Last week the internet was graced by a piece written by Ann Murray at Miss Night’sMarbles. As the writer indicates, it challenged the world to “a call to compassion and understanding”. The blog entry was re-posted over and over again and quickly picked up by mainstream news sources. Comments showed the article struck a nerve with readers who emphasized their gratitude for teachers who put up with the difficult children and the (possibly) more difficult parents. The tears I shed each time I read her words only began to display the very raw emotions festering inside me on the topic and I knew a sentence or two on a Facebook post wouldn't suffice in processing my brokenness. My daughter is THAT kid.
To my fellow mommas:
You know all about my child, at least you think you do. You can’t miss her (and when she’s gone you DON’T). You know her name because you've heard us speak it at least 32 times since we entered the store 5 minutes ago or your child has a (generally unpleasant) story about her on a daily basis. She’s bitten. She’s pulled her pants down and run around the class. She’s run across the table tops and then out the door. She pees her pants daily and sneaks whatever kind-of edible thing she can find even if it came off your plate at your table as we walked by at the restaurant or out of the trash can at the park or out of the treads of the car tire.
Yes, you know who my child is and you despise her. I get it. I really do. You don’t like that she punched your daughter in the face at dance class. You’re disgusted that your child now knows the “F” word because my child told the teacher she’s “being an F-er” in the middle of her preschool class.
You don’t want her around, and I understand why. Though you've never said directly, we've heard you loud and clear. That time you called the league president when she was uncooperative in baby baseball? We heard you. The time she was the only child not invited to the after-season party? Got it. When no one came to her birthday party 2 years in a row? We listened. When I kept her home from dance and you whispered to each other “maybe she won’t be coming back”. I've heard you each and every time.
She hears you too. “No one likes me mommy”, she’s said. And she was right. This isn't a low self-esteem pity party she’s throwing. Since she’s been 3 years old she’s literally had no friends. Not a single one.
She does it to herself, you’re saying. And you’re right. As adults we see her and tell her, now barely 5, just be nice. Use your hands and feet with love. Be a good friend. Listen and obey. It makes so much sense to us and frankly, to YOUR child. YOUR child gets it. How hard could it be? Just. Be. Nice.
You've formed opinions about her. About our family. About me, the mom of the girl who is completely out-of-control. Here’s what I wish you knew...
Our daughter was neuro-typical once. After she came home to us at 9 months old and had the chance to start to heal from severe neglect, she seemed “normal” for a while. It only took her two weeks to smile at all and another year of therapy to catch up to her peers but then she seemed like any other spunky little girl. On adoption day, just after she turned two, she was so beautiful in her teal dress and pig tails with matching bows. Her blue eyes sparkled (they still do). She had normal 2-year-old challenges...potty training, staying in bed, the occasional tantrum at school. Nothing out of the ordinary to cause alarm.
In hindsight it didn't last long. We started noticing things after she turned 3. She was the only little girl sobbing on the field when she didn't catch the ball. Potty training wasn't coming along. Her tantrums started getting worse, not better, and she couldn't sit in her chair at school. But, you know...”I don’t know why they call it the Terrible Two’s cuz when they’re three...”.
She was kicked out of school twice by the time she was three. Her allergy laden gut was too much to handle when she was one and her inability to sit calmly and do a worksheet got her at 3. We finally found a preschool willing to work with her after I walked in a sobbing mess, desperate for someone to WANT my little girl around.
We paid $160 out-of-pocket per week for a year for therapy to help her have a chance at normal. She didn't qualify for insurance to cover it because her persistence is so great that she was able to pass the assessment even though she had “the worst sensory defensiveness ever seen” in the therapists career. No wonder, as her therapist said, she had ZERO self-confidence.
I wonder if you ever heard the true story behind why the class fish died. It wasn't on purpose. She was trying to make it be quiet. She knew the fish shouldn't have been telling her “F-er” over and over again but she didn't know how to make it stop. That’s why she stuffed a whole roll of paper towels in the tank. The fish didn't like that much.
She doesn't hear that language in our home. Our home (and family) is actually really conservative and stable. Upper middle-class, two-parent family, gifted siblings, minimal media exposure...we’re not hiding any secrets or internal strife. We’re not perfect, but we aren't lacking skills or resources to parent well.
Despite my (educated and experiential) bend toward nature and aversion to most-things-pharmaceutical, our daughter started daily medication. One led to psychotic episodes in the form of profanity-speaking fish. The other didn't help. We’re now on a strict Gluten-Free/Dye-Free diet, waiting for entry into a full psychiatric/psychological evaluation program to see where to go next.
Picking up my child from school is always an adventure. I open her folder before I see her to see if today was a magical day where she managed to earn a good behavior paw print. We got to do a celebratory dance 6 times in October upon seeing that pretty paw. Usually, though, I am greeted with a brief “disrupting the class”, “not minding”, or “poked friend in the eye” instead of a stamp. Sometimes I’m gifted with a more elaborate note such as “Please talk to your daughter about the importance of listening to the teacher” or “She earned a stamp today only because she had constant supervision”. I take a deep breath before going into the classroom to get her, at which point I’m usually greeted by a barrage of students peppering me with helpful information like “she peed her pants today”, “she spilled all the paint” or “she killed the fish!” (yes, the same fish from months ago).
(In case you’re wondering, I usually thank them for telling me or say something like “Thank you for being a good friend to her even when she has a bad day. She could really use a good friend like you”.)
There’s so much I could tell you if I had the chance. I’d tell you how lonely it is not being invited to play dates and birthday parties. I’d tell you how badly I wish I was in the “in-crowd” again like I was before I had a preschooler with mental illness. I’d tell you how badly it hurts when you whisper to each other or look at us with scorn.
I’d tell you how my heart breaks for my other kids who are also rejected from party invites or social opportunities because of their sister’s reputation. I’d tell you how hard it can be for them sometimes when they can’t have a normal relationship with their sister either.
I know I’d try and get you to see the good things about my daughter. I’d try to emphasize the way she hasn't had an accident (outside of nap time) in 2 weeks or the way she loves nature. I wish I could tell you how compassionate she is, bringing other children something special when she sees them crying or making sure the new kid in class got a hug. I’d tell you how impressed I am when I hear her repeating something she’d learned in class like letter sounds or scientific facts or when I see her consciously choose to do something over again because she knows she started off incorrectly in her first response. I’d probably want you to see how she smiles so beautifully in pictures and explain how grateful I am to have those rare glimpses of happiness caught on film.
I’d tell you that not all teachers or school systems are as kind as Ms. Murray.
If I had the chance, I’d probably tell you that I too struggle to recognize that the behavior we see is symptomatic of the underlying mental health condition she suffers from, even as a preschooler. It’s not something we can see to remind us that she has a permanently disabling condition. If I were honest, I’d admit that sometimes I wonder whether people would treat her more kindly if she had a physical disability rather than this ugly mental illness that is trying to consume her before she starts Kindergarten.
I would tell you my daughter isn't the only one. I see other mommas, like me, simultaneously trying to advocate for services and accomodations in a world that doesn't seem to have room for square pegs while striving to teach their children to shoot for the stars, refusing to accept the current state as all it's ever going to be. These ladies (and fathers too) are doing their best to try and hold it all together. I see you mommas - don't give up.
I would try to convey all this to you and more but I rarely get the chance.
I get it. I really do.
I just wish things were different - mostly for her.