Keaton was girl number three for me. I was neck-deep in grad school and teaching full-time when she came along, but she didn't slow us down. In fact, she just jumped in and joined the party! Thankfully, Diney and Big Daddy were the kind of grandparents willing to sacrifice their newly-retired lifestyle to accommodate a newborn (full-time) and her older sisters (nearly full-time). Baby Keaton got a big 'ole dose of lovin' from them and she was the happiest little girl around.
And she stayed happy. Happy baby. Happy toddler. Happy young girl. She had the neatest sense of humor, the funniest expressions, and the heartiest laugh. She was open, transparent even, wanting to talk to me about everything. Beyond amiable, she was quick to obey and tried diligently to do as she was asked. She stood out where ever she went. Her big brown eyes caught people's attention, but the brightness in her, the joyfulness of her heart was what drew them close.
Of all the children, I believe she suffered the most when things began unraveling for us. Her brightness began to slowly dim. She was suddenly afraid, and like the rest of us, tried desperately to please in a no-win situation. Because of reasons beyond her control, or mine for that matter, she was forced to skip the 5th grade. If you know much about education, you know how vitally important 5th grade is, and missing out on such large chunks of information put her at an extreme deficit in 6th grade and beyond. She became quiet and unsure about herself. She stopped talking and was constantly angry. I think the biggest change was her sudden disobedience, the blatant disrespect that seemed to surface overnight. I remember the exact day I first experienced it. My heart sank because I could feel her slipping from me.
But she wasn't slipping toward someone else, she was simply slipping deeper into herself; hiding behind long bangs and hoodies that covered her even during our hottest Texas summers. There were no more smiles, no more joy, the laughter was gone. She was dark and brooding and isolated, looking no one in the eye. She hated us all and didn't mind saying so. She did not believe God was real and He surely wasn't accessible to her. Sadly, school was tortuous for us both. I stood there, a trained and certified school counselor who could do absolutely nothing to help my own child. I withdrew her from school and enrolled her in a temporary alternate program hoping to address whatever underlying issues were tormenting her. In that move, we found some help.
While her start at Steele was somewhat rocky (she did NOT want to be there), she slowly began to experience some success. First her grades started inching ever so slowly up. Then her cosmetology coursework started becoming more interesting to her. No longer able to hide in the back of large classrooms full of students, Keaton was one of a handful of students in her classes. Her teachers knew her name, they talked with her, they encouraged her, and contrary to what she thought could ever be, they believed in her!
My sullen, broken, lost little girl who wouldn't make eye contact with others, who wouldn't speak, who wanted nothing more than to be left alone in her misery, started to come alive again. She entered a SkillsUSA competition and was required to interview and speak in front of judges. She won at each level and then went to State and placed there as well! She has represented her school in front of the Superintendent and the Board of Education by giving a speech describing her school and the academy she now loves dearly. She has been interviewed numerous times by newspapers and even a news channel. She gives frequent tours to important community members and university leaders who come to find out more about the academy. She is on the honor role, in a Bible study, is a leader in her school, volunteers numerous hours, is in the running club, and is now working at a local spa. Just before walking in to take her state cosmetology written exam a few weeks ago, she told everyone around her to get ready because she was about to pray. She said a peace fell over her and she walked into the exam room unexpectedly calm. After failing every practice test she took up to that point, Keaton passed her Texas Cosmetology written exam.