cafe mama

finding magic every day

about everett . brilliant and disturbed . february 12 . 2008

everett playing chinese checkers
Here is how I thought it would go.

Everett would be six, or seven, and he would have shown such remarkable talents in reading and math that the teachers would pull me aside after class. "Have you had his IQ tested?" they'd ask. "Not yet," I'd say, suppressing a smile of pride. "I already know he's a genius. He takes after us!" It would be decided that he should be tested immediately, and when the results were given, there would be whispers in the hall, special classes, extra challenges for the Smart One.

That's not exactly how it happened. I suppose I knew that second day of school -- no, I knew years ago, deep down somewhere, that it wouldn't happen like that at all. But the second day of school, that phone call, yes, then I knew without a doubt that I would not be suppressing smiles of pride over Everett in these halls.

Some things are immutable, of course, an intellect doesn't just vanish in the blink of eye. And so in the course of time, tests were administered and scored, little round bubbles were filled in by heartsick parents and teachers who where whispering things quite different from my dreams of years past. Many educators juggled their schedules to meet in a classroom somewhere in southeast Portland, the classroom that was alike and yet very, very different from what I hoped for. I sat in a little kindergarten-sized chair with my baby in a sling and my anxious five-year-old behind me and I was handed a stack of papers. Everyone had notebooks and file folders in front of them. The report was many pages long.

Though the tests were administered in November, it wasn't until February, sitting once again on these tiny chairs, that I would be presented with the report, paragraph upon paragraph of the findings of this woman who barely knew Everett at all, the one with the tight lips that always seemed to feel guilt along with every smile. She pointed out the numbers on page three, and I scanned them, 132, 118, 127. The average was 129; Everett's IQ. She looked scandalously pleased, as if she herself had produced this child. "It's one of the highest I've ever seen," she said, as everyone nodded around the table, affirming in mumbles, "smart, yes, we know he's very smart." "No. No! It IS the highest... I've ever seen."

The special ed teacher from Grout, who reminds me most of all of a witch in a fairy tale, one who you suspect is a good witch but you can never be quite certain due to her general flightiness, seemed woozy, especially when presented with such stratospheric intelligence scores. Her area was not smart children, how should she know what to do with him? She had never even met the child, as she kept muttering in a voice that lept from alarm to quiet shrieks. Whenever possible she declaimed any responsibility in this process.

Everett's "general ed" teacher, who had after all only taught him for 20-some school days, and here we were at nearly 100, alternated between anxious and exhausted, occasionally making some comment that could have been tape playback from our meetings last October. I couldn't help but look at her with narrowed eyes when attention was focused elsewhere, wondering darkly if she had ever co-slept with her children, thinking to myself that she really needed just one more year of maternity leave. I can't say my generosity of spirit with any of the staff members of Grout was plentiful.

We muddled through the report, Jonathan at one end of the table and I at the other, listening to everyone have her say. It all seemed both empty and full of cascading import at once, though I knew that nothing I said or did today would impact my son's future. I could only soak it up, use these details, these judgments, to pass my own judgment in my quiet, thundering way, to judge the teachers and administrators and schools and systems, to judge society, to wonder what should be done differently.

Here it was, in the end: the labels. There are a few possibilities for children in the special ed track. One, not special ed, was obviously discarded long ago, in October, by all involved. Another one, "learning disabled," was clearly not Everett's issue; even when he went through punishingly awful outbursts, he still finished his work; here he was almost reading, doing math near-perfect, drawing beautifully, participating in class, understanding the calendar and the clock. Another was also rejected as false, "mental retardation." What's left is "Emotional Disturbance" and "Other Health Impaired" (usually, ADHD, but also for children diagnosed with serious non-learning mental diseases, such as bipolar disorder).

It came down to this, then: "emotional disturbance" or "other health impaired." Suddenly I became aware that two of the Grout staff were pulling for Everett to be diagnosed with ADHD; they were pointing to indicators in his tests. I wanted to cry, laugh, point out how backward and 1990s this all was, how could they possibly jump to this when the world was going the other way? Instead, I firmly said that Meg (his developmental pediatrician) was sure Everett was suffering from anxiety, that she had seen nothing to indicated attention disorders. This wasn't enough, it seemed, they all doubted the worthfulness of the Prozac -- he'd been on the drug for nearly two months, and he'd behaved beautifully the whole time. They wondered if she wasn't missing something. "You should bring these results up with her!" they said brightly. I agreed to, dully, meaning never to mention them at all.

One label is enough. Of course it was going to be emotional disturbance, and while it feels so screamingly extreme, it's also rather true, and I felt the weight of my part in his troubling present. I had not been the parent Everett needed, not always, not enough, not quite. What I was, what I thought I could be, was busy and relevant and exuberant and good at so many things, but not present, not ordered, not calm. I gave him too much, I gave him nothing.

We went around the kindergarten table in our uncomfortable chairs, signing the eligibility form, all agreeing. There were so many of us, this judgment required so much buy-in, that we ran out of signature lines, the fairytale witch had to scratch her signature below mine in the margin, muttering in her high-pitched voice that she'd never even met him! and we took our children and went home, Jonathan nervously offering inappropriate things to everyone, that he would go on field trips with the special ed class, that he would come to help out at Grout, that he would raise money for things. I strapped Monroe into the sling, I grabbed the hands of my children and I walked out, as fast as I could, away.

paying the bills

read my previous post . an urban homesteader knits . tales of dishcloths and sprouts . february 11 . 2008