No rush people, no rush

I read this fantastic column by Adele Horin in The Sydney Morning Herald the weekend before last. It completely sums up my mentality/parenting philosophy and something I want to shout at all those friends of mine who are so stressed about how their kids are going at school.

I don’t know, maybe it’s having the beautiful Ogga boy – in fact, not maybe, I know it to be so – having a child with special needs does quite dramatic things to your parenting. Well, it did/has done to mine. I know, that if I hadn’t had Oscar, I would SO be one of those parents stressing about my kids’ grades and what they were going to become. Because quite frankly, nothing less than major money-earning fame or world-changing scientist/doctor was going to cut it, or basically anything which would mean they could keep me to the life I’d like to be accustomed.

But I have endured years of people judging Oscar, of rating him, of ranking him, and then of talking about him to me in terms of his deficits. The final straw was the second official assessment we had done (compulsory) at this hideous place in Chatswood where nearly everyone with a child with special needs on the north side of the Harbour Bridge has to take their child who clearly has issues before starting pre-school and then again before school. I had one friend say to me that if she got to the car without crying and only drank one bottle of red wine that night, it was a pretty good assessment. The most flabergasting thing about all of this is that the specialists working at the centre think they are highly empathetic and sensative to families. What a load of crap.

The first assessment for Oscar I took Mum as Chef had to work and we had no idea of what we were walking in to. This was a v.e.r.y. b.i.g. mistake. You see Mum is the queen of the inappropriate comment. For example, “I guess when you went into labour at 21 weeks he was trying to abort,” or “I’m getting so fat too”. She was the one who said, “so if he’s functioning at two-thirds of where he should be for his age now, does that mean at 10 he’ll have the ability of a seven year old?” I mean JESUS – I’m barely holding it together as it is, I don’t need someone to actually say what I’m thinking in my head.

Anyway, the second assessment they suggested I put him on the same drugs they use for ADD kids, because he was so distractable. That was when I kinda walked out.

There are a few moments I’m proud of myself, as opposed to smacking myself in the head for another fine example of my stupidity. One of them was, at the beginning of the second assessment, when we all sat down together at the start of the half day from hell, and they said “so, what are you hoping to get out of today” and I replied, “absolutely nothing.” The look of complete and utter shock on their face was s.e.n.s.a.t.i.o.n.a.l.

I did – because my Mum raised me good ‘n that – feel the need to explain myself and give them something to help them all lift their chins off the floor. So I said something along these lines:
“Today you are going to put a spotlight on what Oscar can’t do, and that is of absolutely no use to me in helping him be the best he can be. You’re not going to tell me anything I don’t know, you’re just going to say it out loud. What I do know is that he is happy, he makes people laugh, he is highly empathetic and one of the most loving people I know, and quite frankly, they are the main traits I want any child of mine to have. So really? I’m here because we have to be, and view it purely as something we have to endure.”

The silence in that room, was priceless.

Anyway, what a side-track that was. This is the article, but here are the best bits:

I have not been immune from the disease of competitive parenting. When my children were little, I refused to participate in the unstated contest that pitted the good sleepers against the criers, and the fussy eaters against the budding gourmands. I knew such behaviour had more to do with luck – good or bad – than innate intelligence – theirs or mine. I was laid-back about ascendancy in the playground and blase about their first steps, knowing from avid reading of the Penelope Leach bible, Your Baby and Child, nearly all children walk eventually. It was the early readers among the children I knew who set off the first jangle of rivalrous feeling. Precocious eight-year-olds, it seemed, were devouring Morris Gleitzman, while mine was being bribed, $1 a book, to persevere with Goosebumps.It’s a long road between Goosebumps and King Lear, and on the way parents would be hard-pressed to say what the race was about, and what the prize. It has to do, I suppose, with wanting your children to be smart and competent enough to succeed in a hard world. We look around and see young adults dependent beyond their years on ageing parents, financially, and emotionally, and sense it is tougher than before for the stragglers, the dreamers, the ordinary to make it in even the modest way we did. We all know lawyers, doctors, journalists who would never make the cut if they were starting out today, but have taken enormous pleasure in their work.

It has probably always been the case. Parents, however covetously, want their child to shine. However disguised their ambition, parents hope their child at some time will be the first, the best, the brightest. They want the world to see their child as they do: as special.

It has to do, I suppose, with wanting your children to be smart and competent enough to succeed in a hard world. We look around and see young adults dependent beyond their years on ageing parents, financially, and emotionally, and sense it is tougher than before for the stragglers, the dreamers, the ordinary to make it in even the modest way we did. We all know lawyers, doctors, journalists who would never make the cut if they were starting out today, but have taken enormous pleasure in their work.

This sense of competition comes also from the insidious knowledge we gain when we first have children that we parents are supposed to be able to control and shape their lives. It is we who are on the line. The quicker we disavow this burden, the easier and more joyful parenting becomes. But it is a hard anxiety to shake, and from Freud to the Parental Responsibility Act in NSW, which deems parents responsible for their children’s misdemeanours, we are never free of reminders that we are supposed to be in charge. So it is not far-fetched that some parents seek to bask in the reflected glory of their child’s achievements, like a couple spotted in the US, with a banner on their car proclaiming: “We are parents of an honour roll student.”

But whatever shapes children’s lives, it seems we parents can be quicker to compare their accomplishments than their qualities. We can be guilty of focusing on their grades – and how much easier that will be with A-to-E reporting – rather than their good natures. We rank their abilities and underestimate what gives them pleasure in life. We worry that the scholar has no friends, that the gregarious organiser has mediocre grades. We look in vain in the musical one for the supposed mathematical ability; we wish the computer nerd could kick a ball, and the champion athlete could write a coherent essay. We want the easygoing one to show a bit more dynamism, and the intense one to be more easygoing. It is sometimes easier to find fault in our children than simply to have fun with them.

But let me tell you, this HSC mother has kicked the habit of rating . It was Professor Matt Sanders, of the University of Queensland’sParenting and Family Support Centre, who once said to me children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush. And I know that in the long run, it will be personal qualities, like kindness, that will matter, not a few digits on a piece of paper.

***
…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush.

I can’t tell you how much space this has been occupying in my head since reading it. Over and over, almost like a mantra
…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush…children have a long time to show you the people they will become. There is no rush.

There is no rush.

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  • Anonymous

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this. It means so much to me. I think I might adopt it as my daily mantra.

    Just today G was “diagnosed” by a therapist as having dyspraxia and I have a whole new path to walk down…. it is so challenging and hard and those therapists just DON’T GET IT.

    I love the comment you made to the evaluating team. I wish I could be brave enough to make a comment like that because it is so true.

    The therapists look for what your child CAN’T do rather than what they CAN do and because they look for what they can’t do they MISS so much that would give them insight into the child’s actual potential. I have so many examples of this it makes me sick to think about it.

    I guess I’ve been a little lucky in that G’s developmental pediatrican has always refused to have her pyschologically evaluated (despite being pressured by other therapists in the hospital) because he always listened to me and agreed with me when I said she’ll “fail” the evaluation and we won’t learn anything that we don’t already know.

    Thank you again…

  • Kim

    Em, Oscar has profound Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia. I was told when he was 18months old by one of the amazing therapists we’ve worked with, that he was ‘unique’ in that there was no way the conventional testing would ever capture his abilities.

    His assessment at the end of last year? He got z.e.r.o.
    This is the child who at 2.5, saw me in the pits of post-natal depression crying on the floor of our kitchen, came over to me, pointed to the kettle, then the drawer where we keep the cups, then the tea, then signed drink to me. “Have a cup of tea mumma, you might feel better.”

    We have worked with some amazing therapists, some remarkable teachers and had very few idiots to deal with. From that comes strength.

  • Kim

    I should clarify, that is just part of his load. He has DVD, cerebral palsy and a rare genetic disorder (a partial duplication on chromosome 4), but the DVD is the biggest hurdle. By a long shot.

  • Badger

    Wow! I have so much to say about this that I’m not quite sure where to begin. I think I’ll just say “excellent, amazing post” and leave it at that.

  • Anonymous

    The therapist today said she thought G had motor dyspraxia and maybe oral dyspraxia. The hospital speech therapist thinks she has a language disorder. I don’t know what to think any more. Maybe it is both?

    I’m glad you haven’t had too many idiots to deal with. I feel like I’ve had WAY more than my fair share. It is only now back in Australia that I feel I am finding some good people – but they are all private and that costs $$$.

    Why do all kids in Sydney go to the same place for evaluations? I can’t believe any child can get zero on an evaluation – particularly one who has the empathy to comfort and communicate with his mother when she is sad (what a darling he is).

    Who are the heartless people?!

  • Kim

    You know Em, at the end of the day, it all comes down to labels, and labels have their place in accessing funding, opening doors to resources, but that is about it.
    The therapies that work, the people that work with our families, the things that help? They are only the things that matter. And as the parents of these little souls, I really believe it’s our role to find what makes our kids tick, what they connect with and to then work the therapy in to that.

    At the end of the day, the rest of it is just decoration.

  • Jonathan

    I wish I had been in that room when you told them you were there because you had to be – you sound like my kind of person :)

    I wandered in here from NaBloPoMo, and will be adding you to my blogroll.

    I’m still grinning now…

  • julia

    That was a great article and a great post in general. I too wish I could have seen their faces when you told them what you think. Did they even respond or was it just silence? Wouldn’t it be nice if you made them think about how they’re handling things?

  • Muzbot

    Labels suck no matter what or who “they” are trying to place into a particular box. It makes it easier for – them.
    In the end, it doesn’t really matter… The only way to “assess” a person, is by how that person personaly effects your life. You know that you and Oscar are two very lucky and blessed people.

  • meggie

    Kim, what a great post!
    Clearly, you are a great mother!
    Oscar is so lucky to have you- & you are lucky to have him.

    xx

  • Kim

    Following the silence, the one who ultimately suggested I put him on ritalin, said, “well, we should probably get this underway.”
    Idiots.
    That doesn’t mean I wasn’t shaking like a leaf and so stressed I might get in ‘trouble’. Always the nerd.

  • Anonymous

    Oh I agree with you – a label is just that – a label. It doesn’t change anything about who my daughter is and what she is capable of. I am the person who knows her best, I am the person who knows what makes her tick (as you put it) and it is my responsibility as her parent to nuture her and protect her from the people who would have written her off a couple of years ago.

    The only reason I am hoping for some kind of “diagnosis” in the next 12 months, is so G will qualify for help when she starts school. At the moment she doesn’t qualify for any public help – she slips through all the cracks – because there is no diagnosis. She WILL need help at school, no doubt about it -I’m doing my best to see that she gets it.

  • daysgoby

    God I love this.

    Thanks, K.

  • Badger

    It is really, really hard to be in no-diagnosis limbo land. I have been there with both of my kids. Even though my girl child’s diagnosis in particular was rather dire (pediatric bipolar disorder), it was such a relief to finally get it because it gave us a direction in which to go from there as far as getting her the RIGHT help for what’s going on with her.

    My boy child, who has Asperger Syndrome, is the one I’ve had to fight tooth and nail for at school. He is very high-performing academically so he does not qualify for services. But he is SEVERELY impaired in the areas of executive function and social skills. (He also had severe dyspraxia and sensory/motor issues, but three years of occupational therapy have helped with that tremendously.) His impairments are becoming more of an issue in school as he gets older, but because he gets good grades and high test scores, they think he’s doing okay. Argh! There’s more to school than grades, dammit!

    Oh look, I did have something to say after all! I loved this post, Kim. Truly. I am right there with you on all this.

  • Joke

    It’s a perverse relief to know there is no one place on God’s green earth with a monopoly on imbecility.

    Fight the good fight.

    -J.

  • h&b

    Wow.
    Strong words, and so well-worded.
    You made me smile ( “absolutely nothing” ), and you mae me cry ( “What I do know is that he is happy, he makes people laugh, he is highly empathetic and one of the most loving people I know, and quite frankly, they are the main traits I want any child of mine to have ” )

    Amazing post.
    Nothing more to say.
    You’re brilliant.

  • Lazy cow

    I have nothing new to add, just to agree with the other posters that you’re a good mum and Oscar is very fortunate to have you :-)

  • Suse

    Onya Kimmy.

  • Kim

    Badge – isn’t it weird – we have kids at either end of the academic spectrum and yet all we want is exactly the same, for them to be loved, to have friends, to be included and to be valued.
    Personally, for me, it’s that reality which has taught me how stupid and pointless grades are. At the end of the day, it is passion, kindness, dignity and determination which will mark the lives of our child, just as it has our own.

    And guys – you’re all too nice.

    This was one of those posts that creeps up on you, and really, it wasn ‘t about me or even Oscar, but how someone else had written something that resonated for me that I wanted to share. But it seems mine has done the same. And that, is really quite lovely.

  • nutmeg

    I’ve started this comment about five times. All I can simply say is what an amazingly strong and loyal mother you are. All of your children are blessed. Keep on keeping on. Thanks for sharing your insights and experience with us all.

  • sueeeus

    I *LOVE* the way you explained yourself when you told them what you meant by expecting nothing. Good for you!! I’d probably lose it and be a sobbing whimpering mess, but then again, now that I *am* a mother, Mama-Bear might come out and surprise me. I am trying not to push my child or expect too much from him, and to let him just BE. But I also am trying not to spoil him. I’m finding that parenting is a whole lot harder than I had ever imagined.

  • Stomper Girl

    Beautiful post, thankyou so much for sharing. What a good take on parenting.
    Thankyou also for sharing the story of Oscar and the cup of tea, it made me cry but in a good way.
    PS. I’ve got one of those inappropriate comment mothers too! My theory is that once you reach a certain age you stop censoring yourself and say whatever the hell is passing through your brain! So I guess that will be me one day…

  • Anonymous

    Wow. This is exactly what I needed to day. My son has recently been diagnosed with PDD (either NOS or Aspergers) and I have really been struggling with this. I have struggled with my son since birth though, and only since his diagnosis have I been trying to work within his limitations and not hold this huge weight of expectation over him. This post really really touched my heart, got my tears. I have struggled these past few weeks. Thanks so much for sharing this. I found you from Julia at Major Bedhead…..

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  • http://none.com Rachael

    Hello – really interesting post, I think a lot of the competition between parents is because on some level, the parent sees the child as a reflection of themselves – so it’s an ego thing. Here in the UK we have a rating system for schools and now it seems that the school’s rating is more important than the children – they are just there to provide the rating, it seems. After a year & a half of my eldest boy hating school and subsequently hating reading because they tried to push him so much, I elected to home educate both boys. I’m still waiting for them both to really get into reading – some people, especially boys, take their time. It’s hard sometimes to keep the faith – the writer & educator John Holt is my inspiration (you can find him on Amazon or Google), along with DH Lawrence who said : “How to begin to educate a child. First rule, leave him alone. Second rule, leave him alone. Third rule, leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.”