Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How We Learned To Love The Things That Suck: The Age of Reason

We all know the age of reason hits a child at around their 7th birthday. That moment in time where they really begin to understand that they are an individual apart from their parents and family, and moreover that others are individuals too. It is a beautiful thing seeing your child develop their very own sense of compassion. Less so, and a little bit painful, to see them gleefully make conscious separations from you! But as the child passes into this phase there is a corresponding enlightenment that happens for the parent as well.

If we are really paying attention, it is at around this age when we begin to relax a little bit about what our kid is up to. As they begin to make the separation between themselves and their parents so too do you, as parent, begin to get more comfortable with the idea that your children are not necessarily little extensions of yourself. And if this doesn't happen naturally there just might be something to knock it into you.

My daughter has just recently turned 7, and been diagnosed with ADD, and been recommended by the school to repeat first grade. That's a kick in the head for ya! Any one of these things alone might be enough to send a momma into a "my baby!" spiral. But three! Come on! Of course, the difficulty in school follows hard on the heels of, and logically, the ADD diagnosis.

We noticed that she was struggling with behavior and attention, aka following directions, even in preschool. Not a squeaky wheel nor a severe ADD case, educators and doctors gave us the "oh, she's fine, probably developmental, let's see how she does next year" through preschool, then kindergarten, then most of first grade. A(quiet) squeaky wheel was turning inside my head however. How I wish that in this post I could wax triumphant about a mother's knowledge of her child over the reluctant authorities. But alas, I cannot. "OK", I said, accepting their assessments instead of insist that there was something abnormal.

See, now there is the icky bit, "abnormal". Frankly, it took my husband, who himself has ADD, much less time to come to terms with the obvious (to us) fact that she had ADD. Because, of course, he could relate. But also because she looked a lot more like an extension of him than me in that regard. He didn't have my problem - the "I don't recognize that in myself" problem - the problem that is essentially an ego problem. That's right, I said it. I essentially did not have my child diagnosed sooner because of my ego. My husband didn't push the issue either, but then he probably forgot (That's an ADD joke. For the uninitiated and uncomfortable, it's OK to snicker).

And it is so easy - before the age of reason hits - to buy into the 'developmental' and 'she'll probably grow out of it' and 'all kids are distracted at this age' deflections. Because, well, you sincerely hope that your child will not be *gulp* abnormal. Who wants to jump the gun and slap a label, a potentially debilitating one, on your own child? Who wants to force the issue or speed to call your child 'different'? It's not of any obvious benefit, barring Munchhausen by Proxy syndrome of course, if there is no ensuing treatment.

Do I sound like I'm justifying here? You may be right. And it could be a little bit of both. Nothing like "repeat first grade" though to make you self reflective of your motives. We pushed her as we could without causing conflict (because children with ADD are experts at causing it) and sometimes caused it anyway, on a number of things ripe for it - homework, extra reading, keeping up with the class. I admit to feeling panicked when it was clear that she was far behind her cohorts in reading and recognition of high frequency words. But my panic and guilt at not finding a way to push her harder only added to her already just below the surface stress. At one point, early in the school year, I even attempted to bribe her with a Nintendo DSi. But, as we now know for sure, long term rewards do not work for people who can't really remember what day it is.

And, being an attention hound already, I didn't want to inadvertently (or vertantly, arh arh) create in her a taste for or create a lifelong pattern of garnering attention for bad behavior/illness/incompetence... Even now, having a brain doctor of her own (Daddy already has one so the concept not unfamiliar) is enough to make her feel special in a way that makes me cringe. Too much of that pull self up by boot straps, keep nose out of air upbringing I'm afraid seeping through. But stiff upper lip away her very real challenges I cannot. And so I head full on into the age of reason, right along side her. She is not me, and I not her. You know, on an intellectual level, that your children will not be exactly like yourself. But on some deep instinctual plane you just cannot help harboring hope that they will be. Reason says, do what you can to make it easier for her, make sure she's not falling behind, or not being noticed, or being misinterpreted. Reason does not say bury head in sand, ignore what might work, just because ego says so. Her life and little self doesn't get to be the way I imagined it just because that's the way my ego pitched it in my head. Shut up ego, deal.

After all, they don't call it the age of unreasonable - I guess that would be the teen years.

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