Monday, July 10, 2000

Don't ask, don't tell

I just left my daughter at basketball camp. It's not a sleepover camp or anything dramatic, no great provoker of separation anxiety, no big growing-up moment. But I still felt like I was abandoning her, sitting there alone, waiting for somebody to tell her what to do. I know she desperately wanted me to wait with her until the actual activities started. I desperately wanted to. But her brother needed to be dropped at his camp, and time was a-wasting, and a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do. So I kissed her goodbye, wished her luck, and left her sitting there with that little pursed-mouth look that means she's trying not to cry.

Here's her revenge, though: She's probably having a great time now, and I'm going to be a nervous wreck until we pick her up this afternoon.

This may seem like an extreme level of anxiety for a 10-year-old at day camp. But though I talk a good game about getting my girl out of the overprotective confines of special-education and special-needs settings, I can't help but feel a little protective of her myself. At school, even when she's in a mainstream class, everyone knows that she needs a little extra help. They keep an eye out for her. They even adjust the workload as necessary to make sure she keeps up and stays happy. I fight all the time for her to be challenged as much as possible, and for her limitations not to define her.

But when school's out and we're dealing with after-school and summertime activities, I tend to be the one playing up those limitations. I don't want to go into a strange setting and say: "Hello, this is my daughter, she has severe language delays and language-based learning disabilities, she's two years behind in school and will be more comfortable with eight-year-olds than ten-year-olds, she needs to be told what to do and if she's not sure what to do, she cries." I don't want to introduce her that way. But don't they need to know?

I'd like her to just be able to dive in and figure things out and shine as her own special self without all those labels and special-ed baggage. It's my goal for her to be able to adapt to new situations without lapsing into helplessness. But she's not there yet. If they put her in a group of kids her own age and expect her to function on that level, she's going to be lost. Maybe she can keep up with the eight-year-olds she's with in school. Don't I need to tell them to hold her back? And don't I need to explain why?

In fact, nobody at the basketball camp much wanted to hear about it. I put a note on her application, and mentioned it at sign-in, but it's a busy place with lots of kids running around and no one lingering long over the tender souls. Maybe it's just the nature of sports groups--not a lot of interest in what parents have to say about their kids' abilities. Yeah, yeah, lady, just drop her off and we'll take it from there. She'll prove herself by her ability, or she'll spend the week on the bench. Either way, she'll get through.

Me, on the other hand...

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