I am sitting here on the fourth floor of Miller Hall at the University of Washington. Part of me wants to do my freelance work, but most of my brain says, “Write. Write about this. This is something.”
I have to answer this plea. After all, I just emailed one of my editors that I am sitting in a waiting room while my daughter’s brain is being tested for learning disabilities.
So perhaps my focus should be here, writing down what it feels like to have someone take a close look at your child’s brain.
Annie is excited for this process, although to her it is just an extended round of tutoring with yummy treats and a chance to skip school. My husband, Chris, ran to the store last night to buy bacon for breakfast; I didn’t want the girl to be hungry when I sent her into the testing room.
She is a shy one, and I did have to promise her that I would sit in the waiting room. In fact, my husband wanted to make sure I would stay close by, too, which felt both annoying and sweet to me. Yes, we have set up our lives so I am the one in charge of Annie’s learning disability journey, but sometimes I wish I was not this person. Still, I know if Chris asked to be the person sitting in this waiting room, I would have said no. I want to be here.
The bell in the bell tower tolls as I type away. It is 11 o’clock and Annie has been with the tester, Chris, since 9:10 a.m. On the walk through campus, Annie soaked her surroundings in, asking questions about this huge school. In the waiting room, she curled up on my lap. I marveled at her beauty and how she still fit perfectly, her lanky body conformed to mine. Even though she is too large for my lap, we are still like a puzzle meant to be joined. We were early, earlier than our tester, and he ran through the door minutes before testing was to begin. I figured it was traffic. He came out and introduced himself to Annie, and her shy smile came out, the one with the pursed lips that almost hides her joy.
“Hello Annie. I’m Chris. I saw you at school [when he observed her in the classroom] but I didn’t want to introduce myself in front of all the kids. But I heard you read and you did a great job,” he said to her as he extended his hand out for her to shake. He was on bended knee, right at her level. Annie offered her hand to his and they shook. He told us he would finish setting up and then he would retrieve Annie.
When he returned, he told me he was late because he lost his wallet, so he couldn’t buy special treats and stickers, which he called “incentives.” He said he will make up for it next time. So I offered to go buy snacks.
I walked Annie to the testing room, and her right hand held tightly to my left hand and tears almost leaked out of her eyes. She was not like the two other children in the waiting room who left their parents’ sides without looking back. I placed her in a chair in the testing room and Chris asked her what she wanted to be called. I promised to buy her delicious treats and slipped out of the room, shutting the door on my way out.
I asked for directions to the nearest store, and then I was out in the gray, drizzly day. Hordes of young people walked the paths. I wondered how old these students thought I was even as I knew they were not paying any attention to me. I entered the Suzzallo Library and went to the café to purchase yummy food. I found gummy bears, Swedish fish and white cheddar popcorn. I waited in the fastest coffee line ever so I could buy myself a short soy latte. It was $1 cheaper than the Starbucks version. When I took a sip, I instantly tasted mediocre warmth, but still, this alternate universe was interesting.
I quickly brought the incentives back to the receptionist, who handed them off to Chris. I waded through 15 minutes of fun with the receptionist to obtain Internet access. I wandered through some easy work. When Annie came out for bathroom break, I saw her easy smile and knew she was doing well.
And now, here, I wait.
How do I feel? I’m excited to garner new information about how Annie’s brain works so we can help her even more.
I am fearful that Annie will have Tourette’s syndrome, even though I am pretty sure they don’t test for that here. This is a fear I don’t even speak aloud to people. It’s one I know people will read about in this very blog and then they will ask me about it. And I will be at a loss for words, speechless. I am rarely speechless.
Since Annie has been out for a break, I am relived to think the testing is going well enough. On my screen I note that my most recent blog about testing is up for anyone and everyone to read, and I feel humbled that my words may help people going through similar types of things. I also feel embarrassed that I am writing about my daughter. Do I have a right to write about her? She knows I write about her. She likes that I am writing a memoir about this journey. Both she and I always say what we think. This is our family. It is how we roll.
Chris and Annie come out of the room again. Chris brings Annie to me. He asks her if she likes stuffed animals. She says kind of, and I laugh because she loves stuffed animals. He promises to bring her a Husky stuffed animal next time, apologizing that he doesn’t have a reward today. I ask if they are done for today, even though it is an hour early.
“She is doing so great, but she is getting glassy eyed now,” he tells me. Annie takes a break with me. I go into the testing room and eat Swedish fish with her. We plan our lunch of pizza and pudding, and then Chris comes back into the testing room so they can complete one more portion of the test.
“Annie, I was behind the glass here and I can see you are so much happier with your mom than you are with me. Why is that?” Chris asks with a smile.
I give my girl a squeeze and tell her I’ll see her for lunch soon. We are almost done with half of the 8 hours of testing, and we are doing well.
Writer, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of her memoir about the beginning of Annie’s learning journey. She is co-author of two holistic health care guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When not navigating parenthood, she uses her brain power to write, edit, and fact-check articles for websites and magazines. She lives in Ballard with her husband and two elementary-age daughters. Find her blog at Within the Words.