Anna In-Between

Anna will finish at Waldorf next week. We’ve chosen not to continue on there for kindergarten, for a whole host of reasons, none of which are related to the quality of that school. It’s great. She’s happy. She’s thrived. We’re giving public school a shot. It’s more our style, I think, but I’ve learned not to speak in evers and nevers so we’re certainly not ruling out a return to Waldorf.

No, I’m not ruling that out at all.

Anna’s birthday is in late August, which means that she’ll be among the oldest or the youngest in her class, always, never right-in-the-middle.  This never struck me as important but lately I’ve become obsessed with the question of whether or not to redshirt her. If she were a boy, yes, no doubt. But she’s a girl, and by all accounts girls aren’t as cut-and-dried.

Anna is tall. She’s socially and physically agile, ahead of every curve. She looks oh, so ready.

But she may not be. That’s the blessing and the curse of the learning disability: it’s not obvious. It doesn’t show. But it’s there, and it can be very subtle, and those subtleties are terribly important. She struggles to pay attention, to control impulses, to sit still. I can see the bewilderment in her eyes when she cannot hold herself still for a minute, cannot follow the story: her eyes betray her confusion at not being able to control her own body. She wants to sit still for a minute. She wants to be quiet. She wants to be good. But she can’t; she just can’t.

Well meaning people say we’re lucky that her delays are so subtle but I am not sure they are right. She gets no slack from the world. To look at her you would never know that at the zoo the other night all the other kids could color their nametags but she could not make her fingers move the crayon where she wanted it to go. Kids a year younger than she is were doing a better job, and she knew it. She didn’t know the specifics, that her fine motor coordination is behind theirs, all she knew is that they could do it and she could not.

It broke my heart.

As kids do, she acted out the frustrations she could not voice. She completely lost control of her body, couldn’t stop herself from breaking ranks and darting off. She interrupted the zookeepers time and time again, only to immediately clap her hand to her mouth and whisper, “I’m sorry.” The zookeepers had asked her to please slow down, I’d talked with her, and her behavior was garnering followers: she was becoming a pint-sized Pied Piper leading a runaway line of little kids. I warned her that she had to follow the rules or we would have to leave, and I had to follow through. We left. She was devastated. She came home and told her father that she didn’t behave and he asked her what she did wrong and she said, so quietly, “Daddy, I really just don’t know.”

I don’t know,either, that the behavior was necessarily related to frustration, but I can say that we’ve seen a pattern. She has zero interest in letters and numbers, and if you know me at all you know this is despite my best efforts, that I read umpty-ump books each day, schedule trips to the library at least once a week, and plastered letters and numbers on everything from our refrigerator to her bedroom wals. But she desists: asked to write any letters but A’s and n’s or to count above 11, she tries once, twice, three times maybe, then breaks her crayons and angrily announces, “I can, but I don’t want to.”

So many parents will recognize that phrase. You know who else gets it? Teachers. I saw it a thousand times over in my junior- and senior-high English classrooms, and it was never not painful. Kids that age don’t break crayons in frustration, as a rule. They skip class. They clown. They daydream. They tell you how bored they are, that they don’t care when they fail because school is stupid. Eventually? They drop out.

We’ve known all along, of course, that Anna was exposed to alcohol in utero, probably cigarettes, too, and possibly worse. She was evaluated for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome as an infant, and judging by all information currently available, she does not suffer from FAS. When she came home she had many delays, but these were as attributable to the other constraints of her early infancy as they were to anything else. Which means that, best case, the alcohol exposure left no impairment. I can go for weeks convincing myself that this is indeed  the case, that we’ve gotten lucky. As she ages, and learning becomes more abstract, as her lazy eye continues to flat-out REFUSE to respond to the exercises we do every day, this is a harder fiction to maintain. But I can tell myself, perhaps even truthfully, that she’s just slower and will soon catch up in all ways. This could well be true.

But that’s the thing with a disability you wear on the inside: it can sneak up on you. So I need to be ready to deal even as we move forward as if all is well. It might be. But realistically, I need for her to go to kindergarten in a place where they have folks trained in early childhood special education, just in case. I need teachers who are trained diagnosticians, who can watch and identify, with a practiced eye, what is normal and what, if anything, is not.

So she’s starting kindergarten in the fall, two weeks after she turns five. The principal has assured me that there are many, many available pathways, and I am relieved to have partners in this, partners who know so much more than I do. Experts comfort me. At any sign of frustration, we’ll re-evaluate, every day if necessary.

She’ll be fine.

(Please.)

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Published in: on June 8, 2011 at 8:26 PM  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. She WILL be fine. You’re her mom. She’ll be more than fine.

    • Oh, Deb. I’ll keep your voice in my head!


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