Monday, March 28, 2011

To Catch a Tiger

My firstborn has stretched and surprised me since the day she was born. She has always marched to the beat of her own drum. I thought she was individual in the ways all children are different, but recently we realized she is truly a rare breed.

In preschool she never desired to participate in group activities. At church, she would sit and watch as the rest of the class sang and danced their way through “Father Abraham”.

I signed her up for creative movement class, hoping to capitalize on her 3-year-old need for activity. She stood at the edge of the group and wrapped herself in a curtain while the other 11 students listened raptly to the teacher, who had enough audience that she left my treasure alone in her solitary world.

Later, we tried tumbling for tots. She enjoyed it, but then used all her time between turns running to the far end of the gymnasium and slamming herself full force into the pads.

My favorite example of this child’s personality came at the end of her only semester of preschool. Ms. Jodi gave each child an award for something at which she excelled. One child was a good friend; another was pegged with artistic promise. My daughter received the “Coyote Pack Leader” award. Apparently every day at free time, she would gather the other nine children in the class and lead them to the top of the playground structure, where they would howl at the moon together.

Catch a Tiger by the Toe
“Coyote Pack Leader” summed up my daughter beautifully. Deliciously awkward; an enthusiastic herder of other children; forever busy. I came to recognize these as leadership traits, and realized my job as her mother entails steering her, helping refine those strong qualities into their most positive light.

We sent her off to kindergarten with high hopes that “the system” would somehow help smooth those rough edges. Instead we got reports of hands and feet going places they shouldn’t. I learned I could not send yogurt for lunch, because the container could not survive the journey from home to cubby to cafeteria, between all the spinning and banging into walls she did while in line.

In first grade, our princess intervened in a playground fight. One boy threatened to hit another in the face. Her sense of justice took charge, and she hit the offending boy first. Guess who went to the office for that? Another time her classmates were mocking a substitute teacher’s name. She stood up and screamed at them that they weren’t being nice. For thanks, the teacher sent home a pink slip to me that she was out of control during class. Hrm. First grade’s primary teacher characterized her as being in the bottom 10% of the class in social development, but remained optimistic that she would catch up.

Second grade brought a boy with extreme social and behavioral issues into her life, and they became best friends. That year, we had a hard time telling whether her challenges were personal or related to being the one who could best communicate with her friend. I seriously considered pulling her out for homeschool about this time last year; but we decided her biggest developmental need was social practice, so we left her in the system.

By the time the third grade parent teacher conference rolled around last October, I had the script memorized, “Your daughter is really bright! But I honestly have no idea how she learns anything, because she never seems to be paying attention.” This year we also began to feel the teachers were quietly telling us our daughter was disruptive, and what were we going to do about it?

If She Hollers, Let Her Go
Finally, after mounting frustration with the increasingly accusatory tone from the teachers, and after several months of soul searching, we took her for a psychological evaluation. And boy, am I glad we did. A week later, we sat in a small office across from the psychologist as he went over her report. As expected, she tested consistent with ADHD.

But there was more. The ADHD is more a manifestation of a high intelligence than a disability. Many smart people in history could tell you that the trade-off for brains is a reduced ability in other areas, such as social development. Our daughter simply has a quick and busy mind that is bored to tears in school, a combination that tends to get her in trouble.

A wave of recognition crashed over both of us immediately: school will never wear down her rough edges. What’s more, her intelligence level actually measures above even the gifted and talented kids the district supposedly seeks out. She has a diagnosed condition addressed by the school district, but she doesn’t qualify to receive help unless she is failing. And she is too smart for that..

Sometimes you just have to accept that a square peg will never fit into a round hole.

Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Moe
So what alternatives lie open for us? The psychologist recommended we look into other options for education. So we have something new to think about this week.

In the meantime, why waste any more time fighting the system in third grade? A fresh wind blows. We have decided to school her at home the remainder of this year, while we research other options.

Today we started the first full week of school at home. After considering this option for years, I am a little nervous to actually attempt it. But this tiger is worth catching, and hugging until I cannot hug any more.

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome tribute to M. I love the lyrical way you presented the journey... And I am excited for you and for see what God is going to do with her now that she is out of the box. To be continued....


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