When I was growing up, I only had one sibling. My sister is 14 months younger than I am and was in the grade below me. With us being so close in age, it was common for people to compare us. (But not our parents, they treated us as individuals.)
was always is smart.
She did really well at school and went on to study graphic design at university and more recently floristry. She is incredibly talented in all areas of design and her home regularly looks like something out of a magazine.
I on the other hand completely suck at every aspect of design and couldn’t colour match anything to save my life. And I don’t particularly care for it either.
For me school was difficult, frustrating and mind-numbingly boring. I used to turn up every morning in grades 11 and 12, get my name marked off and then walk to town to go shopping for the day. (And oh-wow did my grade 12 marks reflect this! )
Academics wasn’t and still isn’t my thing. All I ever wanted out of life was to get married and have a family, she always had a career in
This is me in grade 12. Complete with a chip on my shoulder…
I remember my grade 10 math teacher standing me up in front of the class and humiliating me by pointing out that my younger sister was able to do the maths problem that I couldn’t and asked me what was wrong with me. The whole class laughed at me and from that day onwards I never turned up to his math class ever again.
And he wasn’t the only teacher who I had trouble with. My geography teacher hated me and went out of his way to make my life hell for years. It all started because of a class discussion on evolution and he asked me what I thought …… so I told him. He opposed the creation beliefs that I have and disagreed with me about absolutely everything from that day onwards. Publicly.
Then 4 years after leaving school I returned home to live for 3 months while I moved from one capital city to another. I moved in with Mum and Dad to save money and worked as a waitress in a local café. One day this teacher came in for lunch and gleefully jibed me in front of his friends saying: “Well, well well….I knew you’d never make anything of yourself, and look at you now. Serving ME coffee!”
Those comments have now stayed with me for over 21 years and although I’ve forgiven them both, I have seen them down the street a few times over the years when I go home to see Mum. I still smart when I lay eyes on them and the reason I still get a reaction is because words have power.
And words spoken over or to a child can have either a devastating or uplifting effect.
(The tongue has the power to bring with it life or death – Proverbs 18:21)
I spent my school years feeling like a massive failure because my sister did so well. I felt like I was an embarrassment to my parents so I clowned around instead. But I can honestly say that I was ALWAYS proud of my sister whenever she did well. I was excited for her and thrilled when her university offer came in. By then I had realised that higher education wasn’t for me because I HATED the thought of studying anything. I made my peace with being the loud and proud goofy sister instead.
My Lucas is a textbook aspie. He has the high intelligence, the amazing vocabulary and the hyper-verbal speech. He is excelling in all areas of his schoolwork and is amazing us with what he is achieving. He’s like a mini Sheldon and what most people think of when they hear the word: Aspergers.
I can’t tell you the number of times that people have reminded me that Einstein, Isaac Newton and Beethoven are all suspected to have had aspergers traits and then follow up their observation with “See, your child is going to be brilliant one day”. (Like they need to convince me that my child is going to succeed DESPITE their diagnosis).
But then I have Harley. He is not the classic aspie. He struggles with almost every aspect of schooling from reading and writing through to socialising with other kids.
He puts so much incredible effort into just BEING in school that there’s not much energy left for learning. Add to that his difficulty coping with noise, crowds and variations in temperatures and you have a child who is constantly being subjected to pain and discomfort. His sensory processing issues are through the roof most days.
It’s like forcing ME to go cold turkey on caffeine and then sticking me in a room full of children for 6 hours because being a teacher is MY idea of hell)……I would NOT do well under those circumstances yet Harley faces this kind of discomfort AND MORE every.single.day and he does it with grace.
Harley doesn’t fit the mould of “typical aspie” that is so often assumed on him and the label does more damage to his personal opinions and expectations of himself than anything else.
And I know that comparing my boys and their abilities is not only stupid but incredibly dangerous. And I am no longer hurt or angry at my high school teachers because I truly have forgiven them but I still remember both instances very clearly. That’s why words have to be so carefully chosen before uttering them.
My boys both have wonderful teachers who speak only the very best over my boys and because of that, I know that they will do well later in life. And that brings me great hope.
But it’s not all bad. My own high school experiences have made me a better mother. I know the effects of negative comments and off-the-cuff remarks so I am super careful to watch what I say to them lest they carry around baggage like I did.
And now that I am an adult , I realise that although my sister is so much better me academically, and in design – I also know that I am much better than her in other areas.
And this is what I am trying to teach my children. Everyone has different and unique abilities. We are not all made the same way and no-one is good at everything.
Last night was the junior school presentation night. I had suspected that Lucas might do well because of the glowing reports we have been receiving all year whereas conversely, I also knew that Harley has struggled a lot.
And I was thrilled when Lucas earned the medal for Excellence in Mathematics. He stood up on that stage proudly smiling from ear to ear while everyone clapped. And I was sad for Harley when I watched his disappointment at not receiving an award but I knew that as rough as it seemed – it is a necessary part of learning about life.
Paul and I rock-paper-scissored each other to decide who was collecting which child at the conclusion of the night because we could tell Harley was borderline and knew it would be hard work. He won the match so I headed over to the row Harley was sitting in and he ran towards me and punched me in the stomach. He then head-butted my arm and kicked me before throwing himself down on the chair beside him. He wasn’t happy at all.
He didn’t do a very good job of hiding his disappointment so I sat quietly beside him to let him get it out of his system. Finally he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said: “I’ll never be as smart as Lucas, I’m such a dumb head”.
I stiffened and knew that I had a defining moment in front of me. I reassured him that he wasn’t dumb at all and that there were so many children that not everyone could possibly win an award. I listed all the things that he is great at and reminded him of his strengths. I pointed out that he wasn’t the only child in his class not to receive an award and assured him that I was incredibly proud of him because I knew how hard he had been working. I asked him to try to remember to be happy for his classmates who did win awards because that’s what good sportmanship is about.
At that moment I saw Lucas running toward me with Paul and Ella following closely behind. I looked at Harley and said: “I know you’re sad right now and I do care very much but I have to tell Lucas that I’m proud of him because he deserves to be praised for his efforts.”
Lucas threw himself into my arms and I hugged him telling him that I was very proud of him. I glanced over his shoulder at Harley and was amazed and touched when he reached out and patted his little brother on his back saying: “Well done Lucas”.
My eyes filled up as I realised how huge this was for a child who is not only in the depths of disappointment but supposedly (according to some of the ridiculous literature out there) not possessing empathy.
Well, if that’s not progress and a perfect example of empathy I don’t know what it was!
It’s a hard thing to have to deal with sadness in one child whilst not taking away from or downplaying the achievements of another but I came home last night with a big grin across my face.
BOTH my boys did me proud. And it was an incredible night.