The word “normal” comes up a lot in my vocabulary lately. As in, “Is it too much to ask for a little normal for my kids?” Yes, normal is relative. Believe me, as the mother of two former premature babies who have chronic medical conditions, are severely hard of hearing and have had a total of 22 surgeries… this I know.
Today, I realized my kids will never be completely mainstreamed in school. Maybe if we’d found out about the county-based deaf and hard of hearing program (DHH) when my kids were younger, it would be different. But, because the district that hosts this program is not allowed to solicit students for their program and home school districts lose money if they send kids for service out of their home district… it just did not happen.
Today I had a call with two of my 13-year-old daughter’s teachers, and they shared how she’s struggling in mainstream US History and Language Arts. They’re suggesting we move her back to the DHH classroom, where she’ll get more individualized instruction at her own pace. I was ready for a fight to keep her in mainstream classes because I want her to have the most normal high school experience possible. But, as I listened to the teachers explain what they’re seeing and experiencing with my daughter, I knew in my heart they were right. I realized my baby girl is just overwhelmed, and all of her life, when she’s overwhelmed, she shuts down. It’s her defense mechanism. And I began to cry.
They kept trying to explain to me why they thought this would be best for her, and I had to stop them and explain that I was not angry with them and that I heard their concerns and I also shared them. I was upset because I felt that as a parent, I’d failed to support my child, because I wanted her to be normal.
And then I asked them, “Do you see what a beautiful person she is? Underneath all of her anxiety and strong will, do you see how wonderful she is? When she’s home and passionate about something, she’s invested and will research and ask questions, and she will become excited and animated. She’s funny and musical and dramatic, and she’s a great dancer. Do you see that?” I asked them again. “Because it’s so important to me that you see my whole child, not just the shy little girl who will not ask for help when she’s feeling overwhelmed and lost and confused, but the wonderful strong young lady she is and all that she’s accomplished despite the chronic medical challenges she faces.”
And, they reassured me that they do see that — or glimpses at least — and that she’s making great strides socially. I told them I would speak to my husband and we would most likely move her back to the DHH classroom for History and I wanted to do everything we could as a team to support her success in the Language Arts mainstream class. It’s so important that we position her to not only be successful but to feel successful.
I hung up the phone and I cried. I called my husband and told him how the conversation went, and I cried again (and I think he choked up too). And I called my sister and cried even more. All I want is just a little bit of normal for my children.
Today I also realized that my son will likely follow in his sister’s footsteps, as he has even more learning differences due to his extremely premature birth. I left home, and as I drove to my office, I thought to myself, “Normal. This is our normal.” And I cried and I grieved. I mourned the loss of a normal birth for my children, a normal childhood, the loss of normal adolescents, and I became afraid. What about their futures? What will their normals be? The truth is I don’t know. All I can do is try my best to prepare them for the future. As much as I want to and as much as I try, I just can’t control it. I can love them and support them and make sure they have what they need to reach their full potential, and that is all. I hope that that is enough… I hope… I hope…
If you click here, you’ll see a video of my daughter, who’s severely hard of hearing, playing in her piano recital. She also plays violin in the school orchestra and has near perfect pitch.
That is her normal.
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