe Osama Bin Laden didn’t kill any of my friends or loved ones, but I realize now that he killed a lot of my childhood innocence and forced me to grow up a little faster.

     In fifth grade Social Studies, I had learned about the American Revolution and the brutal attacks by the British on the colonists. But I thought stuff like that was just history, and with all of our technological advancements and respected status in the world, nothing like that could ever happen today. All of the other lessons I learned in school on September 11, in particular the science lesson where we were learning how to measure our resting heart rate and compare it to our heart rate after exercising, seemed insignificant after learning that our country is not as safe and invincible as I always thought.

     At Halloween, my dad took me trick-or-treating, but it seemed as though no one’s heart was in it, which my mom attributed to the fact that celebrating Halloween almost felt akin to celebrating evil, which didn’t feel right after September 11. I remember begging and pleading to go trick-or-treating because I was still immature and wanted to do the happy childish things I had always looked forward to, so my mom threw together a costume (I don’t even remember what it was), and had Dad take me around the neighborhood while she stayed home to greet trick-or-treaters that came to our house. But to tell the truth, I don’t think my heart was in it either. It might have been due to the fact that I was getting too old for trick-or-treating, but I think September 11 also had something to do with the fact that I never went trick-or-treating again.

     Christmas that year was a sad time for our family because it was the first Christmas after my grandpa passed away, and two days before Christmas, a neighbor we were good friends with also died unexpectedly. But September 11 added to the sadness. We went through the motions of decorating the house, baking cookies and buying gifts, but again, our hearts weren’t in it. By the following Christmas, our wounds were starting to heal and we found joy in Christmas again. But it was a different joy, less about the new toys under the tree, and more about appreciating what is really important, spending time with loved ones.

     Before September 11, I lived in my own little childhood bubble, not really caring about what was going on outside my world. But September 11 was a rude awakening to the fact that there is a larger world beyond my bubble, and thus I started paying much more attention to, and understanding the significance of the news regarding the larger world. I couldn’t help recalling all of these moments when I got the long-awaited news last week that Osama Bin Laden was killed, and feeling as though there was finally justice, not just for those who lost loved ones on September 11, but also for the children who were robbed of their innocence.

     But the death of Osama Bin Laden also had another wonderful effect, which was the unity it seems to have brought to the whole country this week. Given all of the anger and distrust of government, especially regarding our budget deficit, it is easy to forget the incredible unity after September 11. On that day, all political differences were forgotten as everyone grieved and wanted the terrorists brought to justice. My favorite symbol of this unity was when one of my relatives forwarded my mom an e-mail of a cartoon with a silly song and tools to create a character that you could sign your name to and kick Osama Bin Laden’s butt! Even at my young age, I felt such pride and patriotism as Mom created a character for me. But as the horrible images of September 11 faded from everyone’s memory with time and the Iraq War divided the country again, I became cynical. I was even beginning to doubt if the United States was even looking for Bin Laden anymore as I hadn’t heard his name mentioned in the news lately, and I had learned some pretty unflattering things about our intelligence agencies in a public policy course I took this past semester.

     Of course Americans were divided about the degree of happiness they felt upon hearing this news. If I had lived on my own, I probably would have organized a spontaneous celebration in the streets, as did many college kids, but I know many people interviewed on the news didn’t like the idea of celebrating violence, even if it was Osama Bin Laden, and of course people who lost loved ones on September 11 pointed out that the death of Osama Bin Laden won’t bring their loved ones back. But while the country was divided on whether or not it was right to celebrate in the streets, our country was once again united in the fact that I have yet to encounter a single person who isn’t proud of our troops and somewhat relieved that Bin Laden is dead.

     My parents don’t think Osama Bin Laden’s death will unite the country long-term, and they are probably right. After all, we all saw how the unity and patriotism after September 11 was long forgotten by the time the United States invaded Iraq. So it probably won’t be long before this victory will be forgotten and Congress will resume fighting like junior high girls over the budget deficit. But for any historians who might stumble upon this blog in 200 years, it should be noted that at least for this week, differences were put aside, and not a person could be found who wasn’t proud to be an American.

Some Thoughts as I Return To School

Hello readers. I hope you all enjoyed the address from Snickers, the queen. She is right that I absolutely love and adore her, but I should point out that while Snickers says I favor Gilbert, Gilbert is jealous because I give too much love and attention to Snickers! I just cannot win, I tell you! So I guess sibling rivalry is alive and well in both my human and animal family. But I will concede that Snickers has a right to be a little insulted since Gilbert gets so much more attention in this journal than she does, and for that, I offer my most sincere apology and will strive to ensure they are both mentioned more equally since they have both proven they have an awesome and innate ability to add some fun and life to this journal because unfortunately, the demands of the human life do not always allow me to have the constantly sunny disposition they have, especially when the responsibilities of school return to my life. Speaking of school, though I hate to end this glorious summer with a somewhat depressing entry about returning to the reality of school, this time of year always sparks so many thoughts and emotions that I feel an overwhelming need to express before they are buried under stressful thoughts about the homework ahead of me, and mountains of information my brain must store, at least until after exams.

     I often feel guilty when I complain about going to school. After all, the slaves back in the 1800s, and marginalized citizens in third world countries today would give anything to have the chance to go to school, and in some places like Afghanistan, women risk their lives by going to school because the Taliban does not want women to be educated. Even in the United States, you hear about too many schools that are centers of poverty and violence, rather than learning and possibility, or schools where budget constraints and sometimes negative attitudes about the capabilities of children with disabilities means they don’t always get the quality education they deserve. But I have always gone to wonderful schools staffed with teachers who saw any technology I needed to give me an equal education to that of my sighted peers as a worthwhile investment, and who set high expectations for me, telling me never to let my disability stop me from dreaming big. I have never known poverty or violence, and never had to risk my life for an education. Yet despite how blessed and fortunate I know I am when I think about the less fortunate circumstances, even for people just a few miles away in the inner city schools, I still complain about having to go to school, especially this time of year.

     While I don’t want to claim to be a philosopher, I cannot help notice that I am not alone in my dread of going back to school, and I wonder if this seemingly universal gloominess that comes with the arrival of each new school year is due to the fact that when you have had access to education all of your life, you cannot appreciate how fortunate you really are. And if you live under a government that places so much value on education that it is required of you, and are surrounded by parents and teachers who share these values, you may view education as something you groan and go along with because it is the law, or because it is expected of you by your parents. Ultimately, this means that for people who long for education but live in areas where the culture surrounding them doesn’t value education, school is viewed as their gate to freedom from poverty, and a better life for themselves and their children, while many affluent Americans view school as a prison where they must serve a twelve year minimum sentence in order to earn the freedom of adulthood. The reason I am making these uncharacteristically philosophical speculations is because I think that though I didn’t have the ability to articulate these thoughts as a child, this is often how I felt at the beginning of each new school year.

     Alright, I know a lot of you readers might say this prison analogy is a little harsh, but just play along with me for a few minutes and think about it. When you were a child, didn’t you ever feel imprisoned by crowded stuffy classrooms where you sat for hours at a time struggling through pointless math problems, or listening to teachers rambling about history, grammar or science while the rest of the world passed by outside the window, making you feel as if you were wasting your life away? Did you not feel imprisoned by the bells that rang every hour, at the sound of which you were expected to robotically hurry to your next class, which for me was the same class, at the same time five days a week in high school? Didn’t you feel imprisoned by strict teachers who required you to have a pass just to use the bathroom, and robbed you of precious lunch and recess hours to finish work simply because you work at a slower pace than the rest of the class. Surely, you felt imprisoned by the homework which dominates so many after school hours you don’t really get to have a life outside of school, and the teachers who gave detentions if you just needed a break from these pointless assignments for once, deciding to go to bed early or enjoy a movie with your parents who won freedom from the bonds of homework when they entered the adult world. School vacations, especially summer vacation offered a temporary release from this imprisoning routine, but while the beginning of summer vacation is characterized with feelings of joy and freedom, the whole month of August was always marked with gloomy feelings when I realized that it wouldn’t be long before I would have to surrender my freedom and return to the prison of school, even when I was mature enough to understand the necessity of education and how lucky I am to have access to it.

     However, I must say that ever since I started college, I have not been quite as depressed about returning to school. Don’t get me wrong. I still feel a little imprisoned by boring classes, and though I always start each school year convinced this will be the year I get my homework done efficiently so I have plenty of time for more pleasurable pursuits, I know by the end of the first week, I will be so hopelessly overwhelmed by homework that always takes me longer to complete than I think, that this very well could be the last journal entry I have time to write until Christmas. And I still get a little bit of a melancholy feeling because the end of summer, characterized by the sleepy, mournful songs of the cicadas by day, and the choir made up of thousands of crickets that come out after dark, followed by autumn, characterized by the wonderful aroma of ripe apples in the air, and the peaceful lullaby sound of the wind dispersing the crunchy dead leaves, are such beautiful seasons that I feel like I have to tune out once school starts, leaving me with the feeling one might get if forced to leave a lovely concert right at the climax of its beauty. But yet, since I have started college, my sadness about leaving summer behind isn’t quite as deep.

     Part of the reason for this could be that the routine isn’t so monotonous because I don’t have every class every day. In fact, a lot of classes at my college don’t meet on Wednesdays, so with the exception of first semester sophomore year when I had two classes that met on Wednesdays, I have gotten Wednesdays off all semester. This semester, I will have one class that meets for fifty minutes four days a week, two classes that meet two hours twice a week, and one class that only meets once a week for three and a half hours. When I am not in class, unlike high school where you were required to fill any free hours with study halls in an assigned classroom, in college, how you spend free hours is your decision. Usually, I end up using them to study anyway because there is so much work to do, but just knowing that I could go home early, take a walk outside on a beautiful day or chat with a friend in the coffee shop if I wanted to is exhilarating. Also, I have never missed a class except when I wasn’t feeling well around the time of my ovarian cyst surgery last year, and never would skip class without a legitimate reason like that because I am a serious student, and because that would be pretty disrespectful to my parents who are paying my tuition, and my conscience would bother me so much I wouldn’t enjoy the time. But it is so exhilarating to know that if I were to skip class, I wouldn’t be chased down by cops to face truancy charges, and my parents would not be called. So even though college is more demanding than high school in many ways, this variety in my routine, and the fact that I am treated like an adult and trusted to make my own decisions means I feel a lot less imprisoned in my college education.

     But I think the larger reason for my more positive outlook at the start of each year of college is the simple fact that college is not required, and therefore, not everyone goes to college. I don’t mean to sound elitist and snobby when I make this statement, and unfortunately, there are too many people who would love to go to college, but don’t have access to colleges where they live, or cannot afford higher education. I hope that Barack Obama, or some president in the near future can reform policies so that everyone who wants higher education can pursue it, but it is not my intention to put down anyone who couldn’t go to college, or chose not to go to college. My point is that since college is not required, people who have access and choose to pursue a college education are a more mature group of people. Of course, it is true that these days, it is difficult to find a job and be successful without a college education, so a lot of people who might have loved to be done with school and go right to work after high school in a less competitive world, decide they need to go to college. One day when I was younger, I was talking with my sister and her husband about what the college atmosphere is like, and now that I am in the college world, I realize the truth behind one particular comment my sister’s husband made. He said that just like in high school classes, the students don’t want to be there, but in college, they understand that they need to be there. This is exactly the attitude I see in my college classes, and I love it. I think that simply being with a group of people who understands why they need education creates a more pleasant, less imprisoning atmosphere. Disrespect toward professors, at least at my college, is extremely rare, and even though I mentioned earlier that in college I could skip class because parents would not be called, I don’t skip, and despite the lack of parental supervision, most of the other students don’t skip class either, because since college is not mandatory, so their parents really cannot force them to go, they most likely would not have enrolled in college until they themselves have acquired the maturity to value this higher education. But I think it is not only your choice whether to go to college that makes higher education more liberating, but also the fact that it is your choice what to study in college. Of course, there are still general education requirements, especially for freshmen and sophomore years. However, although I hated taking Statistics since I am a writing person, not a math person, I didn’t get such a deep feeling that what I was learning served no purpose because instead of crunching numbers just for the sake of doing it, the teacher gave us word problems, and showed how knowledge of statistical operations would be useful in our diverse majors. But in addition to general education classes, in college you have more smaller, specialized classes directly related to the major you chose, allowing you to develop wonderful friendships with people who share your interests, and be more engaged and passionate about learning since the subject matter of the courses are tailored to your interests. Of course, sometimes even classes related to your interests can be boring, but it is so much easier to persevere and stay engaged in these classes when you know that what you are learning will serve a larger purpose in your chosen career, long after the final exam.

     Or maybe I became more optimistic once I started college because after fourteen years of education that could be compared to climbing a mountain at times, I saw college as the final lap on this climb. My college years have absolutely flown by too, and I cannot believe I am already a junior this year, which means I only have two more years on my educational climb before I reach the promise land of adulthood where all of the skills you learned through the educational climb can be put to use making a larger difference in the world. And on that note, I will sign off because while I wrote most of these thoughts yesterday on my last day of summer vacation, as I finish this entry, I am in the technology center at my college after my first class of this new year, and I want to study hard and make excellent grades so my arrival in this promise land is not delayed. So I guess it’s time to stop blogging, pull out my syllabus and start studying again.

A Wise College Decision

Last Saturday at my college, there was a preview day for incoming freshmen to register for their classes if they hadn’t already, tour the campus and seek advice for how to be successful in college from older students. My work at the switchboard where I have fielded a lot of calls with questions from incoming freshmen and their parents and observed my coworkers at the information desk as they make all of the logistical arrangements for preview day has brought back so many memories of two years ago when I was one of those nervous freshmen preparing to enter the scary unknown world of college that I thought it would be fun to write an entry reflecting on these memories.

     Ever since I can remember, my parents and teachers encouraged me to dream big because blindness was my only disability, and despite the fact that the unemployment rate is 70 percent for blind people which would mean I would have to work a little harder to get employers to accept me, they were confident that I was capable of being an educated, employed and productive member of society, and that the world was full of opportunities for me. Even for sighted people, college is essential for making big dreams come true, especially with so much competition for jobs here in the United States, and from places like India and China that have industrialized rapidly in recent years. But I think my teachers and parents knew that if it was difficult for even sighted people to find employment, it would be even more difficult for me, making a college education even more essential for me.

     At first, the goal of preparing me for college was the goal of my teachers. When the amount of homework and serious academic learning increased in third grade, an increase I wasn’t prepared for, I earned a C on the first Social Studies test where we learned things like the names and locations of the seven continents and four oceans. Now to me, a C didn’t seem that bad. An F, I had learned was bad because it meant a failing grade, but a C I thought was average. What was wrong with average? Of course back then, the importance of maintaining good grades wasn’t much of a concern to me because it was only third grade. My brother had to earn certain grades in order to pass his final exams in high school, and I had heard that in college, the test basically determined your grade since you didn’t have the daily assignments to balance it out. But high school and college seemed a long way off back then and therefore nothing I needed to worry about or start preparing for. However when my vision teacher saw this grade, I will never forget the lecture I got about how important it is to study harder because tests and subjects will only get harder in the years to come. If that meant staying up late, or leaving a fun family event to lock myself upstairs at my desk and study, then that was what I had to do. When I actually did get to high school, by which time I had matured and was doing my homework consistently and earning excellent grades, the subject of this third grade lecture came up somehow in one of my orientation and mobility lessons with her, and I asked her why she had given me such a lecture when it was only third grade. It was kind of funny because she did actually admit she might have been a little harsh with me considering my age, but said with seriousness in her voice that it was because she had such high hopes for me to go on to college. So many of the students she worked with would never go to college since they also had cognitive disabilities, but I could go to college, have a successful career and be a self sufficient blind woman. But she was concerned that the poor work ethic and study habits I had in third grade would only get worse in the coming years and that I would not be able to handle college. More lectures like these were delivered in subsequent years, but like I said, I gradually started maturing and doing better until by high school, I was making excellent grades and there was no doubt that I would be able to handle college. There was still a trace of my immaturity in eighth grade and the early part of ninth grade, not so much in my grades but in my attitude which required some motivation from my parents. I was doing well in eighth grade but was getting tired of the grind of school year after year, and all of the pressure to perform well on tests and assignments that came with it. The prospect of four more years of this drudgery was depressing, and eight more years was unthinkable. Why did I have to go to college? I was willing to put up with high school because I had to by law for one thing, but also because while it would mean four more years of math concepts I would never use in life, I might also learn some valuable things to make me a more well-rounded mature person. But one of my favorite country singers Loretta Lynn only got an eighth grade education, but still became famous with her wonderful singing, and she is probably doing just fine financially too. But my parents said that this kind of success is the exception, not the rule, but also repeatedly reassured me that college would not be like middle school and high school because I would be in the adult world surrounded by a more mature group of peers and taking more classes related to my interests rather than just general education classes that everyone has to take. By tenth grade when I was finally developing the maturity to realize how competitive the global job market is, I succumbed to the reality that realistically, I would need to go to college. It wasn’t until eleventh grade when the mentorship opportunity I had at a local newspaper helped me to discover a passion for Journalism that I actually got excited for college. But no sooner had the question of whether or not I was going to college been resolved than another more imminent and anxiety provoking question present itself. That question was where I would go to college.

     Deep down, the prospect of going far away to college and living in a dorm scared me to death, which made me no different than any teenager in a way because like any teenager, I had been living at home with my parents all of my life and couldn’t imagine living far away from this comfort and sense of familiarity. But I think I was even more scared about being on my own than the average teenager since being blind meant I would need more accommodations to get through college, and since I would no longer have my vision teacher or aid to turn to, or my parents just steps away if I needed help with homework or comfort when school was stressful, the thought of having to advocate for my own needs and comfort myself in a lonely impersonal dorm room overwhelmed me. At the same time, I wanted to get the full college experience of being on my own since I knew I couldn’t live with my parents forever, and feared employers would think less of me or that I would still feel like I was in high school if I went to a little community college and came home to my parents every day when all of my high school peers with an equal academic standing to mine were talking about going to big name schools and living on their own. In fact, for awhile, I dreamed of going to Saint Olaf’s since a choir from this college came to sing with my school choir at the beginning of my sophomore year, and they were amazing! In addition, going to that school would be the ultimate college experience and chance to display independence since it was about a five hour drive from home. My parents were pretty opposed to me going that far away for the same reasons that I was apprehensive about going that far away deep down, but I found myself being kind of upset with them and feeling like they were holding me back by encouraging me to look at colleges in the area where I feared I wouldn’t get the full college experience. Fortunately however, there was one piece of advice I did agree with my mom about, which was to decide what you are interested in studying and then determine where would be the best fit for your interests rather than focusing on where to go first. Following this advice turned out to benefit all parties involved because after doing some more thorough college research for a career preparation assignment that the guidance counselors led all of the juniors through in the library, I discovered that Saint Olaf’s did not have a Journalism program which was what I really wanted to study. I still think it would have been pretty cool to sing with a Saint Olaf’s choir, especially when I hear their Christmas concert on public television every year. But the choirs at the college I ended up choosing are excellent too even if they are not prestigious enough to have a concert on public television, and it was definitely more important to find a college that offered the Journalism program I was interested in than a college with a prestigious choir that I would sing in as an extracurricular activity. It turned out there were a lot of great colleges in the area that offered Journalism, so many that I was overwhelmed. There was only one way to find out whether colleges I read about on the internet were right for me, and that was to arrange college visits.

     The first college my parents, vision teacher and I visited was a state university about 45 minutes from my house, the same college both my older brothers went to, and my oldest brother majored in Journalism there. Toward the end of my sophomore year, my vision teacher heard about a special visiting day the college had arranged for prospective students, and since she heard this college had a good disability services department, she thought it was worth pulling me out of school for. I wasn’t entirely thrilled about going to the same college both my brothers went to because I wanted to have my own college experience and not just default and go to the same college my brothers went to. Of course, if I had fallen in love with this college and felt like it was the perfect fit for me, I hope I would have had the maturity to choose my college for the right reasons and go to the college that felt right for me even if it was the same college my brothers went to. But it didn’t take long to realize this wasn’t the right college for me. The day began in a huge lecture hall where there must have been hundreds of other students and their parents, where we listened to boring lectures about all the programs this college offered. From there, we could break off and go to separate buildings for more information about a specific program that interested us. Back then, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in Journalism yet, so my vision teacher took me to the music school to learn more about their music program. Maybe I might have had a more positive attitude about this college if I had come back once I had decided I was interested in Journalism to learn more about that program, but I doubt it because instead of using the presentation time to make the group feel welcome and share some general information about the program, it seemed like the presenter of the music program just launched right in to rambling about all of the portfolio, audition and application requirements to be considered for admission in to the music school, and there was too many people and too little time to introduce myself to the presenter and discuss the accommodations I would need to be in this program as a blind person, so that when I left, I felt overwhelmed, not excited at all. I am sure this presentation would have basically been the same for the Journalism program, especially since Journalism is a very competitive field. After lunch while other students were taking a group tour of the campus, we did get to have an individual meeting with the disability services coordinator, and another blind student already attending that college. These people were wonderful and got my parents excited about all of the services that would be available to me. There was even a braille embosser for tests or math materials that I might need to have a hard copy of. In fact, my parents were so excited about all of these services that by the end of the meeting, they were saying things like “We look forward to meeting you again in a couple years!” that made it seem like it had been decided this was the school for me and it was all over but the formality of filling out the application. There would be no need for any more college visits, which I remembered being an exciting process for my older sister. The fact that blindness was my only disability meant that I could go to college, but I hadn’t anticipated blindness to be a disability that would limit where I could go to college. My parents apologized for coming off in a way that made it seem like the decision about where I went to college was being made for me, and my mom explained the reason they were really so excited was that they had no idea how many services were available for blind students and thought that once I got to college, I would be on my own. No matter where I went to college, I would of course be on my own in the sense that I would have to plan ahead and make it my responsibility to inform disability services about upcoming tests or textbooks I needed, but I think what my parents feared was meant by being on my own was that there was no disability services department at all. But when they learned that all colleges offered disability services, the college visits continued. Just after the fourth of July the summer after my junior year, my parents and I visited Northwestern University in Illinois, about three hours from our house. My parents were not wild about me going to this college either, but I think if it was where I really wanted to go, they would have obliged and let me go there because we have relatives near there if I was having problems, and my dad who was helping me with my college research read that they have an excellent Journalism program. But once again, it was crystal clear this was not the right college for me. In fact, when we were sent on a walking tour of their sprawling campus with fifty other students and their parents where the tour guide walked so fast that I couldn’t keep up since it was a hot day and there were a lot of steps to navigate, which meant I always ended up at the very back of the group where I couldn’t really hear what the tour guide was saying, I decided that my experience at Northwestern was even worse than my experience at the first college. This unwelcome feeling was even further confirmed when we met with the disability services coordinator who said they have services like Jaws that can be installed on computers for me, but they have never had any other blind students, so that by the end of this visit, I had a headache, and a nagging feeling that all my parents and teachers had overestimated my capabilities and I would never find a college that didn’t overwhelm me.

     And then came July 27, 2007, and my visit to Carroll College. I think I had gotten some recruitment letters from this college, but disregarded them at first because it seemed too small and close to home that I feared if I wanted to apply for a job at a prestigious newspaper or something, the person reviewing my application would laugh when they saw the name of that college under the education credentials on my application. I had also heard that a lot of other blind students had gone there, and I wanted to have a “real” college experience and not feel like I was going to a “college for the blind”. Of course I realize now that these were pretty stuck up and unfounded misconceptions because I quickly learned that graduates from this college went on to be very successful. One alumnus who came to speak at a welcoming ceremony my freshman year was one of the actors on the broadway version of The Lion King, which toured the country a couple years ago, and this year’s keynote speaker for commencement whom I wrote an article about for a special annual newspaper that comes out before commencement every year, was an alumnus who became the corporate executive of Target Corporation which is pretty prestigious if you ask me! It definitely wasn’t a “college for the blind” either because while there were three other blind students there when I started, there are also 2,500 other sighted students, so I have gotten a real college experience. I am so glad that I rose above these negative attitudes and decided to visit this college because from the moment I walked in to a quiet campus center lobby where my mom saw a sign that said “welcome Allison Nastoff”, I immediately felt a sensation that I belonged at this college, a sense that I had found home. This wonderful feeling was confirmed when a director of admissions greeted us warmly and took us to an inviting office where we had an individual meeting. I think this director even asked us if we wanted anything to drink, another stark contrast from the big colleges where there was not that sense of hospitality. Snacks and drinks were arranged on a table where you waited in line to help yourself. I forget what we talked about at this meeting, but I remember that for the first time, I left a college meeting feeling calm rather than overwhelmed. Then we went to the office of the disability services coordinator for another individual meeting, and although this coordinator mentioned I would still have to advocate my needs, somehow this prospect seemed less overwhelming at this college, which I think was because the fact that she asked me personal questions about my interests in addition to business questions like the accommodations I would need, made me feel like I would be viewed as a real person, not just a number, or worse, a legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Then after that meeting, a campus tour was arranged. “Now is when reality will come back to bite me again,” was my first thought when I found out this tour had been arranged. But to my amazement, this tour did not require me to keep up with hundreds of other people. In fact, the only members of this tour group were myself and my parents! The tour guide, a student who I saw frequently around campus freshman year, walked us slowly around campus, clearly explained everything, and eagerly answered all of our questions. Also, while the campus is located in a city and there is traffic on the streets, it is a peaceful level of traffic, and once you get away from the street, you can enjoy a calming breeze and hear the birds sing. At the end of this tour which marked the formal end of this visit, there was no trace of a headache, and as my parents and I met my brother for lunch at a nearby restaurant, I was overwhelmed, but not by dread of what a stressful change college would be for my life, but excitement for what a positive college experience I sensed I would get from this college. I did not let my parents see this excitement right away because I still had those negative perceptions of small colleges, and we still had one more big college to visit which maybe would be a more positive experience. But deep down, I knew that this college visit was just a formality, and sure enough when I was greeted by another huge lecture hall of people at this college, I knew that God was telling me I belonged at Carroll College. In fact, I was so confident that I belonged at this college that despite the encouragement of my parents and teachers to apply to other places and maybe visit a few more colleges, Carroll was the only college I felt like applying to, since it was the only college that felt right to me. Somehow by the way I was made to feel so welcome, I just knew I would get in. If I didn’t get in to this college, that would be a sign that I wasn’t meant for college, and while I didn’t want to end up living in a van by the river, I decided I would prefer that over attending a college where I would be treated like a number rather than a real person. That comment by the way was not intended to offend any readers who did not go to college. It was from a hilarious Saturday Night Live skit the guidance counselor showed my freshman class before a career exploration activity to motivate us to study hard in school and start thinking about what kind of life we want after high school.

     There was some anxiety about my decision to only apply to this school, and my sister who went to a big college was at first opposed to me attending such a small school since she thought bigger schools have more resources for people with disabilities. But after talking to another blind friend who went to a big school and hearing about how some teachers were not willing to make accommodations for her, I would not waiver in my decision that this small school was the perfect fit for me. There was also admittedly a little fear of what I would do in the chance that I was rejected by this school. But one cold December day, I went to school thinking it would turn out like any other day of coming home to nothing but the monotony of homework. However when I got in to the house, I smelled chocolate chip cookies and was greeted by an excited mother who said “I have a surprise for you” as she handed me a sweatshirt with CARROLL COLLEGE written on it in big raised print letters that I could make out, and that was how I found out that I had been accepted and officially welcomed to be a student at Carroll College! My mom said she couldn’t resist opening the letter, but I wasn’t disappointed that she was the first to know I had been accepted because the letter was in print anyway, but the surprise of the sweatshirt she went and bought from the Carroll bookstore meant that I got to experience the thrill and surprise of officially being accepted to college just like all of my sighted friends, and for the rest of the year, I found myself studying with a renewed sense of purpose.

     From that first preview day with my parents, to the official preview day before becoming a freshman where one of the student orientation leaders said she would be happy to guide me through all the activities so I never felt overwhelmed despite being in a large group, and then through my first two years of college, I still experience that same welcomed feeling every day. Of course there have been difficult times like the rocky start to freshman year when the disability services office didn’t have all of my textbooks scanned, and my fair share of difficult classes that kept me up all hours of the night. But the individualized attention this college facilitates, the small peaceful campus atmosphere and support from my parents has allowed me to take on these difficulties with more grace than I ever could have at a big college. I have heard some pretty harsh criticism of this college’s Journalism program, but my mom said that I should not let this criticism affect my confidence that I had chosen the right college, and interestingly, she also mentioned that the nursing program at the college she attended was also criticized. But she is a wonderful nurse, and I am sure I will be a wonderful Journalist because the more I mature, the more I realize that a prestigious name is just a name, nothing more, and this college has given me the same educational opportunities I would have gotten from a big school. A few people may scoff at the name of my college, or the fact that I didn’t have the confidence to go far away and brave a big college, but with maturity, I have come to realize that I really don’t care what others think, and ultimately, I think choosing the college that is the best fit for me will exude more confidence than trying to impress people with a prestigious name. And on that note, I look forward to starting my junior year, another year that will confirm once again that choosing this college was perhaps the wisest decision I have ever made.

Cat Memories

For years my sister had desperately wanted a cat. My parents were reluctant to get a cat, probably because, understandably, they didn’t think Indy would be pleased with a new creature in her territory (laugh). But the summer after fourth grade was the first summer my sister had her driver’s license, so since both of our parents worked all day, we spent our summer days sneaking off to the humane society to look at kittens.

     At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted a cat because I had been bitten and scratched by other cats. But after only a couple trips to the humane society, that were filled with the sounds of sad, lonely kittens mewing and throwing themselves against the door of the cage, desperate for love and attention, my sister had me hooked. With me on her side, it didn’t take us long to lobby Mom and Dad. Our main arguments were the usual promise that every kid makes, that they will do all of the work. Of course, we didn’t live up to our end of the bargain, but my parents came to love the cat so much that they didn’t mind. We also made the valid argument that while Indy was a wonderful pet, she was too big to sit in our lap, and a lap pet would be a wonderful addition to our family.
     On a Saturday in August, my mom agreed to come to the humane society with us, and we showed her the cats we thought had the best temperament. The next day, we brought home a black kitten whom we decided to name Snickers.
     Snickers is definitely not your typical cat. Most other cats I have interacted with hide somewhere and sleep all day, only showing up at meal times. Snickers is eight years old now, and she acts more like a dog than a cat. Whenever someone comes over, she greets them at the door, and she craves attention, always wanting to be where the action is. If someone is sitting on the couch, she will jump in to their lap and purr so loud you can hear her all the way across the room!
     Just like Indy, Snickers also has a mind of her own. If you try to pick her up and she doesn’t want to be held at that moment, she makes this wish very clear with a good bite. After eight years though, I can recognize by the way she moves her head that she is not pleased, and is about to bite, and have developed excellent reflexes! Also, I swear Snickers knows I am blind, and when she was a kitten, she used this to her advantage. Every morning, she would crouch and wait silently either in the middle of the hallway, or at the bottom of the stairs, and just as I would approach her, she would pounce and nip my ankles, scaring the daylights out of me every time!      Also, still to this day, despite our efforts to discipline her with a firm voice and a squirt gun, she insists on jumping on to the table or counter. No sooner do we shoo her off the table than she persists and jumps right back on. Almost every day, she persists with this until we either feed her, or have to lock her in another room.
     And as for how Indy and Snickers got along, it turned out that we had no reason to worry about Indy hurting Snickers. It still amazes me how much nerve Snickers had in her interactions with Indy, and how patient Indy was! If Indy was sitting in a spot Snickers wanted, she would just walk up to Indy and bite her! When we first got Snickers, she only weighed about five pounds, and Indy could have easily gotten rid of the pest with one quick snap. But instead, Indy would just give in, and move, letting Snickers have her spot! Growing up with a dog who was so forgiving and patient with a pesky creature that was smaller than her head has definitely given me a deeper respect for dogs and their level of compassion. When I took my guide dog to my grandma’s house, and my 15-month-old cousin came to visit, it came as no surprise to me when my guide dog followed him around, and laid down next to the baby when he was ready for a nap.
     Snickers also gave me valuable experience in the power that a gentle voice can have in bonding with animals. Being that Indy was such a big strong dog, she would only respond to you when you addressed her in a loud firm voice. But since Snickers was tiny buy comparison, and was frightened by loud voices, she responded best to a cheerful baby voice. With my guide dog, I try to combine both of these concepts, using the firm voice when he is naughty, but a sweet voice whenever possible. The fact that Snickers purrs with contentment, and my guide dog wags his tail furiously at the sound of a gentle, loving voice is more than enough evidence to prove that animals definitely have emotions, and want to know that they are loved. While practice and discipline are very important, Snickers has helped me to appreciate that expressing love to an animal is just as important for forging a lifelong bond, and thus a cohesive guide dog team.