Thursday, October 23, 2003

Type A Mom

So I took my kids to the neurologist last week, and for a change she didn't give me a hard time about my son. He wasn't spectacularly well-behaved, but he was a lot better than last year, when he spent the entire visit banging a toy truck against the wall, so good for him. This time, the doctor seemed to take my word for the fact that he doesn't act up as much at home or at school as he does at her office, and expressed satisfaction with his progress. She also mentioned how impressed she was by how nicely and quietly my daughter had sat through her brother's exam.

So far, so good.

I started my daughter's visit by asking her to tell the doctor about the headaches she's been having. I haven't been too worried about the headaches from a health point of view, since they're not strong enough for her to demand pain relief, but they've been great from a self-awareness and -expression point of view. I can speak for her in a lot of things, but not to describe personal discomfort, and so she had to try to describe her headaches to her pediatrician, and then keep a journal with an entry for each headache. And now again, she had to try to describe the headaches verbally, and it was about as good an illustration of how much her expressive language has improved and how much it still lags as you would want to give a pediatric neurologist. She struggled to find the right descriptive words, even cried a little out of frustration, and finally decided that the headaches felt squishy. The doctor and I agreed they were probably stress-related, and we moved on.

The doctor asked how her patient was doing in school, and I told about her starting middle school this year, in a mainstream class with inclusion teachers and an aide. The doctor asked what level she had been tested at, and I related that at her last evaluation she'd been found to have about a third-grade reading level, but that she was doing pretty much the same work as the other sixth-graders. And the doctor said, "Oh. So she's overacheiving."

You can guess where this is going to go.

I rattled on about her seeing a tutor once a week, and playing the trombone so well she made the all-city band, and bowling twice a week and getting good at it, and how hard she works on her homework, and how much she's been reading. I dug myself a pretty good hole. And when I was done, the doctor thought she had a pretty good picture of a quiet, inarticulate girl whose mother pushed her to work beyond her potential to the point of crippling headaches. She told me she would refer us to a psychologist if not for the fact that psychologists don't do too well with kids as inarticulate as mine, and that anti-anxiety meds might be able to help her a lot. And that she wanted to see my girl again in six months (instead of the usual year) to monitor the situation.

So in one hour, I'd gone from an overly permissive mom who would rather let her son run amok than medicate him, to an overly pushy mom who drives her daughter so hard she needs medication to make it through the day. I'll tell you, I was feeling a little whiplash on my way out.

The fact is, though, that I do push my daughter. I can't deny that I do. She needs pushing. She was happy as a clam in her self-contained special-ed class, and would have been exceedingly comfortable drifting along, learning little. I pushed her into the mainstream, and I push her to do extra work so that she can keep afloat. I've strived to be realistic about her abilities -- I always tell her that I don't care about what grade she gets as long as she tries her best -- but I've also always looked for ways to strengthen those abilities. I've certainly pushed her to play an instrument and pursue that through music camp and school band, feeling it was both good for her brain and good for her social life to be involved with music. I've pushed her to do plenty of activities that she was afraid of or worried about, and she's usually been glad after.

Does that make me a driven, overacheivement-demanding, childhood-destroying Type A mom? Or just a hardworking, involved, dedicated mom who wants her child to reach her full potential? Is there a line someplace? Have I crossed it?

Maybe. Sometimes. Maybe it's impossible not to. Maybe that's one of the biggest challenges of parenting a child with special needs -- knowing when to push, knowing when to stop. I've certainly tsked at other parents who expect too much of children who obviously have different gifts than the ones their parents push for. I've never felt a great need to push my son, who obviously will always need a lot of help and supervision throughout his life. I've been happy for him to take it slow, and follow his own developmental path. Maybe because his sister is not so obviously impaired, I've felt the need to strengthen her and give her skills she'll need for a "normal life," whatever that is. Is it giving her headaches? Why not? Goodness knows it's giving them to me.

That night, though, I had a brainstorm. During the exam, when my daughter was describing her headaches, she'd mentioned that sometimes her vision was a little blurry during them, and she had to squint. And later, when the doctor asked about her eyes, I'd mentioned that the opthalmologist had said that she didn't have to wear glasses if she didn't want to, but as she progressed in school and the work got harder, she might find she needs them. She'd had crossed eyes when we adopted her at age 4.5, and though surgery had straightened them, glasses could help relieve the strain of focusing them. I asked my daughter that evening whether she thought wearing her glasses might help her headaches, and to my surprise, she said, "Yes!" So we're going to see the eye doctor on Monday, and get new glasses, and see if that makes a difference.

Of course, I'll have to push her to wear them.

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