Our journey to getting our son formally assessed began the Fall semester of his second grade year. Early in that semester, I happened to be outside of his classroom and noticed a wall full of essays. The topic was “How was your summer vacation?” I scanned through the essays, looking for my son’s name. The essays varied from detailed (e.g. “We went to Disney. We visited a beach. It was lots of fun.”) to simple ( e.g. “Wicked awesome!”) They all had names on them, except one. At the bottom of the wall, the final essay said simply “good.” The g was lowercase and backwards. There was no name on it. I was sure it belonged to my son.
As we’ve encountered evidence of our son’s learning challenges, I’ve had to encounter some ugly parts of myself: my own insecurity, intellectual elitism, narcissism, anxiety, snobbery, and mean spiritedness. Although I remember being a bit slow and spacey in early grades, eventually, I became quite fast and successful in school. I was one of those obnoxious kids who finished tests early, setting down the pencil in smug triumph. Despite my success, I still held insecurities about myself and a very contingent sense of self-worth. It wasn’t until I finished my own doctorate that I really confronted my lack of self-acceptance. I pledged to stop judging myself on my daily successes and failures. It worked. I conquered my self-criticism. Or, at least I thought I had. Once my son entered school and began to lag behind others, a lot of ugly feelings began to reappear.
Every time I compare my son to others, I feel envious of other children’s early success. Every time I worry for my son’s future happiness, I realize that I hold a bias about the importance of intellect over other traits. My ugliest moments occur when I compare my son to others and mentally try to “one up” the other child by considering traits my own son excels at (“Oh sure, Bobby can read but, let’s face it, he’s kind of an asshole. At least my son is kind.”) Ugh, my very ugliest moments are hard to confess to. I may have to work myself up to that place. Let’s just say, when I get rolling, it’s a big ball of ugly over here.
One of my biggest goals is to try to rid myself of some of these ugly beliefs and emotional baggage. I want my son to feel self-accepting. I want him to believe that, as long as he tries his best, it’s all good (regardless of whether the g is backwards or not.) I don’t have much hope of helping him reach that goal when I still hold, deep inside, beliefs that being academically successful is a significant part of a person’s self-worth. And, while I would never endorse that belief outwardly, my ugly thoughts and feelings have told me that it’s there, lurking inside of me. I need some help in exorcising it. Who would have thought that my son’s learning issues would set me off on a spiritual journey?