Ivy's Traveling Circus, Chapter 3

Updated: Oct 7

Developing Compassion through Suffering

Ivy is based on a fictional character. She is telling her story as a mature adult and what she recalls from her youth while reflecting on her life now.


Everyone wishes they were born with a mind that held onto memories and never let them go. Alzheimer's & Dementia was present in both my grandparents. At age fifty, I wondered if this was the early onset of dementia or my lifelong struggle with dyslexia, a learning disorder that affects your ability to read, spell, write, and speak. The cockup of words became more intense with age despite overcoming this disability by finding innovative ways to adapt. I found myself in everyday conversations saying the complete opposite of what I meant. As a child, this got me into much trouble. I often rushed through my words, not taking my time to think through the question before the words flew out. I was exhausting those around me who had no patience or understanding of what was happening to me. A full-on daily panic was developing in my mind. Words were a jigsaw puzzle I had to solve very quickly or face the ultimate breakdown in communication. Imagine trying to crack codes and cryptograms to your superiors that the enemies are approaching, but you forgot the sequence resulting in a total invasion. You knew you should not be on the front lines or even have this job, but somehow you convinced others you were up to the task. I could not sort out the words, as I saw the circus in my mind out of control, while frantically waving my hands to let others know I was catching on fire! My pride and inability to accept my handicap lead me to become a master at improvising. My everyday practice of spontaneity and allowing a free-fall, never knowing if I would land firmly on solid ground, somehow worked.

The innocence of my child's mind and parents not knowing what to make of me created a bit of a mess. While I aged and tried to navigate my incomplete processing and confusing imagery, I desperately attempted to blend my words, but the communication wires were not well attached. The wire would become frayed more and more as life marched on, I was fine-tuning my cleverness. There was a name for what was ailing me. Still, it was a confusing mess as educators in the 1970s referred to anyone with Learning Disorders as Learning Disabled, even those with mild Down Syndrome. The phrase repeated itself throughout my childhood from various well-meaning adults; "Your learning disability will prevent you from certain jobs in life." Before understanding I had any disability, life opportunities were an open road for me. I do believe my parents tried very hard to shelter me from feeling different than my siblings, who seemed to glide through their academics.


I dreamed of being a world-traveling Zoologist who studied animals in their natural habitat. In our National Geographic magazines, we had in our home; I decided I wanted to be like Jane Goodall or David Attenborough, who inspired me with his Life on Earth series in the late 1970s. I also was transfixed with Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom series which made my heart race, especially the introduction tune which made you feel like you were on an adventure while watching from your tube television. Despite all of my hopes and dreams of becoming a world-traveling Zoologists helping to save our planet and its precious species, especially the orangutans, appeared bleaker as doors in my mind started shutting. While in grade school, I had to visit a special education classroom where anyone with a genetic disorder was all placed together; dyslexia, ADHD, ADD, and mildly diagnosed with Down Syndrome. I often saw a chaotic mess but a firm learning ground for studying human behavior, especially as I occasionally witnessed the special education teacher come undone and lose control through physical force. I developed compassion for those who truly were stuck in a world looking out without the proper communication tools to join the others and grew less patient for those who regarded themselves at a much higher level because they were fortunate in all matters academic and with good genetics. I began to look at the world as more unkind and cruel, but nothing would prepare me from the bomb dropped about my very origins; I was born into a foreign country. None of this became apparent to me until after our two-year stay in Tehran, Iran, which was nothing less than magical for me.

In 1977 living in Tehran was exciting! Little recall at this age was simply an adventure moving with many action words to describe what was going on around us. My siblings seem to be less impressed with their time in Iran and did not have a fanciful view with lots of theatrical scenes to share as I did. I believe they remembered little. Even my brother, who was four years older, never talks about his time there as an older adolescent. I do have fond memories of my Mother's helper and housekeeper, Zinot. She spoke little English and loved my little sisters, especially Elder. We would often witness her put sugar cubes in Elder's mouth and laughing with motherly delight as she was in charge of our precious blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby. I have a vague memory of saying, with a serious language barrier, "Elder will not grow her teeth with too many sugar cubes!"

The international school located not too far from our first-floor apartment was my introduction to children from around the world and the notion that everyone was alike. The beauty of being a child, free of prejudices, and an almost magical ability to understand others' languages with no prior knowledge, created the foundation that anything was possible. It was not the situation that changed me but the overall sense that I was far away from home on the most excellent adventure. Reflecting, my parents later in life would become weary of my ambition to take my children out of the safety of The United States for a volunteer job I am sure they did not deem worthy of risk in Guatemala. But I loved the memory of experiencing my parents in their early thirties, carefree in the 1970's exploring the middle east with other families and sometimes leaving us behind with appropriate care. I thought it was fantastic, even as a young girl. Life could not be more exciting because we never knew what adventure we would go on each weekend.


Our newly found family friends, The Andersons, whom I felt were my aunt and uncle, were always in tow with two rambunctious boys. They had come from New England, USA, just as we had, and found us across the world living in the next apartment building. Mr. Anderson became larger than life figure, reminding me of Teddy Roosevelt, not because he looked like him. He had his personality, or at least what I imagined Teddy Roosevelt to be. He was a world traveler and particularly fond of the Muslim people and their culture. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson would later continue their journey worldwide to places I could only dream of like Tibet. Mr. Anderson was kind and never cross with me. He saw life much as I did, adventurous, and for the most part, a happy place. He would cheerfully always say to me, "There is Ivy girl!" I liked our connection and wished he was my real uncle. I always loved his personality and delightful way of seeing life. I believe it was his influence that I recognized my second husband, half Australian and English, born in Adelaide, Australia because he too was never cross with me and more patient than I deserved. He was a gift. I recognized him as a real gem and perhaps he felt the same. We instantly became the best companions and perfect remedy for an adventurous, warm, and long life together raising four children.

The listing that captured my parents when they needed to choose a place to live in Tehran, Iran, was, "If you are a foreigner looking for a furnished apartment during your stay in Tehran, Iran, look no further! We are located in Mollasadra in Sheykh Bahaee Street, located in District 3, part of a new modern building in north Tehran. Our Tehran Furnished Apartments with four beautifully appointed rooms, a private bathroom (I don't remember more than one) including a shower, WC, full furnished, Equipped kitchen, Parquet wood flooring. You can reach everything, including markets, stores, hospitals, parks, and everything you need by foot, camel, or donkey (I remember watching the parade of four-legged transportation options available out our front door.) You also have easy access to expressways and essential streets and stations." With our family friends, the Anderson's, we reached our destination in Northern Tehran. The glass walls, ceilings, furniture, decorations made my eyes squint as the opulence, grandeur and exquisite artwork was a lot to take in. The luxury and grandeur were nothing I had seen as a young girl; we did not even have realistic Disney movies to compare to what I witnessed at the Shah's Niavaran Palace, on 27 palatial acres located against the Alborz Mountains, a place no Iranians dreamed of visiting, only westerners.


Artwork created by Kristina Applegate. The painting was created using acrylic, pastels, paper art from Kids Share Workshops Zambia kids. Art rendering of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (October 26, 1919 – July 27, 1980), also known as Mohammad Reza Shah, was the last Shah (King) of Iran from September 16, 1941, until his overthrow in the Iranian Revolution on February 11, 1979. Rose Photograph was taken by Kristina Applegate at Hampton Court Palace, Hampton Ct Way, Molesey, East Molesey KT8 9AU, United Kingdom

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