The View From Here: Story from past marks life milestone

Time is a precious thing. It’s often the best teacher when life throws curveballs or takes you to places you don’t expect to be. It’s only when you’re truly lost that you learn the irreplaceable value of time itself.

With time comes memories and experiences that stick with you. They then become stories that you can keep close to your heart for yourself — or let them be known to the world. That choice can change everything for better or worse. Not only that, but those stories become something more if they’re told over and over again.

It wasn’t until I heard my mom, one of the best speakers and storytellers I know, recall an incident from my childhood that I realized how impactful and influential a story can be. It’s an embarrassing story to this day, but one that’s an essential part of my personal journey — and part of the reason why I am who I am.

I was in second grade when I decided to shut myself out from my classmates and not speak. Almost everyone in class knew I could talk, but I just chose not to. My teacher would repeatedly ask me questions and get an earful of awkward silence in return.

This continued until she ran out of logical answers or solutions, to the point where she called my house to see what was going on. I wasn’t mainstreamed into regular classes due to my cerebral palsy, and was in a class for special learning.

My mom’s blood boiled over when she found out I wasn’t interacting or speaking with anyone. She asked my teacher if she could sneak into class — where I just sat in a corner, quietly watching the world go by. If that wasn’t enough, Mom wanted to come in without me knowing.

My teacher obliged. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out well for me in that moment. After my mom couldn’t take any more, she came over to ask me, “Are you doing the best you can?” I answered “no.” I didn’t get to finish my school day because Mom was so angry that she immediately put me in the car, and we drove home.

A few hours later as my eyes were flooded with tears, she asked me again if I was doing my best at school. I simply shook my head no and then said, “No challenge.”

This story ends with me beginning to be mainstreamed for half the day, and then making the decision to repeat second grade to go to school all day being mainstreamed. The decision itself wasn’t embarrassing, but the steps it took to get there definitely weren’t the proudest moments of my existence. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed because I knew I could do better.

I made a conscious decision not to. Not only that, but I also let down one of the most important people in my life. My mom still tells this story whenever the opportunity presents itself, even though it’s been many years after the fact. I understand why she always comes back to it though — because it was important and was one of my first lessons about what it means to work hard even when no one is watching. It might not have turned out to be such a big life lesson if mom hadn’t stepped in with her tough love.

I realize now that this incident will never lose importance. In fact, I find myself thinking about it a lot as I prepare for the next step in my journey — the publication of my first book. That’s why I’m coming back to this story in my own way. This is a chapter in my life which I was actually old enough to remember. It wasn’t just a time when someone within my circle said, “Wasn’t that fun?” or “Do you know what happened that day?”

Certain stories aren’t just told because they’re “good.” They’re told because they have meaning, value and come from a place of truth. In this particular case, one story changed my life forever.

I have my mom to thank for that. I’d be a fool to say my heart hasn’t grown a little over the years. My only hope now is that I’ve somehow become half the woman who continues to motivate me every day.

Erin Kelly, 32, was born with cerebral palsy in Korea, and lives in Altoona. In addition to this column, she also writes for online publications The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, Upworthy, and Real Talk Magazine. Email her at