This story was written by Mabel Ingram, daughter of Fiona Ingram, and is part of the Blog Tour promoting her mother’s book. Mabel is writing in her youth; she is under 18 as she writes this post.
My name is Mabel Ingram. I was raised by my Paper Mom, Fiona Ingram, who is a children’s author, and my birth parents. I call Fiona my Paper Mom because first she fostered me and then later adopted me, becoming my mom on paper, but she made sure I never lost sight of my roots and my biological family. Fiona calls me the Rainbow Child because I was born just before the end of apartheid in 1994, the change that heralded what Nelson Mandela called the Rainbow Nation in South Africa. My mother was a domestic worker who had not finished school. With very little education and five children to look after, my mother was always a lady with a plan in mind and her biggest dream was for all her children to finish school and be independent.
As the last born, with an over 5-year age group between me and the last of my siblings, I was a bit out of touch with everyone. When I started school, it was quite difficult not only for me, but for my mother as well. With my mom having little to no education and teaching herself how to speak and read English, homework was a battle for us both. That’s when my Paper Mom, Fiona, came into the picture.
My mother, who was working for Fiona at the time, asked for her help. At this point I was about to repeat Grade 4. This was my second time repeating a year at school as I had repeated Grade 2 already. Repeating really brought down my self-esteem, making me more self-conscious about myself because my peers were two years younger. That’s when I start to think, ‘What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be like other children and enjoy all aspects of school and not just lunch time with friends?’
English was my biggest hurdle. Struggling with writing and reading meant I could not understand the lessons taught. This affected all my subjects in school and my self-confidence. I was slowly losing hope and determination. Fiona saw the potential within me, and so she fostered me. I came to live with her. We read all kinds of books together, and she introduced me to reading in a fun way. I now had a proper homework schedule and Fiona made sure I attended extra lessons after school. These English and Maths lessons helped me to improve and understand what was being taught in class.
Children are sponges, they pick up on things you say and how you say them. I started learning from Fiona. English is second nature to my Paper Mom. She was also working as an editor and was the right person to help me through school because she has so much love and passion for the English language. Life was giving me a second chance and so I was introduced to goals. It was hard sticking to the goal of getting an education because when you’re a child all you want to do is go outside and play. But I had to work twice as hard to catch up with my peers and achieve my goals.
I finally made it to high school, the biggest push. At this stage my spoken English and understanding of language was far better than my written English. There were also more essays one had to write in just about every subject. High school was just as challenging as junior school. My first year of high school was at a private school. This all went to my head as I rebelled against continuing with my extra lessons. But both my biological mother and my Paper Mom were there to guide me firmly down the right path. The following year I went to a government school where I did not feel the need to show off. And so, I focused on myself more, I focused on achieving small goals, passing the weekly tests, passing the term papers and, most important, passing the grade! Learning was fun now, reading was amazing, and who knew so many wonderful places and people could be created by words on paper?
At this point I saw I’d also had a mental block, but if you enjoy something it does not feel like you’re working. Maths was still a problem, but I could understand what was being asked of me. English, history and geography were the lessons I loved and excelled in. I enjoyed school so much that the one year I was in the top 10 in my grade. There were about 30 of us in one class and about 4 classes of that grade, so it was a great achievement for me. Not only did I pass Matric (grade 12), which was my high school goal, I passed Matric well enough to get accepted into a tertiary institution.
With a clear understanding of where the problem is, learning can improve. A good support system makes learning easier. Looking back, it was not easy for me, but I made it through with good guidance and support. I would encourage all young people to find a mentor or person who will support you in your goals and help you in fixing your weak spots in learning and reading. Fiona, my Paper Mom, changed my life in so many ways. She literally gave me a new life.