When I was almost five, I moved for the first time. The parsonage committee at the church Dad would now be serving bought a new bedroom suite for me – the typical little girl’s late 70s “French Provincial” bedroom set – white with gold paint trim. Everything matched – the bed, the dresser, the desk with a bookshelf, and my favorite piece – the nightstand! There was a drawer in the nightstand, and it became “my secret drawer.” I put in it all the little odds and ends that were special to me, that I did not want to share with anyone. Little trinkets from birthday party treat bags, plastic figurines from the tops of my own birthday cakes, buttons and ribbons and bits of fabric that I had begged off of Mom, bookmarks from Vacation Bible School… the detritus of my life – the “can’t you clean off your dresser?!” leftovers – the tiny precious things that a young child values and stakes her identity on – this was what “my secret drawer” was for. And I wanted it to stay secret. I would only open it when I was alone.
When I was in the first grade, I was pretty bored. And easily distracted. And I didn’t totally understand the point of doing worksheets in class. It took me forever to get my work done. When it was time for us to finish up our work, I would just stuff the sheets into my desk. But sometimes the teacher would catch me at it, and tell me that I needed to take home the sheets and finish them at home. They weren’t any more interesting at home than they had been at school, so I hid them away… in my secret drawer. The drawer that had before held only treasures now held shame – the work I knew I was supposed to do, but could not bring myself to do. I hid sheet after sheet in the only private place I had – my secret drawer.
Eventually, as the 1st quarter came towards its close, the teacher finally noticed that she had almost no grades for me. She called my mother. And my mother staged a search of my bedroom. She looked everywhere, and couldn’t find the worksheets. She deduced that the worksheets were in my secret drawer, and waited for me to come home. She took me back to my bedroom, sat down on my bed, and told me, “Your teacher called me.” Dread! Fear! But the worst was yet to come. “She told me that you haven’t turned in anything this school year.” Not true – it couldn’t be true, could it? “She told me that she had sent you home with work, but you didn’t bring it back.” Uh-oh. “I know that it is in your secret drawer. Open your secret drawer!” NOOOO!!!
But after expending a great deal of effort whining and bargaining and outright lying and finally crying, I did what I had to do. Or, I tried to do it. But I had stuffed so many crumpled worksheets in there that I couldn’t open the drawer! It was stuck! Mom managed to help me force it open about an inch or two, and then carefully reach in her hand and unstick the drawer (like a wizard! a drawer opening genius!) – and then she removed the drawer and began taking out worksheet after worksheet.
“You are supposed to do these! Not just hide them!!” Well, yes. I might be six, but that did not mean that I was an idiot. Of course I was supposed to do them. Why else would I have hid them? I couldn’t throw them away – the teacher had given them to me – it was like they had some sort of magical importance. I had been stuck between two imperatives: my teacher’s “you must do these” and my brain’s “I can’t do these alone!” My anxiety was so intense – I was afraid of doing the work incorrectly, to the point of needing a reassuring presence right beside me in order to do it. But I knew that was weird, so I was too ashamed to ask my mother to sit down and watch me do it – especially when she was busy with 2 younger kids. Perhaps if I hid them, I thought, my anxiety would go away. But it didn’t. It was right there, every time I opened the drawer, or finally even just when I saw my nightstand.
Mom smoothed out each crumpled sheet and piled it up, then she carried them to the kitchen table. She wanted to be sure I did the work, so she did the thing that I had been unable to ask her to do. She sat right beside me as I did worksheet after worksheet. And it was easier than I had thought. I was able to do it with the reassuring presence of my Mom, and I turned in every sheet the next day. After that, I didn’t need to hide my work anymore, but I did have to bring it home. I did all of my schoolwork at the kitchen table, with my Mom nearby. That sort of solution did not fly with my second grade teacher (she wasn’t too pleased when she passed out a worksheet the first week of school, and I stuck it directly into my bookbag – and even less pleased with my explanation, “But Miss Johnson let me take all my work home!”) but I found that a year of having done all of my work in my own kitchen gave me the assurance that I could in fact do the work – and so I was finally able to work in class.
These days, I still have a secret drawer of sorts, and I still stuff things in there that I am ashamed of – but I am glad to have many people I can call on when I need a safe and reassuring presence to help me take something out of the drawer, smooth it out, and sit beside me as I work it out. Thank you all!