The other day I sent an email to my son’s teacher with the subject line, “Re Homework tears, mine, not Peter’s.”
I couldn’t believe it that once again, fourth grade was kicking my butt.
All of sudden a lifetime of frustration came flooding back to me.
Memories of missed recess sitting in a classroom being the only girl among the few kids who didn’t finish their work on time.
Hearing my classmates giggle when I would get called on and couldn’t come up with the right answer.
Reading a book and not really knowing what it said.
Sitting at my desk staring at the paper willing the answers to come to me. They never did.
Teachers getting frustrated with me telling me I could finish my work if I just didn’t daydream so much.
Taking an extra second to put my hand over my heart for the Pledge of Allegiance each morning because I could never remember what hand went over what side.
The fact that words always came easy to me and I scored high in some areas and horribly in others only made it worse. Why was Kathy not living up to her potential was a frequent topic in parent-teacher conferences.
Deep down I knew I was smart, I just couldn’t figure out how to prove it on paper.
At 14 my struggles were given a name when I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I now had proof that my brain processed numbers and letters differently. This made school a bit better. At least I knew there was a reason why it was always so hard and the world looked so different.
But the damage had been done. Despite my dyslexic diagnosis I felt stupid and unprepared for the world. I also always felt like a fraud. Even when I did do well on a test, in a course or a job, I figured it was just luck and that somebody would discover how incompetent I was.
I was 21 when the therapist I was seeing suggested I get privately tested to see just what my learning issues were and how I could work around them.
That is when everything changed for me. I started working with a learning therapist who showed me the ways I was already compensating for my weaknesses and ways I could make things even easier for me. I also learned that it was my dyslexia that made me a creative thinker. Yes, I did see the world differently, but that wasn’t a bad thing.
Little by little I became more confident in my abilities and eventually even went to college, which was something I feared I would never be able to do. I made a promise to myself that if I ever had a child who was dyslexic, or had any learning challenge, I would do everything in my power to make sure that they never had to feel lost in the world. If I could spare my own kids the pain and frustration I went through then everything I endured would be worth it.
And I did that. When my first child showed signs that he too was dyslexic, I jumped on it. Tom has had the benefit of a wide variety of therapists and programs that weren’t available when I was growing up.
My son has grown up knowing what his differences are and how to ask for what he needs. We have always been honest with him and taught him to advocate for himself. The fact that he does so with ease and grace is more a testament to his talents than anything he leaned from us. He has always been willing to work hard, and he has learned that although some things may take a bit more effort, he can do or be anything he wants to be. The only limits he has are the ones he gives himself.
Which is I why I was surprised the other day when he admitted to sometimes feeling so frustrated at the things he still struggles with. I thought my experience would spare him those feelings of doubt. I was sad that they didn’t.
When I shared my feeling about this with Tom, he reminded me of something I have always told him. Everybody has something that makes them feel different. We all can feel like outsiders at times. Our job is to move ahead anyway.
It was then I realized that my role as his parent wasn’t to shield Tom from the pain and frustration, it was to teach him how to deal with those feelings. I have been able to give him some tools to help him overcome the learning difference we both share, but he’s learned the most by the obstacles he’s had to overcome on his own.