Not Very Bright

I was looking through my alumni magazine for my high school and I saw a picture of my friend.  It said my friend from high school was the co-chair of the auction and raised one million dollars in one night.

I remembered when I was in high school and I was talking to our college counselor. It came up that our class didn’t get into as good of colleges as the years before.  I asked our college counselor why he thought my class didn’t get into good colleges. My college counselor said, “Well, your class just isn’t very bright.”

When I looked at the picture of my friend in the alumni magazine, I thought, “raising one million dollars in one night for the school doesn’t sound like ‘not very bright.’”

Later, as I was doing the dishes, I thought about how our college counselor had called our class stupid. I wondered what my life would be like if I didn’t believe anybody was stupid.  I started to cry as I thought, “If I really believed there is no such thing as stupid, my life would completely change—for the better.”

I thought, “Could I really believe that nobody is stupid?” I really wanted to believe that nobody is dumb. Then I thought of the college counselor who told me when I was 17 that our class wasn’t bright.  “Oh, he’s an idiot,” I thought. “It will really show a lot growth if I can believe he’s not stupid.”

When I’ve decided to believe, in the past, that no one is stupid, it’s really helped me.  So I worked hard on believing my college counselor wasn’t an idiot.  Later, when I was going to the bathroom in my bedroom, I thought, “He may not have been stupid, just afraid.  He was the college counselor and the kids didn’t get into good colleges and maybe he was afraid of getting fired.  Instead of blaming himself, he blamed the kids for not getting into Ivy League Schools.  It wasn’t a lack of intelligence–it was fear.”

I thought, “I understand that. I often do things that aren’t the best choices because I am afraid. I know better, but because I’m afraid, I don’t do what’s in my best interest.”

Like sometimes, when I’m with my autistic son, Cal, I’ll act in a way, that later I could tell you isn’t the best way to be, but I act out of fear he’s going to scratch or bite me.

Every Tuesday night, my husband gives me a dialogue.  A dialogue is a where he asks me questions about how I feel in a nonjudgmental way to help me see my beliefs so I can decide if I want to keep my beliefs or change them.

We do dialogues with all the people who work with my son with autism and we learned this tool because of our training to help our son.

Thursday nights, after the kids go to bed, I ask my husband questions to help him and Tuesday nights he does me.  Tuesday night, my husband asked me what I wanted to talk about.  I told him about my friend raising one million dollars in one night at the auction and he said, “Wow, one million dollars for the auction?”  “Yup,” I said.

I told him how I remembered our college counselor saying our class wasn’t bright and how raising one million dollars in one night for the school didn’t strike me as “not very bright”.  I explained to my husband how I wanted to believe no one is stupid because I believe that will really help me.  I told him how I started with my college counselor, trying not to believe he was an idiot.  Then I explained how I thought it could have been fear, not stupidity.

I said, “I get that.  Sometimes I act in a way that I don’t think is intelligent when I’m with Cal because I am afraid he’ll bite, scratch me or pull my hair.”

My husband said, “When was a time you were with Cal and you believe you acted in a way that wasn’t intelligent because you were afraid Cal would bite, scratch or pull your hair?”

I said, “Tonight I was writing emails sitting at my computer and Cal came over and gently grabbed my wrist and said, ‘Want more dinner,’ and looked into my eyes.”

“When did you get afraid?” my husband said.

“After Cal held my wrist, even though he was being sweet and gentle, I got afraid he may scratch or bite me,” I said.

“Given that you thought Cal may bite or scratch you, why were you afraid?” he asked.

After a lot of questions and answers, I realized I was scaring myself to keep myself alert.  I wasn’t really paying attention to Cal while I was checking my emails so I scared myself to help wake me up so I didn’t do anything that might make him scratch me.

My husband asked questions like, “Could I make my son scratch me?” The answer was no.  Also, we talked about how me being afraid didn’t really help keep me safe, it just made me less present and less able to take care of myself and Cal.

We talked about how I judged myself as stupid, for being afraid when Cal held my wrist and asked for food. I’ve done hundreds of dialogues where I come up with the same thing — Fear doesn’t help keep me safe.  I’m actually better at taking care of myself when I’m calm and present.

Just as I was judging my college counselor for being “stupid” by saying our class wasn’t bright, I have been judging myself as stupid for being afraid of my son when I know that being afraid doesn’t help me.  I realized I was judging myself as stupid to get myself to change.  If I thought it was OK to be afraid, I thought I’d keep doing it.  Then after many more questions from my husband, I realized that it’s not stupid of me to be afraid sometimes of Cal and I’m just doing the best I can.

Actually, when I accept myself and say it’s ok to be afraid, I’m less likely to be afraid.  Letting go of the judgement of myself leaves me open to being happy, present and clearer.  Do I believe my college counselor from high school is stupid?  No.  I genuinely believe he was doing the best he could with the beliefs that he had by calling 72 children stupid.

I’m so grateful to my son for teaching me how to let go of judging myself and other people — it just feels so much nicer.  It doesn’t feel good to hold on to all that anger.  Thank you Cal for helping me to choose beliefs that help me be happier.  I love you so much!


  1.  Penya, glad you are blogging again. I talk to my kids often about how much of life is not under our control. We can’t always control or prevent the situations we find ourselves in, how other people behave, etc. We can control how we choose to address life’s challenges and how we react to situations. You can’t choose the cards you are dealt, only how you choose to play them. Stay strong and keep fighting for your kids.Comment by Jan Kalbhen — July 8, 2013 @ 10:46 pm
  2.  Penya,Saw your blog on Facebook. Love that you share so beautifully.
    CharlotteComment by Charlotte — July 9, 2013 @ 11:00 am
  3.  Scaring yourself to stay alert – how often we do that. We use fear to mask so many other things. Your sentence about taking better care of yourself when you are calm and present resonated so deeply for me. Inhale, exhale. Then answer. Our challenge is to avoid slipping into fear or name-calling. It is to be there, to look at what is, and fear it not. Or be afraid, and not be (too) afraid of the fear. Cal, I have yet to make it to your digs to see you. But I will. Our paths will cross. Somehow, somewhere. In the meanwhile, Penya is sharing with me, and so many others, the precious and poignant lessons of life she learns through you. Amen.Comment by Ruth Ebenstein — July 9, 2013 @ 11:08 am
  4.  What a wise (not dumb!) woman you are. Bon Jovi would be proud!Love,
    Cheryl LavinComment by cheryl lavin — July 9, 2013 @ 11:56 am
  5.  Janet, great to hear from you. I love how you said you are teaching your kids they have control over their reactions–that’s awesome. Thanks for the sweet comment.–PenyaComment by SiteAdmin — July 9, 2013 @ 12:07 pm
  6.  CharlotteThanks for your comment. It means a lot to me( as do you ).
    –PenyaComment by SiteAdmin — July 9, 2013 @ 12:10 pm
  7.  Thanks ruthieI love what you wrote — thank you!
    –PenyaComment by SiteAdmin — July 9, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
  8.  Cheryl L,Thanks so much for your comment — it’s my favorite. I cracked up. Love hearing from you.
    –PenyaComment by SiteAdmin — July 9, 2013 @ 12:14 pm
  9.  I re posted your blog on Facebook, got lots of likes and comments. I’m beyond proud of you, and so glad to have you blogging again! I love you my brave,and amazing daughter! LOVE Eric and Oscar and Cal so much!Comment by ellen sandor — July 9, 2013 @ 3:10 pm
  10.  Thanks mom!Comment by SiteAdmin — July 9, 2013 @ 4:03 pm
  11.  Penya, I loved it all, the high school counselor, the fact that you and your husband are blessed to have each other to be so honest with and help each other to earnestly to evolve, wow, that is rare….and I so admire your vulnerability as a mother which is something I so relate to. I am a mother 4 times over and have been doing this thing called raising children for almost 30 years and sometimes it still feels so scary and raw, just because there is so much at stake. But I am reminded by your story that love, unconditional love, to the best of our ability is the answer and the best way to achieve that is by facing our fears (judgments) so the love can shine through. Thank you!Comment by Jeanette Sandor — July 9, 2013 @ 6:54 pm
  12.  thanks for being so open to change and grow. Enjoying the journey.Comment by Eric — July 9, 2013 @ 7:25 pm
  13.  Being both open and present (simultaneously) is not an easy thing. Neither is being able to change a very strong (typically first) impression you have of someone. Working on both those things is a great endeavor. I will continue to try to do so. Thanks for reminding me why it’s so important. Of course, your writing remains compelling and beautiful as well.Comment by Julie Sarah — July 9, 2013 @ 8:46 pm
  14.  thanks jeanette,i’m really touched by your comments and a little tear-eyed.
    -penyaComment by SiteAdmin — July 10, 2013 @ 1:44 pm
  15.  eric, i am so lucky to have you on my journey. you are awesome!-penyaComment by SiteAdmin — July 10, 2013 @ 1:50 pm
  16.  thanks julie,that really means a lot to me what you said about my writing and your wonderful thoughtful comments!
    -penyaComment by SiteAdmin — July 10, 2013 @ 1:53 pm
  17.  I like that you are willing to change.Comment by etaub — July 12, 2013 @ 5:23 pm