Monday, November 12, 2007

They Are Children, Not Labels

It has been a hard day. A hard week, a hard month, a hard season, a hard year. Hard isn't even a good word for it. Trying, tough, painful, emotional, frustrating, sad, frightening, anxious . . . those are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Yesterday I was helping my 7YO practice his reading. When asked what he wanted to learn most of all, he expressed a longing to read chapter books. So we're practicing, just he and I.

We practiced. He wiggled, he bounced, he swayed. He moved the entire time.

It wasn't hard to look at him and think, ADHD. After all, he's also in attentive, easily distracted, forgetful, fidgety. He seems to not listen, not to even hear at times.

For a moment, I let myself feel the fear. Then I reminded myself: he's 7.

It is really hard to try to live a life without labels. My oldest son has special needs as well. We could probably get a label if we went looking for one. At least one. When he was little he could have received early intervention. In a school setting he would qualify for an IEP.

Sometimes I think that we're making a mistake rejecting the labels. Maybe they are there to help us. Maybe they make the path smoother. Maybe you can name your enemy and you can battle and win. I know people who are winning. People who face the labels and use them as tools, and never lose sight of their children as people.

But I also know people for whom the label becomes means of disconnection. Children are medicated, separated, trained. They are medicalized, and someone else ~ a doctor, a therapist, a pharmaceutical company ~ someone else is supposed to fix the problem.

Once upon a time, someone told me that Naomi Aldort thought that maybe some of these disorders, so newly common, are simply new ways of being, an infinitesimal step in human evolution. I still think about that sometimes. Some of them, I think, are disorders of society, not the brain. The answer for my youngest is not sitting still at a desk, it is running, playing, jumping . . . moving!

As for my oldest, he is my boy. He is not a label, he is not a disease, he is not a syndrome or a disorder. He is a child. I have not yet given up on the idea that time and love will be the deciding factors in his life. I will love him, and I will give him time, and I will life my life in tandem with his, not separated, so that we can live and learn together. I will turn back the decades and I will give both boys freedom, real work, time to think.

I will not fear his ability to connect; I will see his desire to, as well as his deep bond not only with his father and I, but with his brother, his grandfather, and until very recently, his grandmother. I will not let people tell me that he should have a best friend by now, and that he should be separating from me. He does have a best friend, his brother, and that relationship is complex and ever changing and growing. As for separation, he's 8. I want him to be attached to me. I want him to see me as a source of love, compassion, and wisdom.

I'll admit it, I get scared sometimes. I worry about the future. I think about the labels and I tremble in fear. I read statistics and I want to crawl into bed and hide. I cry. It is hard, tough, frightening, difficult . . . sometimes there aren't enough words to describe the fear.

But there is joy, and love, and connection. There is laughter in this house, and jokes, and silly pranks. There are two children, their hearts open to life and love. They are not jaded, not grown up before they're 10, not afraid of love and affection. They are children. They are not the labels that could be given to them. They are human beings, unique, wonderful, amazing human beings.

And they are mine. Let me remember that.

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