When I think of who my son is, one predominant image comes to mind, and that’s him as an infant smiling up at me. The joy that radiated off of him was tangible and it was a predominant part of who he was.
For a brief moment in time I thought we had lost that child when he hit the dyslexia wall. Gone was his joy. Instead we had a sad child whose self esteem was deeply wounded and felt he was stupid and always would be.
My indignation that adults would intentionally cause him harm was palpable. I can still feel my rage echo to me across the years. I can still hear his screaming, “I’M STUPID!” as he banged his head on the counter, broken by his inability to read at the ripe old age of 7. I can still see his face.
When he hit the wall I thought of all the things I did wrong, all my sins in missing it, chastising him, being angry with him, yelling at him for his inability to read. So many sins (and I’m still trying to forgive myself).
My confrontation with his school achieved nothing. Their absolute apathy and feigned compassion for his struggle was mind boggling, and it was then that the fierce #ParentAdvocate I’ve become was born.
I swore I would protect him and that joy he had always radiated. I swore I would fight to ensure no one hurt him or took his innate sense of joy away.
And I’ve tried so hard to protect him. I’ve chastised my husband several times when he gets frustrated or doesn’t understand how what our son is saying / doing is a direct reflection of his dyslexia; I’ve cut people out of our lives when they displayed hateful ignorance and an unwillingness to understand; I refuse to discuss dyslexia or what’s going on with my son with a number of people, because we don’t see eye to eye and to them, I’m making a big deal out of nothing.
But, the truth is I can’t protect him. Ok, yes, I can to a certain extent and only for a few more years, but beyond that, not really.
This doesn’t mean I abandon him to figure life out on his own. No parent wants to do that to their child. What I can do is try to help him achieve understanding of who he is as a person, who he is with his dyslexia, and in that understanding, gain peace.
I’ve always tried to help him name his emotions, to find his words, to speak up for himself, but now he’s old enough and life isn’t going to wait anymore. This past school year I stopped talking in hypotheticals and started making it real.
He’s come across a few children now who did not so nice things to get their way.
Once a child took advantage of him and it cost him 1st place in a chess tournament when he was 8. It was a year and a half before he confessed that he felt humiliated and didn’t want to suffer that again.
Another child, hearing that our son was dyslexic and struggled with reading, asked him to write down some words that he would spell out for him which turned out to be rap lyrics that we felt were highly inappropriate for a 10 year old child.
Thus the introduction of the phrase “punk ass little bitch” into my son’s lexicon, by none other than me.
As my son stood there, shocked I would utter such a phrase to him, I explained those kids were punk ass little bitches and we don’t let punk ass little bitches take our joy or get us in trouble. We move through them, we are confident, we stand up for ourselves and we move on without their presence affecting who we are.
But punk ass little bitches are not just limited to children; adults are capable of that behavior as well.
So I realized I had to set the stage for surviving the next 7 years of school, before the elementary years were over and I would lose some of my ability to shield him from ugly events and hurtful people.
My son knows I fight for him and other children, so when thinking how to coach him the following came to mind:
“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.” -Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, William Shakespeare
The problem is I’m no Shakespeare and I think his prose is a bit over a 10 year old’s head. My classicist education wasn’t going to yield good examples; so what I did tell him, and repeat often, about school was and is this:
This place and these people do 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, sadly, this happens during the most impressionable years of your life. For 13 years you are unable to escape the requirement to be here.
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 and this place, it 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 while you were a CHILD, and all a test is, is a sample of a moment in time, which in the scheme of things, means nothing.
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. Only you.
So, do not let this place, these people, define you. They do not have the right to limit who you can be.
Nor do I.
I will do my best to guide you, to help you find your strength, to help you hold onto your joy, but I cannot live your life and I should neither define nor limit who you can be either.
My goal, my purpose, is to set you free to become who you are meant to be, on your terms, in your time, in your way.
I don’t know if I’m going to succeed. He’s already a pretty tough little cookie, most of the time. Time will tell if my strategy will work, and the numerous way I’ll have to evolve my strategy over the years.
Until then, it’s my honor to help him become all that he dreams he can be.