As a writing teacher, I often have my students write memoir/nonfiction pieces. In the beginning, most students want to write strictly about themselves.
One of the lessons I teach them is that other people help shape who we are through their words to us, their actions, or their lack of action.
Your assignment for this week is to write about a memory of yourself WITH someone else.
Remember, it’s MEMOIR, so it needs to be about YOUR experience with this person and it needs to be TRUE.
Let’s keep it to 600 words or less. (I failed miserably at that… this is 900 words. But after reading, I decided I’d rather commit the sin of being too long rather than cut the words I feel are important.)
“I went ahead and did something without asking you.” My husband announced. Normally, we would discuss any major decision before taking action, so I knew this had to be important.
He handed me a photo. An adorable little red-headed girl grinned back at me, sitting on a swing, missing quite a few teeth. My gut wrenched at the same time as my heart felt that little flutter of hope. Ten years we’d been married, wanting kids but unable to have them. We had our stamp of approval from the powers that be… we just didn’t have an actual child yet.
He explained how she needed a family willing to go through the uncertainty of the TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) process, a family who wanted to adopt.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!
My heart sang, and we went through the process of pushing through all the red tape till she moved in with us on October 1, 2005, one month after starting Kindergarten.
She was wonderful and a huge challenge all at once. The term Special Needs encompasses a vast array of difficulties, and hers had only begun to be identified. We quickly learned that many of the usual strategies that were effective with all the other kids we’d had in our lives did not work with her. In fact, sometimes they had negative consequences.
Using a sing-song voice and smile to chide “Oh, silly, that doesn’t work!” would not encourage her to try something else; in fact it encouraged her to make the same mistake over again, even worse than before. She wanted to hear that sing-song chiding voice. It was, and is frustrating to have to control my voice in a firm, serious tone every time I have to chastise her. It’s awkward to use a mixture of tones whether I’m talking to her or her non-disabled sister.
We were searching for worms in the yard one afternoon, a couple weeks after she moved in. I gave her a small hard-plastic aquarium to keep her new pets in. She asked me if she could carry it up to her room, and I hesitantly said yes. I didn’t want to make the trek down the big hill to the kitchen door. She could go inside without me for just a moment.
But more than a moment passed and she didn’t come out. I fought back the feeling of trepidation, telling myself she was probably just petting the cats.
When I reached the stairs, I found a mess of rocks, mud, worms, and broken plastic all other the place. She had dropped it, shattering the little habitat into a thousand pieces. But where was she? Wouldn’t a normal six-year-old come running out the door crying “Mommy Mommy! My worm cage broke!”
My emotions immediately clouded my mind. I was angry. Not only was there a huge mess, but she hadn’t even told me, nor was she attempting to clean it up. I found her in the bathroom, trying desperately to hide the fact that she’d been crying.
Looking at the scene in hindsight, knowing what I know now, I can imagine a much more appropriate and productive reaction. I could have explained to her how I understand that she used to get hit when she cried, that she used to face horrible abuse for any infraction, real or imagined. I could have reassured her that she was safe with us, that we would understand and help her through this difficult time.
But hindsight was not what I had at that moment. I had a child with a speech impediment. A child who was behind all the other kids in school because she spent the first five years of her life suffering abuse and neglect instead of learning her ABC’s. I had a child who, whenever she had a time-out, sat quietly and wide-eyed on the naughty step for six minutes before coming to me to discuss why she was in time-out. She seemed almost happy to take time-outs. I had a child who had been sweet though spirited with me through the weeks of red tape and finally moving in as my child.
It was only the first of many episodes where she would run and hide instead of ask for help. We paid dearly time and time again for things that, if she’d just told us immediately what had happened, would have had little or no consequence, but left to fester caused a rotting, stinking mess.
Today she left for middle school, a day ahead of all the other kids. She’s spending this day getting to know the team of people who will be helping her at the new school, the team whose job it will be to keep her as integrated with her non-disabled peers as possible, while still giving her the accommodations she needs. She still hides the evidence of any perceived wrongdoing, and unfortunately she has learned to hide better instead of learning to trust us. I feel like a failure there, but she’s not quite thirteen yet, and we still have a few years of precious childhood in which to fix the thousand little and large hurts that were brought upon her in those earliest years.
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