Sunday, June 06, 2010

Radiant, Confident, Deliriously Happy

Well, well....

It's come to this.

When Betty reached the age of two or so, not being much of a talker, she invented a sign language. "Rain," I remember, was an outstretched hand waving up and down. For "Barney," she hugged herself -- "I love you, you love me," etc.

Other things began to bother us a little bit. When she did start to speak, she didn't quite get certain consonants, so instead of "Da-da" I was "Ga-ga." When she started to feed herself, she'd approach her face with a spoonful of food -- and then invert it 180 degrees before it got to her mouth. When she learned to form letters, she was as likely as not to write perfectly backwards. She had no strong preference in handedness, and was as likely to bat or throw rightie as leftie.

Wonder Woman was more frantic than I was, I think. She began reading book after book about learning disabilities, and concluded that Betty definitely had one. We had her assessed, and the conclusion was something called Visual Processing Deficit -- to this day I don't really know what that means, only that the left and right parts of her brain weren't talking quite right to each other. It was explained to us that her brain was working so hard to locate her in time and space that there was little processing power left over for such niceties as mathematics and music.

The public school system failed her badly. I mean, criminally. It became blindingly apparent that she was being passed from one grade to another without any concern for her disability. Yes, she had an IEP, a program that was supposed to compensate for her disability, but it became clear that the program was a joke, a sop to legal requirements -- doing her no good at all while allowing the school system to claim they were helping her.

And goddammit, we knew -- how could we not know? -- that our daughter was bright, brave, beautiful, and a joy to know. It was just that the information wasn't getting in in the conventional way. We were at our wits' end.

The public school she was attending had a "Gifted and Talented" program, a not-so-subtle way of two-tracking kids and giving parents yet one more thing to be competitive about. I recall vividly my rage at a school awards ceremony where this idiot teacher raved on and on about the G&T kids under his care were going to be the Leaders of Tomorrow -- the clear implication being, of course, that if you weren't part of the G&T program, your eternal fate as a Dumb Loser Kid was pretty much sealed. Jesus, what an asshole.

Wonder Woman knew about a place called The Lab School of Washington, an institution in western DC that specialized in LD kids. I was skeptical at first, thinking it was just another way to separate frantic parents from their money. It was 75 miles from our home. It was quite expensive.

But I read about Sally Smith, the school's founder whom we were fortunate enough to meet before her death in 2007. Go ahead, go read about her. The woman was a hero and a saint -- and that's not praise you're likely to hear from me very often.

So we applied. And we were accepted for Betty's sophomore year. I'll never forget the look of rapturous joy on her face when the "Fat Envelope" came in the mail -- maybe, just maybe, this might be something to rescue her self-esteem, which by the ninth grade was in a death-spiral.

Oh, dear God, was it a slog. I can't tell you what 300 miles a day commuting did to Wonder Woman, who bore it mightily. And let's not even ponder what that kind of mileage can take out of a seventeen-year-old. The expense was nearly ruinous, coming as it did during the Great Collapse of 2008, when I was laid off and working only sporadically. But we bore it. Yes, we bore it.

Because we wanted to see that photo up there. Look at her -- radiant, confident, deliriously happy. She blossomed there at the Lab School. Just blossomed. Just a few weeks ago she had the part of Emily -- the female lead -- in the school's production of "Our Town." She brought down the house -- not a dry eye in the joint, I tell you -- certainly least of all Dear Old Dad, who was huffing and puffing and piping his eye from about the first minute on.

She'll be attending Greensboro College in the fall.

We made it!

Betty (whose real name is Emily), your mom and dad are the proudest, happiest parents in the world, and we know how strong you have had to be to get to this moment. My baby, my sign-language-inventing, backwards-writing baby, you are the best!

Wa-hey! Technology!

(On a side note, I hope you believe me when I say that you can consider this my return to blogging. A circumstance that made me feel shitty has now passed, and I feel up to sharing my life with you once again.)


DaddyMike said...

Awesome. I knew some of this story, and I'm so happy for her (and you and WW of course) that this worked out. Congratulations to her!

giggles said...

I knew nothing of these details. I am so happy for all of you.... Congratulations!!!!!!!!!!! Onwards and upwards!!!!

ClareToreador said...

That's awesome, H... truly inspiring! I know you guys are so proud. Wow.

Diane said...

Wow, I'm all choked up -it's so exciting and I love happy endings!

mike in seattle said...


Warmest congratulations to your family.

You and Wonder Woman are my heroes, for going the lengths you go to because you love your kids and want to see them succeed. Oh, to be able to function effectively in this oh-so-complex and difficult world. And Emily is my hero for doing it.

It is so easy to be cynical and resigned, it feels good to be drawn back from the edge every so often by people like Emily and you and WW.

And using Pynchon's themes to solve crimes for the DC police! Did Dad leave a copy of Gravity's Rainbow lying around? Talks over the dinner table? Do tell.

Best to you all.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

likes this.

Tom W. said...

Congrats and welcome back....needed a good story this morning badly, and you had one to tell.

Anonymous said...

Take a bow- you, WW- you, Neddie- you, Eddie- and most especially you- Miss Em- the newly minted beautiful, grown-up graduate-- the actress who brings the audience to tears, the animal lover, the good friend to so many- the gorgeous granddaughter, and soon the co-ed!

Well said, Neddie- as always.

Congratulations to you all!!

Carl the Big Fool said...

Wow, good stuff. A nice read to kick off the morning.

JC said...

Congruatualtions! That's wonderful news.

Sluggo said...

so there is actually hope for the world, eh?

Left me moist of eye and throatly lumped.

Sluggo said...

so happy for all involved.

needed some evidence that good things are still happening in the world.

XTCfan said...

So happy for all of you! I know it wasn't easy, but then anything worth doing rarely is.

jre said...

Welcome back!
Please convey our heartfelt best wishes and congratulations to the young Hope of Civilization.

roxtar said...

It's pretty clear that Betty has done as much for you as you have done for Betty.

Bravos and kudos to you all!

JamesFinnGarner said...

A story with a happy ending is what I need this morning. We're going through some issues with our 15-yr-old son and his school performance. Even at a good public school, a teacher who ignores the IEP leaves you pretty much hosed.

Very happy to hear about the blossoming of your daughter. Through all the sacrifices and extra work, you did your parenting job well, going above and beyond. You deserve to feel proud.

Neddie said...


Even as hard as we rode the public-school folks (I'm sure they were not sorry to see the back of us), they just wouldn't CARE. We were very lucky to have the Lab School to fall back on; I don't know what we'd have done if not for them.

Anonymous said...


Bugs of Consciousness, whether here or the eternal there, dance in elated celebration.

BreadBox said...

Congratulations to her! And welcome back to the blogosphere too!


Decatur Dem said...

Hooray for you, double hoorays for WW, and a thousand for Emily!

And welcome back. It's been a little too drab in these parts for a few months.

Kevin Wolf said...

Congrats to the graduate and to her proud parents!

xjmueller said...

Welcome back. Missed you. Hope you're past the shit for good. Congrats to your daughter on her graduation.

cleek said...

congrats to Betty, and welcome back Neddie!

Linkmeister said...

Hooray for daughter Betty and hooray for your return!

Connie D said...

Congratulations to Emily on her graduation and to her parents for their perseverance. I retired from teaching because I was disgusted with the lack of professional qualifications and the intellectual mediocrity of some of my fellow teachers who were so incompetent(but athletically inclined)that they were elevated to administrative positions where they could further block all progress. Some parents' refusal to support what was in their children's best interests didn't help either. I just became too old and too disillusioned to fight it further.
Even though you paid double for your child's education, you will not be sorry! You are true heroes and your daughter is a trooper!

Wren said...

What a wonderful true story of courage and perseverance! Congratulations Emily, well one, Neddie, and welcome back. You've been sorely missed.