Tag Archives: speech therapy

My Amazing Journey

Two years ago, I was in a classroom with 24 students discussing goals, challenges, and life in general. College Prep is my favorite class to teach. Every semester, I have the opportunity to guide anxious new college students on a new direction in their lives. In this class, I have heard many amazing stories that make up the lives of these hopeful, eager adults. The students talk about overcoming addictions, illnesses, abandonment, alienation, and violence. The experience is life changing for all of us.

One day, some of the students asked me to tell my story. I was hesitant at first. As the teacher for this course, how much information should I reveal? Would it be appropriate for me to show any vulnerability? Could I talk objectively about my life in a professional, positive manner? Then a thought occurred to me. Maybe my story can help other people.

With a deep breath, I began. When I was a child I had a horrible speech impediment, which was so bad my first grade teacher called my mother and told her I was “retarded.” The teacher demanded that I be immediately removed from the classroom. My mother refused. I was then challenged with intense psychological and intellectual exams. My mother was venerated when she was told I scored close to the genius level. When I returned to my first grade class my shocked teacher decided that I just must be lazy. With this in mind, she would hit me for every word I mispronounced.

The abuse continued at home as well. My father agreed with my teacher’s assessment and method of discipline. At home, I was verbally and physically punished for every clumsy word and movement. The experience left me mute for years. Not a single word would I speak to anyone, except my mother. After a year of speech therapy and a lifetime of experiences, I slowly began to regain my voice. Today, I am a teacher and public speaker.

At the end of my story, my students were quiet for a moment as they assimilated the details of my story. Then, from the back of the room, one of the students raised her hand and asked this question: “Then how come you’re always so happy? You went through all that and yet you’re always here smiling.” She sincerely and anxiously asked me, “How do you do that? How do you get to that level?”

Before I could think about it, this word came out of my mouth, “Faith.” The word even stunned me for a moment. Then I continued, “I just always had faith that life would get better.”

As the class ended and the students filed out of the room, I was shocked to hear some of them say that my story was inspirational. What?!? I had never thought of it that way. It was just my life. Me? Inspiring? No.

I then asked myself this question: “Who is the most inspiring person I know?” I immediately thought about my mother. My mother was a small, delicate, graceful woman. She was barely five feet tall, 90 pounds, with dark hair and brilliant green eyes. She was a tender, passionate daydreamer too sensitive for this world. She would spend the majority of her life bravely battling depression and forty years of domestic abuse.

That night, I began to read all of the journals I had kept over the years. My main focus was the journey my mother and I had taken together through America. We had set a goal to drive through every state. It was an amazing experience as we explored together the golden expanse of the country and our own lives. Could this be inspirational?

Slowly a book idea developed. The book would detail our journey. There would be three parts. The first part would focus on the abuse my mother and I experienced. The second part would be our adventurous tour of America as we searched for peace and tranquility. The last part would present my mother’s diagnosis and subsequent death. I would lose my mother to complications of colon cancer. This shared experience of death was as bonding for us as our journey through abuse and salvation. Death was another part of our journey together.

I completed the manuscript for The Sweetness of Life in August of 2013. The book was published in March, 2014, by Balboa Press.

My mother always used to say to me, “My life would make a great book.” I believe my mother still traveled with me as I wrote and published this book. It has been another one of our great adventures.

So, now, here it is. Our story. The Sweetness of Life—one more stop on an amazing journey that has more adventures to come.


My International Voice

My childhood fears have ebbed over the years, though every now and then my early experiences visit me in strange ways. Whenever I talk, it’s not unusual for people to ask me where I’m from. People usually claim I have an accent. It’s actually not an accent, but a scar left over from my speech impediment. I have been placed all over the world though. Constant questions about my heritage always come racing at me from strangers. People are always asking me if I’m from Australia, England, Scotland, Ireland…

One day, I was working in a department store in Kansas and this older man and woman approached me. After answering their questions, the man repeated my answers back to me. I nodded, thinking he was doing nothing more than confirming what I had said. But as they turned to walk away, the man grabbed the woman’s arm and whispered loud enough for me to hear, “If these foreigners want to stay in this country, they better learn to speak the language!” At the time, I was shocked by his words. Now, I find it funny. I’m proud of my international voice. Though I am still naturally shy and socially awkward, darkness and loneliness no longer consume me. I no longer need anyone to take care of me, hold my hand, fight my battles for me, or watch over me while I sleep.

One evening, I stood on the balcony of my apartment in California staring out at the San Jacinto mountains as the sun set behind them turning the peaks to a dark gentle brown. I knew at that time that I didn’t want this existence to end. Even with all of the struggles I have known, I don’t want to leave this life. Why is it that I have lived without a home before, not knowing where I was going or how I was going to survive…how was it that I lived off just a bowl of rice every day for several months and still believe, within myself, that I have always had the best of everything? I continue to behave like a young girl, dreaming of castles and princes, even though life has tried many times to convince me there are no such things for me. Sometimes I believe I am incurably optimistic. My greatest accomplishment in life is knowing how to always remain in a state of gratitude. I have always known how to count my blessings.

My experiences have been so different from the many people I have known. My experiences continually pull me from this world and yet hold me to this life. I travel alone and free not knowing where it will lead me. I live traveling aimlessly on the roads that bring me closer to God than any religious following ever could. I say my prayers when I am traveling. When I get scared of being lost and alone, I pray and feel a presence in the empty seat beside me in the car, guiding my path. I am surprised that there are people in my life who still see this as a defect in me, but it’s okay. I know what’s real.

The Beginning of My Journey

In the summer before I started second grade, I began speech therapy classes. I have vague memories of the facility Mom took me to every Friday morning for about two months. I remember sitting in a room with cheerfully colored walls, and very bright overhead lights. There were shelves of toys and books all over the room, but I was too shy and nervous to play with anything on my first visit to the clinic. I was separated from my mom but found out later she was watching me from the next room through a one way mirror. I was fascinated with that mirror once I learned that Mom was just on the other side. I had never experienced something like that before and thought of myself as Alice In Wonderland or Snow White looking for answers beyond the glass. Over time, I began to feel comfortable in this place, especially when I was the only student receiving a lot of attention from the young, kind speech therapist. Wanting so badly to please her, I diligently practiced my letters over and over as she gently guided me through activities to practice my “r”’s and “s”’s.

Mom had a way of explaining the speech class sessions to me so that I would not be nervous. Her explanation made me excited and eager for Friday mornings. She told me that the clinic was a special place that only I could go without my brother and sisters. This really got my attention. I suddenly realized that I had my mom to myself for at least four and a half hours every week.

I got to sit in the front seat next to her on the two hour round trip ride. That was very unusual. Usually there was always a battle over riding shotgun when my brother and sisters were in the car. On the way, Mom would stop at a small convenience store to buy cokes and candy for us. Mom didn’t want anyone to be upset that I got a special treat, so she would warn me that it was our secret and not to tell my siblings. I never did. (Sorry, guys!) I liked sharing any secret with my mom.

I loved talking to Mom about things that I never told anyone else. One Friday morning during the drive, Mom was just asking me general questions about school and such. I finally stopped her and stated, “No, Mom, I want to talk like you and Grandma do.” Mom thought this was very funny and told my grandmother this statement as soon as we arrived back home. She may have found it amusing but I was being serious.

Over the years, I can remember sitting in the backseat of the car, squished in between my brother and sisters. I would lean over the front seat and listen intently to my mom and grandmother’s conversations. Now, of course, I know I shouldn’t have been eavesdropping but I was fascinated by the sound of their voices. Maybe it was because of my own struggles with speech, but I remember being awestruck by how their words just streamed together effortlessly and their spoken thoughts seemed to flow smoothly without any strain or tension. I wasn’t always interested in the games my siblings would play or telling silly stories. I wanted to discuss life issues and details, even though I was just six-years-old. Only there was one problem…I had no real experiences to talk about. Once I made my declaration of needing conversation, Mom and I remained silent for the rest of the ride home. We had nothing to say, had no idea where to start. I grew up, however, with a respect for language and words and just knew that I would not use words frivolously. For the next several years, I would only speak when it was absolutely necessary.

Years later, Mom and I would talk continually about life and love and death and dreams as we traveled. I would take in Mom’s pearls of wisdom with every mile we covered on the road. My six-year-old dream of driving along with Mom in deep conversation would eventually come true.