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On realizing you’re different.

swinging1My daughter stepped into the car a couple of years ago during carpool where a snack and juice box waited for her to devour.

“How was your day, honey?” I said, like I did every day she bounces in my car.

On this day she is holding stapled sheets – like most Tuesdays or Wednesdays – along with her jacket and messenger bag. She isn’t in the car more than 5 seconds before she pushes the stapled sheets in my face, she says…

“I hate that they blow up my work like this because it makes me feel dumb and no one else has to do this and why can’t I just be normal?!!”

Sigh.

She was 10 at the time and started noticing she is different from her friends in her everyday life. Our son doesn’t have these issues, because he largely does not care what other people think of him. It is a characteristic that has served him well and likely will in the future. But our girl isn’t like that and as soon as she noticed she had accommodations that her friends didn’t have she’s hated it.

  • Her removal from the class to work one-on-one? “I’m so stupid.”
  • Modifications made to worksheets? “Everyone will think I am stupid when they see it.”
  • Sitting close to the board so she can see better? “Why can’t I be normal, like everyone else?”
  • Printed out sheets from the board so she doesn’t have to track back and forth to work? “I hate my stupid, stupid eyes and what they can’t do!”
  • Testing in a different room with a small group? “Why can’t I just be like everyone else and NORMAL?”

To any of the above questions I ask the ever-present questions, most likely asked by every parent of a kid with differences, either to the child or privately to themselves: “Did someone say something? Did someone make you feel bad about it?”

I asked those questions on this day too, as she pushed the stapled sheets in my face. “No! It is just me, me, ME! I FEEL STUPID when people can see the sheets blown up! I keep telling the teachers I DO NOT NEED my work blown up but they say they can’t!” (because it’s in her IEP)

Huge tears fall. Unusual is the fact that in my car there is not an abandoned napkin for me to hand to her so she keeps wiping her face on her too-long sleeves that are wrapped around her knuckles. He breathing is quick and rhythmic. This cry isn’t the one that we normally hear when we’ve offended her by rules or her brother has wronged her.

This cry is painful. Deep. It’s the cry we know is inevitable as a parent, but we wish we’ll bypass due to some cosmic intervention. It’s the cry that seems to go on longer than it is in real time because it represents the deep pain of lack of self confidence.

It’s the cry of the pain of realizing you’re different.

One of the hardest things about helping our daughter navigate growing up and realizing her differences is trying to get her to understand we’re all different. That is little comfort when the differences hits you in the face daily. It is little comfort when you know others know you’re different. It is hard to teach there is beauty in difference to your daughter when one hand holds stapled, enlarged worksheets and the other holds a too long shirt wrapped around her knuckles wiping the large tears.

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