Up Here in the Cool, Clean Air

It’s funny I want to meditate today because I am feeling full of goodness. A few nights ago, I made myself go see a viewing of the documentary “Journey into Dyslexia.” A friend and I drove to a private school that teaches kids with reading disabilities, Hamlin Robinson. I clicked on their website a few months ago and didn’t get further than noticing tuition is $15,000 a year. Since then, I met a woman who sends her daughter to this school. It was great to hear her thought process for enrolling her daughter and hearing her son, who has similar issues, still attends his private Catholic school.

But I’m getting away from this euphoria. This woman invited me to the movie. I knew it might be difficult to watch, but the panel discussion following it was filled with people from organizations I should become familiar with, including a parent support group. I can’t make myself read any books about Annie’s issues, so I knew this would be a great introduction to dyslexia. I won’t have Annie tested for dyslexia for at least another year, but, again, I know her developmental delays mimic dyslexia, so she needs to learn to read with a program designed for dyslexic children.

The documentary was fantastic. Yes, I cried off and on. But I learned so much. There were kids, ranging from about 7 to college age, talking about the difficulties of being dyslexic. Better yet, there were successful adults who displayed a wide range of emotions about dyslexia. Yes, the cliché idea of having dyslexia as being a gift was on the table. Still, the man I liked best, Ben Foss, took issue with the idea of overcoming dyslexia.  “I don’t need to be fixed,” he said.

I learned 35% of entrepreneurs have dyslexia, according to one study. I now know that dyslexic people use much more of their brain while reading. Most people use the left side of the brain, while dyslexic individuals use mostly the right side of the brain. It’s like there is a road, and most people take that nice, short, straight easy path to learning how to read. The ten to fifteen percent of the population with this reading disability take a longer path, over the river and through the woods and up that pockmarked trail over the big hill, to arrive at the same place. But this is only one slice of a person. My favorite panelist, Laura Rogan, said, “I say I have dyslexia, I don’t say I am dyslexic. It is one part of me, but it isn’t everything.”

Speaking of Rogan, I feel a little bit in love with her. She is the creator of the learning-to-read program, Wired for Reading, that Annie just began with her new tutor. Rogan answered my email a few months back with an excellent reply and a list of people for me to contact for help. I used her list and found this reading tutor and a women who will give Annie a comprehensive test when we are ready for that step. It was fantastic to realize this woman is brilliant and we are traveling down just a really solid avenue with Ms. Annie on this journey I never asked to be on.

So that is why my heart was singing when I sat down to meditate this morning. I feel full of grace today. Like this difficult school year is about to end on such a high note for Annie and I. That place full of grief, well, I still visit there, but right now, today, I feel full of relief, like I am breathing cool, clean air. I am right where I am supposed to be, where I wanted to be back this fall when breathing was oh-so-difficult some days.

Not Popular

I’ve been thinking about non-attachment lately. Is it possible to truly be non-attached in this life time? Without being a monk?

I practice non-attachment often. It works, up to a point. Sometimes I really feel non-attached to the words coming out of another person’s mouth. Or maybe the point is my emotions are not getting in the way of how their words hit my body. When I am in a good space, I feel like I am in a science experiment as this is happening. I used to recoil and react to people so easily. But when I can detach, people actually react differently to me. The argument doesn’t happen, and even though the moment of not reacting may have a weird silence to it, those seconds pass. And, magically, we are in a new place, talking about something else. I’m no longer stuck in a lot of old feelings.

But yet, certain circumstances always eventually call up hard emotions. Sometimes I am in the process of patting myself on the back as these feelings begin to rush in. Maybe I’m tired, or maybe I am just human. As a bean, perhaps non-attachment is just too hard. (I never tire of this bean joke. Annie pictures us as beans, the kind you eat, because we are human beings. What kind of bean are you? I change my mind about my bean varietal often.)

Take this common example. At the surface of my brain, I know I have not been invited to a party that’s about to happen. I’m O.K. with this. Then a friend mentions the party while acting like I am invited. Whoops. I’m not.

“What party?” I ask.

She divulges. It’s awkward. But I am still pretty pleasantly non-attached. After all, parties are not my forte. I have spent the past year or so saying no to lots of events that I would just rather not attend. I prefer to read a book, take a walk with a friend, or watch a movie with Chris. Not all the time. Sometimes I love a good get together. But still, the party-you-are-not-invited-to-conversation happens with enough grace. I’m looking forward to my day without a party.

My Saturday goes down well. At the end of it, I am completely worn out. This is not the time to look at Facebook and click through pictures of said party. When I am exhausted, non-attachment doesn’t work. And then, there is this: Not being asked to any celebration, even if the people hosting it are not your best friends, feels sad. Or maybe I’m not that good at non-attachment. If I were a monk, would I take a moment while looking at these pictures and pray that everyone person I see had a great time?

Or maybe the real point is that monks don’t look at Facebook?

I have an urge to be the most popular person in any room. That would be fantastic. Luckily, I have a stronger desire to keep working at non-attachment. I really do hope the people at said party enjoyed a rousing good time. And I’m glad I had yet another opportunity to unlock those old, tired feelings that began way back in grade school. I wasn’t invited to that fifth grade sleepover. I remember those moments of feeling completely deflated and worthless. I take that one right out and let myself feel so sad, and then I give myself a whole lotta love. I mean, isn’t that what we all want? When my girls are just so upset, often I want them to stop their crying. Then I take a good look at those lovely girls. Man, they need lots of hugs and loves. Especially right at that moment.

That moment of being not invited? It’s the perfect time to give myself some love, or to ask for it from someone else. Unless I have become a monk and I find myself perfectly unattached. I will let you know when that happens. I’ll probably be wearing a lovely orange robe, so you might already know. Orange is great color for me; it matches my aura. Pretty sure of that.

Waiting

I am the lady in the hallway. I spend a fair amount of time waiting in school corridors while Annie is with various tutors. These are interesting venues. On floor two of one elementary school, I watch the young reading tutors leave their small office. I can’t imagine any of them are more than 25. I picture them shopping at Goodwill, and I imagine they wonder if working for such a small pittance is a good idea. I feel old, although I find much amusement in creating scenarios around their personas.

On the third floor of the same school, I sit outside the restroom. The kids look closely at me. If they look long enough for me to glance up from my writing or reading, I say hello. Often this leads to excellent conversations. I have talked about nightmares with one inventive fifth grader and about lice with another boy the same age.

So, most days I find all this waiting entertaining. I can do my work, as well. I am only completing a small bit of freelance writing and editing right now. It seems tracking down learning specialists, driving Annie to appointments and processing my feelings is akin to a full-time job. But part of me is really annoyed that my life revolves around Annie right now. A portion of me wants to look for a full-time job and only think or work on Annie’s issues after 9pm each night. The idea of a compartmentalized existence is pleasing.

I pick up and take Annie to various appointments three days a week. I just signed Annie up for a new reading tutor, too, so in a few weeks I will see Annie on four out of five school days. Sometimes I complain out loud to Chris about my entire world being about Annie right now.

“It’s a noble thing to do,” he replies. I find this statement (clearly his attempt at humor) both funny and annoying. Maybe it is virtuous to spend so much time figuring out my daughter’s learning disabilities, but I am sure a mom (or dad) who works full-time would also help her child as much as I am assisting Annie. Maybe she (or he) would be better at this task; less time available would lend itself to less worrying. This line of reasoning doesn’t really add up to anything valuable. I am not going to find a full-time job. In a year, I will have more time to work, and until then, I can fill my available hours with freelance work. This is where I am at right now. At the moment, my place is here in the hallway.

Quitting

When I hated softball, I wasn’t allowed to quit. I survived. The outfield isn’t the worst place to spend an hour of your sunny spring day. When I hated working at Arby’s Roast Beef, a few of my teenage friends started working there, too. Now I couldn’t quit, although the job wasn’t quite so awful anymore. When I really disliked my private high school, I believed my parents told me I could transfer to the public high school. I soldiered on, though, making all new friends and becoming an expert on why high school is not all that.

My mom tells me now that she never promised me that I could transfer schools. Memory is a funny thing. But I know, deep down, that quitting is not part of my family vocabulary. The sports season was paid up and there was virtue in simply getting though the next month of practices and games. Menial labor jobs made college look good. Enduring a bad year of high school built character. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

I’ve watched KK suffer through two seasons of soccer, and yes, I made her play even though she didn’t like it. The first year I bribed her by letting her ride her bike to practice. The second year she didn’t want to sign up and I used her friends as a reason to join the team. The first year wasn’t so bad. The next year, well, why again did I make her do something she clearly wasn’t interested in? Did I really want to stand in the rain every Saturday morning after convincing my daughter to play? I heard my mom’s voice in my head, “You don’t quit.”

So, I have mixed emotions about the email I typed today: “We would like to drop out of violin. Perhaps we will pick it up later, but at the moment it’s become a source of frustration.”

We quit, Annie and I. We quit violin. Maybe this sounds silly. Wasn’t Annie the one taking violin? Yes. But, especially with the Suzuki method, I was a huge part of the equation. Maybe I failed. I’m pretty sure that failing is not part of my family vocabulary. Luckily, I am half Alton now, and the Schatz part has a smaller voice. Don’t get me wrong. Enduring that which you hate must have some virtue. Surely, I hated parts of writing my first two books, but it was so worth it. But being an author of a book was a lifelong goal. I’m not sure not quitting softball helped me finish writing the books. Does Annie want to play the violin?

This is the question that finally tipped the scale toward quitting during Chris and my long, animated discussion (healthy argument) about violin lessons last night. Annie and I were locked in battle over violin practice. She didn’t mind group lesson or her one-on-one lesson. Daily practice had become a minefield. After watching me try to make Annie play her tuka-tuka-stop-stop song with more finesse for a mere five minutes last night, Chris was upset. Annie gave me attitude, and I had little patience. Both of us really just wanted to complete the lesson. Neither Annie nor I took any pleasure from our encounter. Afterward, Chris said, “If you are only going to practice for 5 minutes every day, maybe you should start practicing ever hour on the hour so she can really learn.”

And we were off to the races, Chris and I. Our exchange started and stopped, and we picked up this conversation thread hours later. At roughly 10:15, we had covered so much ground. Why were we doing violin? It does seem to help Annie’s fine motor skills.  A month ago, she was playing perfect tuka-tuka-stop-stop songs every day. Now she wasn’t, and she sawed her bow roughly across the strings and argued with me, saying, “But I don’t need to play perfectly. You told me perfect doesn’t matter.”

There’s the kernel of truth. My little perfectionist is trying to learn to just try at so many things. And she is doing well. She tries her best at six different tutoring sessions and at kindergarten five days a week. She struggles with letting go of her idea that perfection matters, and we talk about this idea all the time. It’s OK to not be perfect. We don’t need a perfect little violin player right now. We also know that doing activities she likes and that she is good at is a great counter-balance to the struggle of learning her letters and numbers. She loves to swim. Why not use the money for violin for swim lessons?

Why not indeed? We decide to sleep on the idea of quitting violin. I sleep hard, with no waking. I ask Annie this morning if she likes playing violin.

“A little bit.”

“Would you like to keep playing or do something else?”

“I would rather play the harp when I am an adult or the flute later.”

We’re done. We quit. I am waiting to feel happy about this, but I know I am relieved that we never have to practice the violin together again.

Thing 1

Every time I meet a new expert, I bring so much hope to the meeting. By the time the appointment is over, I am disappointed and overwhelmed. There is no one answer and there are millions of opinions. There are so many doors before me, and I knock on each one.

Yesterday we met with a possible reading tutor. We drive miles away based on a recommendation from a friend. Her website wasn’t the most professional one, but I liked the red streaks in her hair. I definitely liked the way she answered her phone as I was leaving a message. She was the first person I talked to that agreed with me when I said it seems like Annie has dyslexia. And it was the first time I remember someone telling me Annie probably has more than one issue, which is why it’s hard to help her. This was the tip of an iceberg, this suggestion. Once you begin to feel comfortable with one possible diagnosis, people hand you five more possibilities, like they are candy, something one really desires. I’m not sure why random strangers want to add to your load with no real information. It’s not like they have even met Annie.

But back to the drive through the rain to the possible tutor’s little white house. It was a cloud of a day, and I handed the girls umbrellas for the short dash to the front door. The tutor has a hard to pronounce one-word name and the streaks in her blond hair were not limited to the color red. I noted blue as well, although I’m not sure if there were more colors in the mix. Annie noticed the egg chair right away, asking the tutor what it was. Soon enough, KK was giving her a ride, although Annie refused to put the egg top down. The girl is smart, not wanting to be in the dark at a stranger’s house.

I noticed the well-lived-in house with children’s tutoring manipulative toys and material covering every inch of the dining room and a diving apparatus with breathing canisters right by the front door. We sat at the table, and we were off for an hour-long romp. The tutor worked some with Annie, having her pull letter from the bag, place them down on the table and tell her what the letter was and what sound it makes. She got a few letter and a few sounds right, and the tutor noted that it was great that she oriented every single letter the right way. Annie picked animals from a basket, named them, and named the first letter of each animal along with the sound. She got a few of these right as well. From where I sat, I kept thinking about how complex it is to learn the alphabet. For at least 1 in 5 kids, learning 26 different sounds and attaching them to 26 weird shapes is so difficult. It was nice to see that Annie was further along in her journey than I thought. But man, the girl has miles and miles to go over a landscape that I can’t discern.

The tutor and I talked around the children. Eventually Annie and KK drew as we talked. I asked if her program was geared toward kids with dyslexia. It is. I asked why everyone recommends linguistic remedies. She said this is probably only because it is a local program. I told her how I was hesitant to have Annie tested further.

“I feel like they will tell me she is ADD, and I don’t think she is. I think her lack of focus is due to her frustration and people not knowing how to access her brain,” I say.

“Anyone who can focus like that [she gestures to Annie drawing intently] probably doesn’t have that,” she says. “You don’t need more testing for a tutor to know she has dyslexia or to figure out how to work with her.”

But then she does talk about more testing, telling me I should have her vision and auditory processing tested. This is how Annie takes in things she sees and hears and processes them, and has nothing to do with how good her eye sight or hearing is. If she has trouble processing, it’s something that should be worked with before she begins reading tutoring, the tutor tells me. This is where my hope flies out the window. There is no starting now with a solution, it seems. There are hoops to jump though, and here are a few more. But another tutor would recommend something different, I am sure. So who is right?

I can see that this tutor gets along with Annie and has a lot of great techniques for working with children. But as we pack up and head back to the freeway, I am deflated. We get stuck in a traffic jam, and the kids are quiet as I try to let the music take me away from all this. But it doesn’t. I am here. I am again wondering which way is next. Right now, Annie is seeing 4 different specialists, all of them new to her within the last 2 months. It’s a lot, and the fact is that I am not sure if any of them are right. I miss our old speech therapist that just moved to Virginia. She really knew Annie. Now Chris and I are the only two people with all of this important information. I hold it all to me, the sacred facts I have gathered since she shot into our world. I want to make sure the next step fits her like a favorite shirt. I am done offering her up to tutors that throw up their hands fifteen minutes in, asking for tips on working with this masterpiece of ours.

Random Thoughts

My head is filled with so much info it may explode. Test her. Don’t test her. Make sure and find a linguistics remedies tutor. Wait the couple that founded that program split up and now there are two different names for the same curriculum. Don’t hold her back. Keep her with her social group. She’ll always have a learning disability so don’t make her repeat kindergarten. Repeat kindergarten. I’m only thinking of what is best for her.

I can’t focus on my writing and editing work and am beginning to think I have ADD. She has that, too, right, and she got it from me? Of course she did. And do you know that kids with one learning disability usually have a cluster of issues? Because for god’s sake, if you are going to have dyslexia, why not have ADD and sensory issues to go along with it? Kind of like a bouquet of problems, because who doesn’t want three difficulties for the price of one?

And still. But yet. Right in front of me is Annie from Loveland. She was sick a few days ago, so were cuddling in bed. She earnestly said to me, “Have you ever been in love like this before?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said in reply.

Kindness

“A miracle is defined by gratitude.”  from Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup

Oh, how I have wished for a miracle. I sent my youngest daughter off to kindergarten with the best intentions wrapped around her shoulders. She would walk into the classroom and this expectation would unfurl into rapid learning. Letters and numbers would click into symbols she understood with ease. She would shed her frustration like a too small Dora shirt. She no longer likes this cartoon girl, so it would be so easy to put the T-shirt in the Goodwill pile.

I didn’t receive this miracle. Annie kept being Annie, and the adults stepped up to the plate to figure out how to best help my girl. Her teacher gave me a clear image of the problem I found hard to take in, and we have spent the better part of the year unraveling the mystery of a learning disability. We are still right in the middle of this work, and it’s a journey I never imagined for this magnificent creature of a child. But it is her path, and I am her mom. It is right before us, and it finally feels O.K. to say that.

I did fully receive a different miracle. I know this is a marvelous gift because every inch of my being feels gratitude. Every day I accept several packages of kindness from various souls: friends, strangers, acquaintances, relatives. The depth of my sorrow has surprised me, and I have been thirsty for kindness. I’m not saying I have sought this form of grace. It has fallen in my lap again and again. Moms have told me they understand my grief. Friends have dropped everything just to be with me, and we have spent luscious hours chatting together. My brothers have called, offering questions and humor. I have to say I am a big fan of laughter. During a difficult morning, Annie offered to draw me “a sweet picture later.”

I have taken up so much space lately, and maybe people think I should shrink in on myself. Luckily, no one has tried to put me in any boxes. Instead, they offer up so many forms of kindness that I am tucking this helpful word into my head. It is time for a new mantra. In gratitude for all the love I have received, I will place this word on my tongue whenever I need a moment of stillness in my life. I say it for all of you — the good-hearted people who have taken me into your graceful ways — and give it as a blessing right back at you.