I find it remarkable that I don’t know myself better by now. I actually thought I could open up an email with test results for my almost-9-year-old and read them like they were no big deal. Like, oh, I’ll just read another round of stats about how my girl’s brain works between 10 a.m. and 10:20 a.m., and then I’ll do some work, eat some lunch, and get on with my day. What is this, the 4th or 5th round of tests in the last five years? It’s like going out for a short jog by now, right?
By paragraph three I realized I was going to cry, which would turn into a good 20-minute sob, and this would be followed by a 24-hour recovery period.
Why, if the test was filled with so much good news, have I trained my brain to pick out the bad news? Two weeks ago, the tester emailed me to tell me Annie no longer qualified for reading help at the Seattle Public Schools; she is almost reading at grade level and is no longer in the bottom 10 percent.
This is so big, it’s hard to communicate. Three years ago my girl repeated kindergarten because the 26 letters of the alphabet were like a foreign language.
So I was ecstatic about these recent results — so much reading improvement, so much growth, that she no longer qualifies for services. Even though inside, I already knew the next words would tell me: My daughter is now in the bottom 10 percent for math skills in her age group.
We lost one service yet gained another.
Still. Such hard work. Such success. We would celebrate with ice cream and tell Annie that she was a hard worker, that it was her endless difficult hours of work that made her a reader.
So was I crying over the math disability when I read these results? Maybe I was just crying because I am a crier. Still, there is more there. I’ve written before about my grief over my daughter’s learning disabilities, and how I am mostly over it, but I still sometimes unpack this grief. Why was I sobbing Tuesday as I picked my way through the test report?
Any professional will tell you that a test is just a snapshot in time, and it’s not the entire picture. I mean, think about all of those Facebook pictures that only tell one tiny part of the tale. The happy couple picture posted last month is as true as the fight the same couple had over kid duties last night.
The part where the tester says my daughter told her she wants to be an artist when she grows up? I started crying there, with joy. But there was sadness there too, because I am her mom. I remember when she was 2 and she refused to color for fun. I know that kids in her first year of kindergarten (yup, she repeated) pointed her scribbling out to her, and she came home and cried about this with me. I know it took her concerted effort to learn how to draw, that she learned this skill because her big sister KK is a talented artist, and Annie wants to be just like KK.
When Annie said she couldn’t draw, KK told her over and over again, “I’m good because I practice. If you practice, you will be good, too.”
Annie needed not only encouragement from her sister but three years of occupational therapy to help her through her difficulty with fine motor skills.
Oh, cry me a river, you say. But every mother I know wants school to be easy for her beloved child. I take my tears with a large grain of salt, but still I cry.
Because what does it mean that the tester called me after I emailed and told her I had a hard time reading the results? It means that we discussed my daughter’s processing disorder, and whether or not she has ADHD, and how she is catching up, but every year school gets more difficult.
What if she falls behind again and we are stuck again, like we were not so long ago?
All it really means is that I had a good cry. All it really means is the tester graciously talked to me for an hour, pointing out all the good news and discussing how to deal with the bad news. All it really means is my husband came home and made me lunch. And while we ate, he reminded me of Annie’s awesomeness — her creativity, her humor, her tenacity, her loving kindness that I can never get enough of.
The deeper truth is one of those things many people often only bring to the table with the people they love best in the world. Why do I bring it here? Why would you want to hear about my tears one more time? Because maybe you are sitting there reading an email from your child’s concerned teacher, and you are wishing those tears that won’t stop would stop. It’s OK. I cry all the time. Crying lets me deal with the endless details that having a child with learning disabilities entails.
But crying also lets me know this is a real problem, and I don’t need to pretend otherwise. It connects me to all the other parents who have a child with learning disabilities; it means I can help them know they are not alone.
Crying lets me know that I am scared that the world thinks Annie is different. The people who do think she’s different are not wrong. I finally know that in her differences, she has her greatest strengths. Even her awkward social tics that stem from her anxiety over learning are beautiful to me.
I used to be so pissed when people said dyslexia is a gift. But they weren’t wrong. It’s her gift, and it is continually unfolding. Whoever said gifts are not simple or complicated or hard or ugly sometimes?
I cry for the hardness, and I cry for the beauty. I cry for the complex nature that life offers up to me. It offers up this complexity to all of us. At long last, I am grateful for my tears. I cry as hard as I need to. I let every last drop out. It’s the only way I can really be there for my Annie. And that’s OK with me.
Writer, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of her memoir about the beginning of her dyslexic daughter’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 daughters. Find her blog at Within the Words .