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Thirty years ago I was called to homeschool a timid young girl. Lucinda was fourteen and at an age where she should be entering high school. However, the past six years of her life she had been severely overprotected by her mother, older sister and two older brothers. Her father had died when she was eight and the family felt they needed to protect her from anything that would upset her. Sometimes that was as simple as getting up and going to school. The precious young girl was so stressed with fear of facing people and the chance of failing if she tried to do something that she ended up at the famous Mayo Clinic seeking help for newly formed physical problems.   

My assignment was not only to teach her the basic lessons for school but to teach her school skills and help her get back to school. 

The first year we worked at my dining room table each morning. We built up a good, trusting relationship as we went through the daily lessons. During this time, she would be freed of the fear that someone would walk in and interrupt our private time the fear of talking to people of all ages.   

With the help of my talented friends we made visits to their homes and they demonstrated some of the skills of sewing and knitting and other arts. Most of all, Lucinda was expected to be polite and engage in conversations. She was expected to ask questions and respond with compliments. If all went well during the week, our special treat was going out to lunch on Friday and having a physical education session at the bowling alley in the afternoon. Sounds like fun unless you have never had to order your own menu before. The first lesson was at McDonald's. The young girl had never had to look at a menu before this time. Someone always did it for her. Now she had to make a choice, to get out of her seat and go up to the counter to order a meal or the two of us would get up and go home with no physical playtime. 

We progressed. In her second year with me we advanced to attending driver’s education class at the school on one day a week. Lucinda had a car waiting for her in the family garage, thanks to her thoughtful brothers. I used the excuse that I was not eligible to teach the driving class so the only choice was to attend the class at school. Lucinda trembled all the way to the school for fear of not being accepted by the other kids. Maybe someone would point their finger and laugh at her or worse, get angry if she made a mistake. Despite her fears, some girls came along and even asked her to sit at their table. I promised to sit in the hall and be there when class was over.

After a couple of weeks, I introduced her to the idea that the girls home economics class was meeting right after the driving class. Let’s go in and see what they are learning. Lucinda had an electric sewing machine and she loved to help her mom cook. So we entered the classroom and were welcomed with friendly faces. Lucinda enjoyed the class and agreed to add that to our Friday schedule. The biggest surprise of my life was when she volunteered to make doughnuts for the class. By the end of that year, Lucinda had suggested that maybe she could ride the school bus rather than have me pick her up each day. That was a giant step forward for her. 

By the third year of our studies I had moved my office spot to a corner of the school library. Lucinda 
would meet me each morning and we would go over each lesson she had prepared. She was now 
attending regular classes and especially loved her typing class. She had a brand new electric typewriter at home. Before each class I would try to encourage her to walk into class with her chin up and with confidence that she was an important person in that room; to wear a smile that would hide fears. One day we even talked about the importance of having an opinion of your own. Lucinda gleamed once she learned that it was okay to disagree with Mom once in a while. As the end of the year grew closer Lucinda suggested that perhaps she could go it alone next year. It would be her senior year. She would be comfortable with the teachers and her new school friends. My goals for her had been fulfilled. 

Now, what is so strange about this story?  Well, today that once frightened little girl is now a confident lady with much compassion. She is a wife, a mother and a teacher. 

But what about me, her former teacher? What will happen to me? 

Time will pass. Much will change. Will I become a frightened little girl hiding inside the body of an old woman afraid to leave my room because someone may laugh at me, or worse, they may get angry because I made a mistake? Afraid of the people who try to come and visit me, or be afraid to get out of my chair because my feet may stumble and I’ll fall on my face?  

Will I be afraid that these hands will drop whatever they try to hold? Will I avoid speaking to anyone because the words that are in my head get twisted and my tongue turns them into gibberish that no one understands? Will I be afraid to have anyone see me in case I put my clothes on backwards? What if someone asks me a question and I would embarrass myself with the wrong answers? Yes, I have a car sitting in the front yard waiting for me, but will I remember what to do when I get inside?  

To be honest, I see the possibility of becoming just like that little girl that called for help thirty years ago.    

Tell me, Will we just end up trading places? 

Patricia Jensvold

Born and educated in rural Iowa, Pat Jensvold attended Iowa State Teachers College and taught lower elementary grades.

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