Last fall was the first time in five years that I didn’t ferry my daughter Annie to tutoring sessions during the school day. For almost half a decade, I picked her up three to four times a week and we made our way from her private school to a neighboring public school for extra tutoring.
I thought when this day came I’d be full of joy. I thought there would be ringing bells to herald the change. Instead, I told Annie when her yearly tutoring would start and she looked at me and said, “I don’t want to go anymore.”
Oh how my stomach lurched and my heart cried that I didn’t want to go either. But this tutoring was never about me. Annie and I had met during the school day because she was too anxious to spend full days apart. I was her safety net, her soft break from long, hard days. So instead of yelling, “Yes, we are done!” I asked her what she meant.
She meant she liked school enough to now stay the entire day with her classmates and no longer wanted to leave campus to get tutoring. The actual tutoring, however, couldn’t stop completely.
I'm just sad that it was so hard. It was so much effort and I guess part of me is just overwhelmingly sad that we had to go through that.
Starting in 2011, Annie had an individualized education program (IEP) with the Seattle Public School District (SPS). For a few years, we had had the option of dropping her IEP in favor of a SPS-offered service plan. The new plan would allow a tutor to come to Annie at her private school rather than having her (and me) go back and forth between two different schools.
Here’s the catch: My girl is years behind in math and it was her private school math specialist who was most wary of us dropping our IEP.
So I wasn’t sure whether or not we should keep the IEP and the two-school system. Then I ran into our school’s reading specialist. I told her that Annie was ready to stay at school. “Annie is the happiest I have ever seen her. Run with it!” she said. “You’ve worked so hard; it’s OK to be done.” Decision made.
Why then was my overwhelming response sadness? It wasn’t necessarily because I missed the long walks. Every night we still got an hour or so of wonderful, fulfilling, sometimes tear-filled homework time not to mention all the other no-stress, lovely moments together. What then, I wondered, had me on the edge of tears for weeks.
I finally found the words for my grief while talking to a friend after a school drop-off one morning. “I think I’m just sad that it was so hard,” I said. “It was so much effort and I guess part of me is just overwhelmingly sad that we had to go through that.”
I’m sad for my girl, that it took her so long to read and that she still has to face the challenges of math, but I’m also sad for myself. I had thought my career would kick into high gear as soon as my youngest hit kindergarten but instead I found myself researching dyslexia and carting Annie to and fro, to and for, to and fro. My husband tried to make me laugh about my unexpected job as a tutoring assistant and learning disabilities researcher, but sometimes I cried for what I’d missed.
People cheered when we told them Annie was ready to stay at school full-time. Those cheers were justified and right and they felt awesome, but my sadness was just as real. It’s the ugly sidecar that makes me as human as I don’t always want to be. It’s nice to call myself a saint who gave it all up for my girl. The truth is that tears are a fitting ending for our tale, too.