Outside Voice: The Pain of Wanting to Protect My Daughter's Spirit and Knowing I Really Can't
Outside Voice is a series of stories by anonymous writers who need a safe space to share them. The following piece was written by a friend and reader of Schmutzie.com, and I am honoured to publish her story here.
When I got pregnant the first time, I didn't know the kind of pain I was in for.
I knew, of course, that pregnancy could be awful and that labour and delivery would surely be no picnic. Then there's the whole recovery and getting used to looking after a baby thing, which can be so, so, awful. And that's just with your standard, no complications, pregnancy and labour. There are so many things that can pile on top of that.
When my daughter was in kindergarten, she had HSP, which is an over active immune reaction. She was in pain for months, with bruising all over her legs and lower back and swelling in her joints. There was a period where she couldn't eat or walk. I carried her from place to place, any movement that jarred her legs causing her to cry. She spent some time in hospital on anti-nausea drugs while drinking Ensure, because she'd lost five of her thirty-five pounds. We had to take her to specialists to make sure her liver was still functioning. We were thrilled when she was able to keep food down, and cheered when she actually requested to eat. My heart broke a hundred times a day for her.
There is an entirely different pain though, that comes with children.
She likes to tuck her pants into her socks because she finds the feel of them moving against her legs as she walks irritating.
"Some girls at school told me ten things that I should do to avoid being bullied. They said I need to get new clothes. I like my clothes though. I decided I don't want to do any of them, because then I wouldn't be me anymore."
Now in grade four, my baby's mind wanders. She is easily distracted, she has big emotions and huge reactions. She is not great with transitions, which there are a lot of at school. She assumes that everyone she meets is a friend, and she's not great at picking up cues that maybe they aren't.
"What does 'spaz' mean?"
"In what context?"
"Well, some kids at school called me that today. And no one would tell me what it meant."
She reads two novels a day, and she has trouble pulling herself out of a book with no warning. She takes forever to get ready to go anywhere. She doesn't always have the best sense of time and doesn't realise that she's been doing something for an hour if there are no visual cues. She gets frustrated when people don't understand what she is saying, and that can lead to temper tantrums. All of this also causes trouble at school.
And I'm torn. I understand the dilemma of her teachers. I really do. You can't focus all your attention on one kid out of 25. You can't take time out from your day to deal with frustrations and tantrums. You can't be everywhere at once. You can't stop kids from saying hurtful things when you're not around. I understand all that.
That doesn't make it better when my child is in tears telling me that her classmates laughed at her. Or that they've started calling her something new and she doesn't know what it means either.
"They don't do it in front of the teachers, Mummy. I guess they don't want them to hear it."
She has been tested, and the verdict was that she does not have ADHD. She does not have enough of the markers to be diagnosed with Aspergers. She is Gifted, with a Learning Disability. What does any of this mean? It means that her classmates think she is weird and don't hesitate to tell her so.
"Sometimes, I feel like they want to wash their hands after they work with me."
This is the pain I wasn't prepared for. The pain of wanting to protect my daughter's spirit, and knowing that I really can't. I want to help her fit in so that her days will be easier, but I worry that in fitting in, she will be losing parts of her that make her who she is. I worry that, as I did, she might strive so hard to fit in that she'll realise one day she doesn't know who she is.
If I'm being entirely honest, her fitting in would also make my life easier. I wouldn't have to sit with an understanding face on while I listen to her tell me about these things. I wouldn't have to try to come up with the reasoned, calm reactions that I hope to model for her to emulate, while inside I'm crying for her and raging at the kids who think that treating someone this way is alright. My heart breaks for them, too, since I really don't believe that this kind of behaviour comes out of nowhere. I wouldn't be sitting at home after a phone call with a teacher who seems more interested in making her conform than in finding ways to work with her differences.
"You know what, Mummy? If everyone was the same, there would never be any inventions, or good stories. I'm glad I'm different."
I also struggle, because in a world where children laugh at one another's struggles, or judge them for the way they wear their pants, I don't really want my kid to fit in. I'm glad that she is strong enough to understand that different is good, and kindness is always best, and I hope with all my heart that she manages to stay that way.
In a world where a teacher assures me that "the kids are really great with her" because they are learning to ignore a person, instead of learning to understand that everyone is different in their own way, I don't want to fit in either.