My daughter. My first born child. The person I struggled to conceive. Who I cried uncountable tears for in the year I waited to learn if I would ever be a mother. Who I dreamed about. Who I prayed for. Who I couldn’t wait to meet – to teach – to share everything with, from the smell of fresh cut grass in the summer to the feel of snowflakes on rosy cheeks in the winter.
She truly has been an answer to my prayers. From the moment she was born and I heard the doctor exclaim ‘it’s a girl!’ and I saw her tiny pink fists punching the air, my heart was forever hers. It’s funny – how your life can change in an instant. My life forever changed at 11:49 pm on September 21, 2004.
I am blessed beyond measure. I still can’t believe that I was trusted to guard and protect and raise this fragile soul. Often times I look at the girl my daughter is becoming and marvel at the miracle she is. That she is here, breathing and growing and finding her place in the world, all because her daddy and I fell in love. We created this miracle. We created this person. And I’m in awe of that.
Of course as a mother, I want the very best for my child. Not the ‘best’ in terms of material things (although she does look pretty cute in her Matilda Jane clothes we’re both so fond of) but rather the ‘best’ out of life. I often think of Thoreau’s famous book "Walden" – and hope and pray that my girl will live each day deeply and 'suck out all the marrow of life.' While I’ve been through enough to know that her life will not always be full of lollipops and bouquets of dandelion flowers, I do hope that she’ll have the strength and courage to face the un-fun times with grace. I hope her dad and I will be able to instill in her the skills and the values needed to be the successful woman I can see when I glimpse into her future.
And I know things won’t always be easy for her - that there will indeed be struggles and tough times, adversity and heartbreak. But I hope that those are minimal. That the triumphs and successes, joys and loves will far outweigh the harder times.
And because I’m her mother, it’s really hard to hear when someone thinks there is something – how do I phrase this – not quite right – with my child. It’s hard to hear observations made about her- especially when they conclude with a problem that I can’t fix. I’m her mother. I should be able to fix what is broken. I should be able to teach and guide, to love and help, and to make her struggles easier rather than exacerbate and worsen something that my child seems to have no control over.
So we’ve been struggling with Anna. (When haven’t we?) If you’ve read this blog long enough, you’ll recognize the patterns, the ebbs and flows of the highs and lows we experience with our daughter. Nothing too terrible, mind you – I mean our kid hasn’t been referred to juvenile detention (yet) – but significant enough to have a negative impact on our family of five. Significant enough to affect (as her teacher pointed out) her ability to learn. And significant enough to bring out the deep rooted seeds of guilt that I carry around. Guilt that I’ve screwed my kid up – that I’ve not loved enough, not done enough, expected too much, pushed too hard, neglected too often, or pushed away too much.
While some parents may view the recommendation to have their child evaluated for attention deficit disorders as some sort of relief – some sort of path to take to resolve the nightmares – I (simply) don’t. Rather, I feel like a failure. I feel like I’ve failed my child – in some way – in some manner. Did I not take enough of the right kind of vitamin when I was pregnant with her – or drank too many beverages out of BPA-laden containers – or ate some unpasteurized cheese to cause the neurons of her brain to not develop properly such that she can’t transmit data like she should? Did my own personal battles of trying to cope with the death of my father somehow have a negative impact on her when she was not even a year old? Did my struggle to breathe after my mother’s stroke – to function on the most minimal of levels – cause her to retreat to the corners of her own little brain, because I couldn’t love her enough?
I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll never know.
Doctors and teachers and psychologists and principals all tell me ‘don’t beat yourself up’ and ‘you didn’t do anything to cause this’ and ‘this isn’t your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong.’ Really? Then why does it feel that way? Why does it feel like I’ve totally and completely failed my child? This child that I prayed so hard for and desperately longed for. That I couldn’t wait to be a mother to – to hold and rock and sing sweet songs to, that I couldn’t wait to show the wonder of a rainbow to or how to lick an ice-cream cone without drips. I look at her sweet face, her intense eyes, and wonder how we got here.
My girl means the world to me. She is everything to me. Her and her two brothers – I’d lay down my life for them. Gladly. So I’ll do whatever it takes to help her – to figure out what we need to do to fix the problem. I’m just not sure I understand what is broken. I am sure I’ll never understand why it is broken.
I will admit, there is some relief in knowing that the things we see at home, the behavior we’ve tried numerous times to discipline out, is mirrored at school. And there is some relief in knowing that she might not be able to help it. That her constant ‘spacing out’ and lack of attention isn’t her indifference, rather her inability to focus. That her ‘hyper-focusing’ on one thing and tuning the world out isn’t her being stubborn or disobedient, rather it’s her inability to disengage – to tear herself away. That her not being able to settle down from the ‘sillies’ (as we call it) – the acting completely crazy and doing weird things like panting like a dog or continuing to be loud and out of control after being told repeatedly to stop, again isn’t complete disobedience or disrespect. Rather, it’s her inability to self-regulate and control her emotions.
I do wonder how we got this far without realizing we had a true problem. It certainly hasn’t helped matters that the kid is smart. Stinking smart. Her last reading test put her at the 5th grade reading level. Her math and problem solving skills are off the charts. She understands and comprehends things that most children that are older than her struggle with. So she’s hidden a lot of this. And we’ve allowed her to compensate for her struggles by chalking her bad behavior up to being a ‘strong-willed’ or ‘stubborn’ child. Disciplining strongly, yes. But always thinking she’s not focusing at school and getting into trouble because she’s bored. Or not stimulated enough.
While I think there is an element of that in the mix – the underlying problem is there. No amount of difficult or challenging schoolwork is going to help my daughter follow simple three-point directions. Understanding algebra in first grade (which she does) isn’t going to help her be able to go to her room, get her socks, turn off her light, and come back downstairs without getting completely and utterly sidetracked. And I truly believe it isn’t a product of not wanting to do what is right or making a bad choice – I don’t think she’s making any choice at all. She’s like a squirrel – she’ll see something shiny and it diverts her attention – and whatever task she was trying to accomplish flies right out the window.
But here’s where the guilt comes in. Rather than gently guide or teach or help – I get angry. Unbelievably angry. It’s usually when we’re trying to get out the door, and are late, and I see her dawdling in her room as being disrespectful to our entire family. Deonne and I both lose our patience with her, constantly.
Basically, it comes to this. If all of this concern as identified by her school psychologist, principal, and teacher is indeed true (and frankly the descriptions we were given yesterday afternoon were spot on) – and an evaluation reveals that our daughter has indeed had trouble this whole time – something beyond her control – something innate that she’s struggled with since birth - then what have we been doing to help? Nothing. We’ve been yelling and screaming, punishing and banishing, losing our tempers and losing our minds – when the child hasn’t been able to help herself.
We’re accepting nominations now for our Parent of the Year awards.
I’m sure I’ve secured the Mother of the Year award – and possibly the Mother who Screwed Up Her Kid the most award.
But in all seriousness, Anna has the memory of an elephant. She recalls and remembers things in excruciating detail… from when she was two years old. And I’m not kidding about that. So I wonder what memories she’ll recall from her early childhood – that her mother yelled and screamed a lot and made her feel really bad about herself a lot.
Certainly not the memories I hoped my daughter would have of counting rainbows or collecting dandelion bouquets.
And I wonder, will she ever be able to forgive me?