Linda Giangreco – RESILIENT A.F.: Stories of Resilience


The diary of a stupid new girl.

It was my sixth elementary school in five years in three different Southern California towns by the age of 9. I’m not sure how I wound up in this one, but I knew I felt differently about it, not in a good way. It was the third day of the week, Wednesday, and I knew what that meant: the dreaded reading circle.

Five tables of five children each meant to provide a public display of their reading expertise aloud to the entire classroom, one by one. One paragraph each.

The experience of physical and mental terror that ran through my entire body every Wednesday at noon at the lunch table was palpable. Any packed lunch in my pink metal Barbie lunchbox became inedible and nauseating no matter how much love it was packed with.

My expectation of what was coming next, amplified by my consistent inability to focus and be in the present moment, was made even worse than the usual terrifying things, like being the only new kid in class again and akin to my parents arguing and threatening and throwing accusations like cars flying by on a fast California freeway.

The bell rang, and I hesitated, basically frozen on the cold Formica cafeteria bench. Palms sweating, not wanting to be ushered out by the lunch monitor, I picked up my thermos, placed it in my lunchbox, and then dumped its entire contents into the trash and slowly walked to get into the line to enter my fourth-grade classroom. It would be the fifth thermos my parents would have to replace by mid-year.

Good fortune did look down on me, though. Situated alphabetically, the young boy who sat immediately next to me, Gregg, with two “Gs,” he announced to me,  was an excellent reader. Whether he took pity on me or he was just a sweet-hearted boy (I would find out later in high school when we became close friends, that it was the latter), he helped me to try to get the words right by whispering them to me when he sensed I was struggling and continued even when the teacher admonished him for it.

By the end of the school year, things were not much better.

The oddly intoxicating scent of freshly pumped gasoline from the back seat of my folks T-bird didn’t make the drive back and forth between Palm Springs and LA to my grandmother‘s home any less arduous. It was done every other week once my grandfather had passed. One of the tasks my parents gave me was to attempt to read the sun-bleached billboards that dotted the side of the freeway.

I would sound the words out carefully, but I could not connect the letters to the sounds and the sounds to all the grammatical rules I had been taught from the various schools I attended. Each attempt to connect the dots seemed to end in disappointment until one entirely too long trip back home. Approaching the offramp that would lead them into Palm Springs and away from any remaining faded signage, I gave it one more chance. I attempted to reread a billboard that I had tried to read fifty times before as they sped by, pronouncing each word to myself quietly from the back seat:

PALl-um sp-ringsS-Pā

Pallmm Springs S-p-ahhh, I said a bit louder. Palm Springs Spa, I said (having no idea what spa meant), then cautiously and confidently said it again so my parents could hear, “Palm Springs Spa!” My mom and stepdad mouthed each word with me as I repeated it. My stepdad was truly giddy, and my mom was thrilled. “You did it, you did it, they said, and I exclaimed, “I can! I can read, I can read, I can read!

From that point forward, the reading floodgates opened. Slowly, I moved on to reading books that were more interesting to me. I tried to teach myself the languages of all the places I wanted to go and read recipes for all the treats I wanted to make. I became a voracious reader, not necessarily a great student, but a really good cook: Ya win some, ya lose some. I did become a successful entrepreneur in various types of businesses, and they say people have genius for what they are passionate about. I was passionate about many things, especially never being considered the stupid new girl in school again. Reading meant I had access to everything I could imagine and everything I couldn’t. 

I never gave up trying to read. It meant I would be “normal, “ fit in, and be accepted by my new peers. It would mean I wasn’t stupid and a disappointment to my family. Basically, it was everything. 

My initial inability to read was a function of a learning difference that, at the time, went undiagnosed. I learn differently and understand things deeply. You may have found yourself struggling in areas of your life that others seemingly breeze through. Please give yourself the grace of remembering that we are each unique humans with ‘unique to us’ gifts to bring to our families and the world at large. 

Your struggles make you hungry for access to the things you think your weak spots keep you from, but those same inabilities are actually your Super Powers. They call you forth to be creative, try harder, and bring your successes to fruition because you never ever give up. 

Are you ready to share your story of RESILIENCE? You can do that HERE.