January 26, 2012:
“I love these chick eggs. I just need to take off the skeleton before I eat them.” This is what my four-year-old son said while eating chickpeas. From where I’m sitting, my life is like a chick egg. It all makes perfect sense to us. We don’t think about our kids being different. For example, two of our children are dyslexic. This learning difference is significant enough that they are enrolled in a school that specializes in supporting the unique ways that they learn. To the world, they appear as though they merely struggle with reading and spelling. But sometimes you just know when there is something more. Something deeper.
The early learning years were a challenge. Trying to get them to read was like wading through mud. Recognizing letters and remembering which sound each letter makes was so difficult for both of them. Hours of them not getting it and me not getting them. In the end, that is what it boiled down to. I didn’t get them. I didn’t understand why all of this was so hard. Things were particularly difficult with my third child. It felt like she wasn’t paying attention or was just being defiant. We floundered in the public school system with teachers and administrators pushing them along, explaining they would “get it eventually.”
It was in my son’s second-grade year that they explained that he has anxiety. High anxiety. Debilitating anxiety. He was never a challenge in class, always wanted to answer questions and had many of his own. Then, each night before bed he would puke his brains out. Not missing a beat Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Wait? Why wasn’t he vomiting on Friday or Saturday? Vacations and breaks were the same. We took a trip to Disney no puke in sight…until he figured out we were going back.
Teachers blamed the anxiety on my cancer diagnosis. My family is stressing and so we must get into counseling. Sounded reasonable and damn, I am stressing, so we work the problem. Counseling started and soon December rolled around and so commenced medical workups. Bloodwork for PANDAS, PANS, Lyme Disease, and rainbow panels performed. Everything came back normal. More counseling and questions. More good behavior but failing and falling grades. June rolls around and we are prescribed a brain MRI. Perhaps a closed head injury or something wrong with his brain. Why is he vomiting every night? Nope, normal.
Do you have a family history of dyslexia? “No,” I replied. “You’re sure?” she asks. After leaving her office, I lit up the phone with text messages. My husband, my mom, and my dad. Anything? “Yes, ” my Dad answered. I scolded him. This was serious and I needed an honest answer. Something was wrong with my baby. His reply, “I have the paperwork from Georgetown University from the early 1960s.” My mother, “What do you mean you’re dyslexic? We’ve been married 40+ years, when were you going to…” It went like that for quite some time. We finally found our reason.
Cognitive testing, homeschooling, and ultimately finding a school that specializes in learning difference has been such a blessing in our family. It is interesting to hear the stories of other families because we have all walked a similar distorted path to ultimately figuring out that our children are just wired differently. Personally, I have come to understand why school was such a struggle for me. I have reconciled why I was never able to pass spelling tests and struggled so much with things like math and chemistry and am more of a chef than a baker. I need latitude and the ability to improvise because precision and detail are difficult for me. Seeing the big picture and looking for ways to make the smaller parts fit into the puzzle is my strong suit.
If you looked at my grades from undergraduate or even graduate school, you might think I didn’t measure up. I now understand that tests and grades are only one way to measure intelligence and success. I don’t want to be measured in standardized tests (SAT oh Lord), or math tests. Please measure my intelligence in terms of leadership, collaboration, kindness, project management, and outcomes. The way I get there, or even my children get there might not fit into “standard protocol.” The point is we get there and should not be destroyed in the process. Because from the outside what is a chick egg to one person is just a chickpea to someone else.