It’s been three weeks since I sat in a hard wooden chair in the waiting room of the Clinical Training Laboratory in the University of Washington’s Miller Hall. A lot of life has happened since then. My mom has had a major surgery followed by a long hospital stay. I’ve watched my older daughter navigate fifth grade trouble from the sideline, learning what it is like to let her deal with her own life by herself. And I’ve broken down sobbing in the waiting room of Annie’s private speech therapy office.
Sometimes three weeks can knock you down.
I marvel at the quiet of the waiting room I am in today, how everything and nothing has changed as Annie undergoes the second half of her learning disability testing.
Last time I sat here, I wrote about my fear of Annie having Tourette syndrome, even though I have never done a Google search on this syndrome. The day I broke down sobbing in another waiting room, Annie’s private speech therapist pulled me aside after her session to ask about her social tics. I overreacted. To my credit, I’ve had insomnia lately. I was riding on little sleep and too much thought when the therapist pointed out Annie’s incessant coughing and how she was now touching her ears as well as fiddling with her clothes and tracing a line on her forehead with her left pointer finger.
“Have you thought about ... ” said the tutor.
“Yes, all the time, I think about her social tics all the time. I’m sorry, I really need a moment,” I said.
I was starting to cry. I left Annie with a friend and walked away from the therapist and into the therapy room. Then I broke down, but I wasn’t just crying about Annie and her social tics. I sobbed about everything: my mom, the travails of fifth grade, every unnamed learning disability, and for my racing-not-sleeping-brain. I was not at my best in this moment, but I was fully human, fully bereft, fully done with the circumstances swirling around me.
Maybe some of us need a chunk of allotted grieving time. I took the rest of that day to drain my body of salt. And then I took the next week to stitch myself back together. I talked to my husband, Chris, to my mom, and to my good friends. I ran hard. I didn’t look up Tourette syndrome. I read a really excellent novel. I watched "Foyle’s War" episodes with my husband. I sat in a lawn chair in a snowy field while the girls and Chris built a snowman. I slept. I practiced yoga.
My girls and I went to the hair salon and we each had a haircut, which is always good for the soul.
And yes, I examined why the idea of social tics that the world notices makes me fret and worry. Annie’s therapist recommended asking Annie’s doctor about her tics, and she was specifically worried that Annie’s coughing might affect her vocal cord.
What would a doctor do? I asked. Perhaps she could learn a different behavior to replace the coughing, said the therapist.
I’ve given way to much brain time to Annie’s tics. When Annie gets a cold, she holds onto her cough long after the cold is gone. A few years ago, I thought maybe her cough was due to allergies. She started taking allergy medicine, stopped coughing, and promptly got a face rash. I took her off of the medicine.
Yes, she has other tics. I found a video of her 5th birthday party recently, and then was my girl tucking her hair behind her ears and fiddling with the waist of her pants. Her aunt pointed out to me that I also tuck my hair behind my ears. Maybe I fiddle with my pants? I do adjust my pants’ waistband all the time. Maybe I have too many social tics? We all have social tics. When are these social tics a problem?
I don’t know that Annie’s are a problem. Chris and I discuss this now and again. He feel s her tics bother other people more than they bother her, and we should let her be. We can both see that her tics manifest when she is in uncomfortable or in difficult situations and when she is tired. Tutoring fits this bill. When she is happy and content, her social tics fade.
When her best friend is over and they are playing together, she stops coughing for the entire duration of the play date. Chris points out that he, too, worries about Annie, but he knows she is going to be OK, that she will grow into a happy adult.
I know he is right. I take thoughts regarding Annie’s tics out of my cannot-breathe-I am-having-a-panic-attack file and place them in my this-is-just-Annie-and she-rocks file. We will deal with each and every one of Annie’s issue on a need-to-deal-with basis.
That is what I think about as Annie completes the second half of her eight hours of learning disabilities testing. When she comes out for breaks, I notice how awesome she really is in the here and now. She wears orange pants and a blue long sleeve shirt with drawings of candy on it. Her long light brown hair is tucked behind her ears, and she can’t help but smile every time she walks toward me in the waiting room. This is my lucky life.
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.