by Ashley Roberts
I don't know why the image of the Phoenix is something I embraced, but it spoke to me and the anxiety I was feeling when it came to advocating for my child. There are times I'm energetic, driven and possess a "nothing will stop me" attitude, yet there are times when I just wish it would all stop being so hard.
I mean, it's infuriating! It's not like we as parents are asking for much. We approach this institution which we are taught to hold in high regard asking for a simple thing, for our dyslexic children to be educated. We know they can learn to read, and read well. The data is overwhelming. Why then is it such an overwhelming struggle?
Overwhelming is not an over-dramatization of the reality either. At this point I've heard from thousands of parents across the country, even across the world, and the struggle is the same and so very real. A child enters school gleeful, eager to learn, yet they are not taught and somewhere along the way we lose our happy little child.
The first picture attached is my child's first day of Kindergarten. He was so excited and eager. The second picture is the last week of 1st grade. My happy boy was long gone, embraced by the teacher who couldn't help him learn to read because she didn't have the tools to teach him. He was defeated and at barely 7 years old, screamed at the top of his lungs, "I'M JUST STUPID!"
I was devastated. No parent wants to hear those words from their bright child. This was when the fire within me ignited. Our road was clear and nothing was going to stop me from getting my happy boy back again.
Once he started to learn to read via the science of reading his confidence came back quickly. The anxiety he developed is still with him, but as I've had anxiety my whole life that may have been something he was going to struggle with anyway, but he has such an adept way of explaining the anxiety he feels; for example, when it comes to writing assignments he told me, "first I have to think about my handwriting, then I have to think about my spelling, so by the time I get to the actual writing part I'm already exhausted."
This example shines a bright light on the lack of explicit written expression instruction within the American classroom. Sorry to tell you folks, but Writers Workshop is not a model that will ever teach a child how to write, not without a major overhaul that includes explicit handwriting instruction, explicit grammar and syntax instruction, and vocabular development via a content rich approach to teaching writing.
But, back to my point. Have I always known how to advocate? The answer is an emphatic NO.
This has been a major learning process that tapped into every insecurity I possessed. I constantly feel afraid of failing my precious boy, of not getting him what he needs. I am have spent years asking myself is this really working, is this too much, too little too late, will he be able to succeed on HIS TERMS which is all I've ever sought for him? How do I keep him intact, meaning how do I assure him that we will get through this together and he won't be damaged by the system? How do I teach him that his grades don't matter, that it's the effort that counts? How do I raise him to be a non-conformist in a system that DEMANDS CONFORMITY? How do I teach him to stand facing the wind and rain and have the faith that he will get through this?
Public school is not for the faint of heart. Despite the rising anxiety I developed a mantra that I repeated to him every day for a year. I hoped it would bring him strength in the face of challenge. It goes something like this:
This place does NOT get to define you.
They're going to try.
They will tell you who they think you can and cannot be,
what you can and cannot achieve,
what your limits are,
what you excel at,
where you fall short,
and for the most impressionable years of your life
it will be easy to believe them.
It will be hard to be other than what they define you to be,
but, at the end of your long life, when you look back on this time,
this place will have been such a small part of your life,
and if you give them the power to define you, that power will endure forever.
And if you can accept that, then know this...
they do not know what you are really capable of.
All they know, is how well you did or did not do on a test when you were a CHILD,
and all a test is, is a sample of a moment in time, which in the scheme of things,
The beauty of your life must be defined by YOU
and it is in YOU, through YOU and in who YOU CAN BECOME
that you will find who you really are capable of being.
No one else will travel YOUR ROAD of life, but YOU.
So, do not let this place, these people, define you.
They do not have the right to limit who you can be.
I repeated it until he told me to stop saying it to him, that he had it, that he knew and understood. That didn't stop the anxiety though. When your child is hard wired for it, or even if they aren't they're just extremely intelligent and know they don't fit, that anxiety creeps in anyway, they are going to feel it no matter what we say or do.
Do I get tired? Oh, man. Some years are harder than others. Some years I've celebrated big wins, and some years I've lost hard. I have had an IEP meeting that lasted the entire school year, and no, I'm not kidding. I lost, but I made them fight for that win. The reason they fought so hard was I had won more for my child than anyone else in the district, and when they pieced that together, they fought like the devil to take all of it away, and take it away they did. This is despite evaluation results that would make some people's heads spin, but what that is evidence of is how desperately my district DOES NOT UNDERSTAND DYSLEXIA OR ANY OTHER SLD.
I've also fallen into a massive depression that was very hard to pull myself out of. Unfortunately I also had little emotional support from my dyslexic circle during this time with the exception of only two friends, and sometimes that's not enough. Like with all things, in time I healed and picked myself back up again with a plan of action. I am currently in the middle of that plan so I can't report on the rewards yet, but both my son and I can plainly see them.
The lows are when it's hard to rise, but rise we must. Every time I get low, or burned out, it is a struggle, but I do find a way to rise. My son needs me to rise. My job as his mother is to ensure I get back up every single time and keep going. Usually once I get going though, I find my passion for this battle rekindled.
And then two weeks ago, when my anxiety was re-triggered by an email from the school, my son surprised me in such a way that the fire within lit with a fury, and I rose with a smile on my face, a skip in my step, and glee in my heart, and he achieved that with one small declaration.
"Mom, warriors make warriors, and you are a fierce warrior. Everything I've achieved is because of you and Dad and all that you fight for, but because I'm the one that's dyslexic, I will be even more ferocious than you. No one will be able to win against me. I will change this world."
Can you imagine what that did to my heart and soul? Can you imagine my awe at my amazing child?