"Why aren't you like that Mielke boy?" my mom often exclaimed in exasperation whenever she ranted about my failings. "He can't see at all, yet he types his own letters and plays the piano. He gets such good grades too." If she thought this criticism would spur me on to achieve academic excellence, it had a much different effect.
"That Mielke Boy" who Mom esteemed at my expense was my schoolmate at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind in Vancouver, British Columbia. As his parents lived near the school, he was able to go home each evening. I had to board at that institution for months at a stretch. This fellow pupil could do no wrong in Mom's eyes. I feel sure she envied his parents for having such a brilliant son while she had lacklustre offspring.
If only Mom knew the rest of the story. My friend's parents were strict disciplinarians who stood for no nonsense. For example, talking at the dinner table was forbidden. So was any sort of frivolity inside the house. Even the living room was off limits to the children unless they were supervised. No wonder this pet of Mom's excelled at school.
The last time I spoke to "that Mielke boy" was in the summer of 1975. The change in him astonished me. He swore, listened to rock music (which his parents forbad), and proudly announced that he took drugs. The break between him and his parents caused such extreme hard feelings that they might never have reconciled.
My mom should have been grateful that I wasn't like her adored "Mielke boy." My marks were average and I graduated from high school, yet I turned out all right.
Though I forgave Mom and pray for her each day, the emotional damage she caused with her constant comparison of me to my school friend still hasn't healed after more than forty years. The lesson from this is clear. Parents should encourage, not discourage, their children. My friend and I would have felt far more affection toward our respective parents had they cheered us on in the good things we did rather than pick at our failures.
Deliverance from Jericho is filled with many more vignettes of what life was like in that government-run institution. These range from poignant experiences of homesickness to hilarious incidents of mischief. Please feel free to contact me directly as well.