To the Teacher Who Called Out My Child With Cerebral Palsy for Bad Behavior

Dear Teacher,

When we met at Open House at the beginning of the year, there was so much I wanted you to know about my daughter. She’s 8, but she’s only been mine since she was 4. When we met her in an impoverished orphanage in Ukraine, her hair was buzzed off, and at 24 pounds she was the size of a 2-year-old.

She was born severely premature and suffered a stroke that damaged parts of her brain shortly after birth. Due to a lack of medical treatment for her cerebral palsy, she was completely unable to walk and could barely sit the first time we saw her.

I wish you could’ve seen her then so you knew how far she’s come, but in some ways I’m glad you didn’t. What I really wish you knew is how many times she was left out and left behind simply because she couldn’t walk. It’s been four years and she still remembers all of the other children going to music class while she sat alone.

What you saw when we came to your classroom was a seemingly social and extremely inquisitive little girl — small for her age, but loud. She’s always been loud. At the orphanage it was the only way she could get attention from anyone. She couldn’t walk so she yelled. I wish you knew how I could tell when she was feeling left out by the volume of her voice, always trying to get someone, anyone to notice her.

I wish you could have seen how at 4 years old, she didn’t know what crayons were. While children in the U.S. get therapy, she got stuck in a crib. I wish you could’ve seen her when she tried to eat the Play-Doh we bought for her because she had no idea what it was. In four years, no one had ever given her paper to scribble on.

When we brought her home and first took her to the CP clinic, I wish you could’ve heard the doctor tell us that she’d never walk. I wish you could’ve felt what I felt that day. Sad. Indignant. Determined.

I wish you could’ve been there when the developmental pediatrician — who charged $450 to walk in the door — took only 10 minutes with my newly adopted 4-year-old, then asked her to replicate a tower of blocks. She didn’t like him, so she wouldn’t do it. I wonder if you would’ve agreed with him when he told me she would always be at the low end of the IQ scale? I never took her back to see that doctor. He saw the traumatized, neglected child in front of him and missed the child she could become.

I wish you knew how many hours of physical therapy I’ve sat through so my daughter could achieve her potential. I wish you could’ve heard her screaming at me in Russian those first months home every single night as I did stretches with her. Her tears and mine together; I’m still not sure what she was calling me. My arms would ache as I supported her weight while I did exercises with her to strengthen her legs, but that feisty spirit of hers is why she’s here today.

I really wish you knew what it was like to watch her take her first independent steps as a 5-year-old. I wish you could appreciate what it’s like to have to teach a 5-year-old how to put her hands out in front and behind her when she falls. I wish you knew how proud we were of her the first time she fell backwards and finally got her elbow down first instead of her head.

I wish that you could experience what it’s like to navigate an airport and fly on a plane with a child in a wheelchair with the hope that the surgeon you’re going to see will be able to give her the ability to run.

I wish you knew what it was like to be a little girl who can’t run, but believes one day she will.

So when my daughter came home clipped down from green to yellow for bad behavior on her behavior chart like she’d done something wrong, and the note in her agenda said, “Running in the hallway.”  I wish you could’ve known what that felt like for me.

Maybe now you understand why I wrote back, “You know, I was told she’d never run.”

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