To my son’s teacher,
I know he didn’t do exactly what you said. I know you said “write an essay” and make sure you use topic sentences and correct punctuation and I know these things are important (I am a writer, you see, I get it), and I know my boy didn’t do that. You said use cursive. He didn’t do that either.
I wish I could tell you how he sat at the table working on his paragraphs for 4 hours over many days and how when he was finished he came into my room 5 times in 20 minutes to check if the baby was asleep yet so I could read the words he wrote “totally by himself.”
I wish I could tell you that last week he lied to us again about his assignments and I failed to check and I didn’t know about the writing project due last week. I wish I could tell you how we talked to him about facing hard things and how even if it seems easier in the moment to deny and pretend it’s not happening, we have to face the challenges of our lives.
And so this week, with this essay, he’s facing the super hard thing.
I wish I could tell you how hard it is. I wish I could tell you how he didn’t talk until 3 years old and came home from preschool with migraines and would curl on the bathroom floor in pain. I wish I could tell you how I took him out and homeschooled him after that and how he could not not not not not learn any letters at all and I would lose my patience. I would lose my patience with my learning disabled son so I wish I could I tell you I GET IT. I get how hard it is to teach these kids.
Still, I wish I could beg you to tell him what a great job he did on this essay and how proud you are because he worked so hard. I wish I could ask you to say this in spite of the phonetic spelling and words running together and lack of punctuation or topic sentences or cursive.
But I probably won’t.
I probably won’t because being the mom of a learning-disabled kid means walking the line – no, skinny ass thread – between “helicopter enabler mom” and “letting the kid own what’s his” mom. Between “not catering to laziness” and “protecting a child in a system that wasn’t created for him.”
Between helping a kid own his disability while defending him against unnecessary exercises in futility that serve only to make him feel more stupid. How much is the disability? How much is his personality? Where do I end? Where do you begin?
But we don’t talk about this at IEP meetings. We talk about auditory processing disorders and rapid naming disorders and “2nd grade instructional” reading levels and another battery of tests so he can keep his IEP. I know when we’re doing those anyway, before you even mention it, because he turns deathly quiet before school, again.
I suggest perhaps they’re unnecessary since he’s not going to magically become un-dyslexic. But I know it’s about funding. I know there are so many kids in your class. I know how hard you work. I know about teaching. I did it, though with college kids. I could never handle a bunch of ten-year-olds and their fucking parents.
But I have to hold you accountable and that feels weird. I have to intervene. I have to watch like a damn hawk. Not because you are a bad teacher (although he’s had one of those), but because the system wasn’t built for kids like him.
I wish I could tell you about first grade and how it was okay and second grade and how it wasn’t okay and how he was shoved out of a chair and dragged across the room by his collar and nobody even told me. I wish I could tell you how he learned NOTHING that year except fear and separateness and I took him out again, for healing. He got 15 minutes a day with a brand-new resource teacher who had no idea how to teach dyslexic kids. I had to refer her to options. That was when we lived in a poor town full of poor kids. And apparently if you’re dyslexic and poor, you’re fucked.
I wish I could tell you how we moved for 3rd grade to get to nicer schools because I knew my son’s education and possibly life depended on that. I wish I could tell you the guilt I felt that I even had that option but how in third grade his teacher wrapped her love and strength around him in a way that made 2nd grade and preschool and his impatient mother dim into damn near nothing and his reading specialist and special ed teacher (who he spends an HOUR with every day) taught him to read. And he worked. And he worked. And he went from a pre-k reading level to 2nd grade instructional in one year. And they loved him. And he spoke in front of the class.
And I sat in the back and wept.
I wish I could tell you this journey, so you see the 4th grader standing before, beyond “daydreaming” or “off task again.” I wish I could tell you this so you know what you’re looking at when you get his paper so far “behind.” So lacking. So not following the rules.
I wish I could tell you so could see the ten thousand hours of fear and desperation and love and fighting and strength that live in each misspelled word, each scratched out, run-together line, and how his eyes beamed blue and bright and proud when he held it out to me and asked, “Do you think my teacher will like it?”
I wish you could have seen my face.