One time when my son was little, maybe 3 years old, I put him down for a nap and several hours later he had not awakened. While this wasn’t common per se, it had happened a few times before, and he always slept until the next morning. Usually this was followed by an illness so we would take comfort in the sleep, knowing it was his body already trying to heal.
We lived in a condo at the time. They were these tiny little Spanish style things. The ground floor units, or the two story back units like we lived in, all faced inward to a courtyard and you had to go through the units to get to those spaces. Seven units shared our courtyard. We all knew each other, would hang out, visit, grill, drink wine, chat.
I was at the far end of the courtyard visiting, 3 doors down. We’d walk back to our unit every few minutes and check to see if our son had woken up. On our last check he was still asleep.
A few minutes later one of my neighbors, the one who lived directly across from me, walked back to her unit and on her way there found my son, standing at the edge of our patio, full on terrified panic, unable to find us, to find me.
She picked him up and called my name right as I heard his piercing wail, “Mommy!”
I stood and ran to him and he practically jumped into my arms. Shaking, crying, terrified, I took him inside, rocked him, held him, apologized to him, told him how much I loved him and we stayed that way until he calmed down, which took a while. He had woken and we hadn’t been there. He climbed out of his bed and looked around our home and couldn’t find us. He started to panic when we weren’t on our patio and that’s when our neighbor found him, right as that panic reached it’s apex.
As far as I know that’s the only time my son has felt abandoned by me. I think of his big crocodile tears streaming down his face, how his little body shook, how scared he was and I feel guilty all over again. As moms we are terrible at forgiving ourselves of our sins against our children. I know I am at least.
He was small when this event occurred, I think he was only three. The truth of life is that as infants we are creatures of pure emotion and need. Our need is for the most basic of things, love, food, sleep, clean diapers. We only know love, hurt, hunger, satisfaction of comfort and infinite curiosity. We do not know ego, shame, regret, fear.
The fear we know is learned. We are not born fearing. We are born only needing. The deprivation of our need creates sadness, sadness creates fear. As we grow we take in more and so more emotion develops, including fear, but again fear is the loss of something needed like security and protection, or it is the stimulus of fear like being bitten by a growling dog so one develops a fear of dogs.
As we grow, learn and are taught by parents, loved ones, friends, societal interactions, our brains change. We shed the life of a creature of pure emotion and need to something infinitely more. We learn greed in an innocent way because we want candy or a toy and sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t. We learn anger at not getting our way all of the time. We learn patience as we figure out we cannot have a melt down every time our greed is denied. We are told how to behave, and we adapt. Gone are the wide eyed screaming temper tantrums which are replaced with a hung head and big tears. We learn friends are both fun and sometimes mean. We learn cruelty. We learn empathy.
The interactions we have, the things we are taught, shape our emotional selves. This is honed by individual personality. The shape of who we are, the clay of self, grows less pliable. This is what it is to grow up.
Add in the ever increasing brain and the intake of knowledge. This begins at birth and continues for one’s entire life, but at an awe inspiring rate when one is small. Through senses and observation, we take in a great deal, then we begin school.
All children are wide eyed when entering school. It is a place of magic and wonder and this is solidified in books and cartoons. It is the one place where the whole of the universe will be revealed, unlocked, laid bare at our feet. Children cannot describe it in these words, but that is the core of the feeling of sheer wonderment they experience.
Yet, one of the first lessons, it that it is here that paths diverge and dreams fade.
Adults are the culmination of their life experiences to that point in time. Whether positive or negative, we are infinitely complex creatures. Some of us are cruel, some of us are selfless, all of us have a history of challenge and all of us have made choices about how we emotionally compartmentalize that challenge or allow it to define us. All of us have made choices about how we behave, how we treat each other, about what’s important to us as individuals. We are each in a perpetual state of learning, I hope, as we continue our ever growing evolution of self. The clay of self is never fully formed, some of it is always pliable.
We parents, we send our wonder filled children into the school environment, into the hands of strangers, trusting because we must, hoping for their success, praying for their happiness and for positive experiences. We dream of scholars, astronauts, pioneers of science, future presidents, even as our children dream these dreams for themselves.
But then reality sets in.
Our children, no longer creatures of pure need and emotion, are confused. Confusion is a new experience, and they lack the language to explain what they are experiencing. For our dyslexic children, that confusion grows. They see the friends they loved so much on the first day of school begin to accomplish things that they themselves cannot. Hurt and frustration are added to the confusion they already feel. Whether kindergarten, first grade, second grade or beyond, the emotions they feel, some too big for them to understand, the lack of language to explain, the inability to defend themselves against the repeated onslaught of information that is meaningful to some but not meaningful to them. They are measured against an expectation they cannot rise to, cannot even remotely grasp, no matter how hard they try. Fear was introduced along this road. They were told somewhere they were disappointing, they were lazy, they weren’t trying hard enough. Adults with big words and the ability to express themselves speaking to a child who cannot explain, cannot defend, cannot find the right words to make anyone understand.
Confusion, hurt, frustration and fear culminate into anger. Anger feeds fear. Fear feeds anger. An emotional monster rises up on the shore of their mind, staring at them, taunting them, shaming them.
They are abandoned.
The place of magic, mystery and wonderment is a place of fear, anger and shame. They see it, hear it every day. The frustration others feel at their inability to perform, the anger some express, the disappointment at their inability to try again. No one understands. No one cares.
Mom and Dad try to scoop them up into their arms and assure them they are not abandoned but it’s no longer the easy assurance of a parent to a small child. A parent holding them close to their heart, letting them cry their big crocodile tears, assuring them of safety, providing comfort isn’t enough because there is no assurance of safety. The world is bigger, scarier, and no matter how much mom and dad assure them, tomorrow will be yet another endless repeat of today.
What is it to be abandoned on the shores of the place you deemed magical? What is it to be abandoned in the halls of the place that is supposed to give you what you need to know to exist in this life? What is it to think that no matter how much you may be loved, that you are unworthy, less than, different, denied for reasons you cannot fathom?
What is it to experience this and not have the language to express, to explain, to reveal the depth of pain?
Welcome to a dyslexic’s childhood in the education system.
Shame on us all.