Courage can be very visible. When someone climbs Mt. Everest or jumps in the ocean to save another‘s life, we admire their courage. The news media shows pictures of these amazing people while interviewing their neighbors who attest to their super human qualities. However, courage is not always overtly visible; in fact everyday courage is seldom noticed, but can take enormous strength of character. The story below is about everyday courage and how for children with learning disabilities doing the common everyday things can take a mountain of courage.
I pulled our faithful green minivan into the circular driveway of the local elementary school along with what appeared to be hundreds of other moms and dads. I could imagine all the parents nervously checking their dashboard clock while attempting telepathically to force the cars ahead of them to move faster so our children would not be late. I glanced in the review mirror at Max who was distractedly watching all the morning activity outside the van window, he was quiet but thinking, that could be scary.
At a little before 9:00 am the day had already been challenging. My teenager would not open his eyes let alone get out of bed until the very last minute. My younger two boys had spent a good portion of the morning fighting about everything from ownership of a prized orange Hot Wheel car to who brushed their teeth first. Yep, one of those days! However, all the struggles listed above were nothing compared to the look in Max’s eyes as he fought getting ready for school. He resisted putting on his socks, shoes and coat then twisted and turned attempting to shrug off his backpack. The truth is, he fought against anything that might move him closer to going to school. While he fought, a constant stream of reasons why he didn’t need to attend school flowed. With each passionately given reason my heart would tighten and twist with understanding of his struggle, he has learning disabilities; school was difficult for him and stressed him out. I often thought about how constant stress negatively effects adults, taking its toll on our emotional and physical health. So, what does it do to a young child?
For a seven year old Max could come up with some pretty compelling reasons to stay home from school. He would insists his teacher gave him permission to stay home. His head or stomach would hurt. He needed to stay home to keep me company or take care of the dog. He needed to stay home to clean his room, such altruistic reasons. Why was Max trying so hard to stay home when he was only in the first grade? The reason is he has dyslexia and ADHD, the dynamic duo. This made school difficult for him on good days and unbearable on bad ones. I knew he was not just being difficult, lazy or acting like a baby. He was trying to avoid a very stressful situation, one that he had to face five days week. I felt conflicted, he needed to go, but it was so difficult; would I, an adult, willing go into a stressful situation five days a week? Not without throwing a good tantrum or at least wanting too!
The long line of mini vans, sedans, and SUVs packed with kids had stop moving so I turned around to meet Max’s eyes and encourage him one more time about attending school. I dug deep in my already weary mind hoping to find a clever and enticing reason that would trigger a desire to go. I fantasized that he would cling to this magic reason with joy and optimism and respond to it with a big, bright smile and say cheerfully “Ok mom, I want to go to school” and everything would be ok, forever.
The line began to move again and we were finally at the official drop off point; I opened the van door but Max refused to get out of his seat. I quietly tried to cajole him out of the van; to no avail, he started to cry. I held his backpack outside of the van and listed the fun activities he could participate in, he cried louder. The conga line of autos was at a standstill while I worked to extract Max from the van. His voice was getting louder and his resistance stronger while the stalled line of autos was well, stalled.
Finally the Vice Principle came over to assist in the extraction of Max. It took several more minutes but between the two of us we dislodged him and got him pointed in the direction of his classroom. The Vice Principle was kind enough to walk with Max all the way there.
As I returned to the driver’s seat I watched my blond little boy struggle to regain his composure as he walked next to the vice principle. My heart was overwhelmed with a powerful concoction of relief, sorrow, gratefulness, concern, guilt, and love as I pondered the amount of courage it would take for my son to enter the class room with a smile, to participate in reading, math, and spelling, simple activities for someone without dyslexia, but stressful for some with it. I considered the depth of character it will take for my son to go to school five days a week for the next twelve years and face the tasks that are harder for him than most of his class mates. It will take everyday courage; everyday.
Max’s school years were filled with days like the story above, but there were also days when he woke up with a smile and left the car without a fight, bravely entering a world where he had to work harder just to blend in, showing everyday courage. To the children and parents with learning disabilities I recognize and honor the everyday courage it takes to participate, be successful, and enjoy the everyday adventure that is school.
Debora Shelford Hobbs