Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pondering What Tomorrow Will Bring

When I was in graduate school, we studied the conditions known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and attention deficit disorder; ADHD and ADD.  We learned that learning disabilities were first and foremost, a disconnect between intellect and academic output; namely that the former was not illustrated or indicated accurately by the later.  The teacher also warned as we went through the litany of disabilities that we would go through hypochondriac type symptoms of attempted self diagnosis for every academic failure we'd experienced up to the present. 

Sure enough, for a time I considered whether I'd just had undiagnosed ADD, ADHD, dysgraphia, dyscalculia and a few others just for good measure but ultimately decided it didn't matter if all of them were there or not at this point in the game.  I'd coped and felt I was better for the struggle whatever the reason.  Still it had been fun to exonerate me from having read scads of assignments over the years without having the actual facts stop to stay in my brain for a while; for a time all my ignorance was beyond my control or at least, not my fault.  

When I became a teacher, those seemingly easy to parse labels became much more difficult to pin down, much less use. The learning disabilities worked often in conjunction with each other creating a symphony of barriers to learning, and rookie teacher me couldn't tell where the learning disabilities ended and the lack of opportunity or exposure to good books, consistent homework and demands for routine and academic rigor at home or in prior grades began.  What had seemed reasonable in theory turned out to be difficult in practice; same as everything else in life. The theoretical order of an IEP and its stated objectives and goals left large cavernous holes in the curriculum where I was supposed to help these kids swim, and one year seemed far too short a time to get anything done.

Then, there were the parents.   Some were eager to have their children labeled with a name that forgave all their less than "A" grades and then there were folks desirous of teachers engaging in educational origami to avoid the slightest hint of any problem.  The two best examples of this being the "Gifted and talented" child whose parents tried to enroll him before he was born on the grounds he knew his ABC's in utero, and the mother of a child born with no eyes who insisted her daughter could read print.  

I remember trying to address the academics with a mother who broke down on me when she finally wrestled to the ground the hard fact that her daughter had moderate mental handicapping issues. She could see shutting doors that were supposedly ten years down the line because of the disability problems of today.  I was too young then as a person or a teacher to see what she was seeing.  Likewise, I was too young and thought myself very clever and clear headed when I told another mother of a student she needed to let her son grow up a bit.  He was sixteen and it was my job to get him ready for adult services and a possible job site.  He refused to feed himself if his mother was around; so she would come to the school and spoon him lunch.   I told her she couldn't.  I wasn't the most sympathetic of teachers to the parents; my job was the students and I admit I felt fiercely my expertise.  He fed himself but if she showed up, he stopped.    

Now I'm the one holding on to the child I love fiercely and not wanting to want a label.  I'm the parent trying to figure out if we could just do things this way while juggling that and trying this if the problems we've been tackling for two years would suddenly vanish like magic.  So where did that flinty educator go I used to be?  She's awol.  She'd tell me to get over it, let my daughter test the medication and see what happens.  But this is MY sunflower.  This is MY firecracker. My Child we're talking about.  And yes she struggles more than any of my others thus far in academics.  Reading is hard. Math is cruel.  Writing is messy.  And organization?  It's a mess of a mess. So why am I fighting when modern education/medicine  has offered a potential cure; a pill. 

I don't want to lose the firecracker, the sunflower that is my daughter to have a compliant concentrating person; so this is not so easy I explain to the Flinty Ms. Green that once was.  After all I explained to myself, the teacher had come to be without medication, it just took the whole education process to get me to be able to think and produce quality work.  Here we were demanding a third grader do what I didn't until sophomore year of high school; sit still, get organized and pay attention.  I even reminded her that even now I still bounce in my seat, talk more than most (I almost can't help myself even though I know it's too much), and draw in the margins of my books during lectures. Even in the Ph.D. program, I always seemed to get things about a week after everyone else, as if somehow everyone else came to the class and was briefed for 15 minutes before I showed up and so we're on different pages.  I still have to read most books twice to get whatever it is. 

But I can't be certain because my daughter is not me, that she won't get discouraged.  I don't know if she's as much of a bullhead as her mother.  I do know she has a sweet sweet heart and her nature is kind, and her faith, innocent, shining and full of promise and hope.  And I don't want to be the cause of any of that to be squashed. I also see the dark shadows of frustration as she sees a younger brother who seems likely to lap her at current course and speed, and the equally distressing over sized yardsticks she applies to herself when looking at all of her older siblings. So action and inaction are both fraught with possible peril in my mind.  I want her to succeed but I want her to succeed. 

It takes much more courage than I knew then, to grope through the forest of a child's mind and discern what one ought to or not to do when seeking to steer them academically.  I know this is hard for me for so many reasons, some of them less good than others; pride, fear.  Is it ADD?  Should I hope it is?  Should I hope the meds work?  Should I ride this out?  Am I coping out?  Am I chickening out and not facing reality if I'm nervous about the meds? What am I teaching her if a pill makes her different?  What if the pill doesn't work?  What if we're back to the unknown square one and it doesn't change a thing?  Am I rushing into this? Am I over thinking it?  Do I trust her to succeed or fail on her own?  Should I? Am I the new version of the mom feeding her child lunch or the new version of the mom who declares her child can see when she has no actual eyes? 

Just before bed, my daughter told me she's hopeful about tomorrow and she catches me up with her enthusiastic wishful bubbling over with affection self.   Swallowing my fears, I put on a brave face for my brave girl.  We are on the verge of this unknown journey together.


Laurinda said...

Great post! You are a loving and wonderful mother, it's nice to read your struggles and success stories.

Maria Fernanda McClure said...

I'd want to do the educational origami too, but totally get that sometimes a little help from science is not a bad way to get a leg up on an obstacle.
As parents we try to do the best and hope our kids forgive us if we mess up. She will know that any decisions you make were made with love and you will work together to make sure it's the best for her. Trust yourself. You are a fantastic mom.

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