Monday, April 11, 2016
The Tug of War of 2E
"Parenthood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you'd have.It's about understanding your child is exactly the person they are supposed to be. And, if you're lucky, they might be the teacher who turns you into the person you're supposed to be."
~ from The Water Giver by Joan Ryan
My son Mason is 17 years old, a Junior in high school. He is bright, caring, independent, strong willed, funny, compassionate, off beat, introverted, deep thinking, and he is twice exceptional or 2E.
What is 2E? I am sure you are probably asking that right now.
2E is a designation for people who are both of high intelligence and also have some form of learning disability. Mason is both gifted and talented and he has ADD and a written language learning deficit. These diagnosis were determined over time. It has taken considerable effort, and several experts, most importantly a board certified neuropsychologist who performed extensive testing, to identify the specific issues at play. It is a constantly changing endeavor to advocate for, support, and make forward progress in the best interest of Mason. In fact, he needs multiple people on board to ensure positive outcomes at school. He has an outstanding academic coach who he has worked with for years now, a support teacher at school and a psychiatrist. It is important to note that "as it not a common diagnosis it is important that teachers and school personnel are fully informed about best practices in relation to 2E students".
As his mother, his first source of nurturing and support, the road has been rugged, breathtaking and deeply transformational. His potential is immense. Drawing that potential out of him, motivating him to pursue areas of strength, and assisting him in managing expectations and tasks, as they are, in an educational environment, has taken steadfast and diligent effort, along with loads of support, encouragement and most of all love.
Parenting a 2E kid has felt like a tug of war at times, between encouraging and focusing on his incredible gifts and abilities, and additionally, addressing the obstacles to utilizing those abilities. Frustration happens on both sides. Stephen, my husband and Mason's father, and I, experience frustration, but Mason does too, even more than we do, so much more, and intensely.
If we, his parents, and I would add his teachers, feel stuck, spinning our wheels around the knowledge of Mason's gifts and abilities in contrast to his outcomes, or ability to perform within the constructs and design of the educational institution, we must dare to imagine how he feels. His coach says of her experience working with him, "Being Mason's academic coach is both a privilege and a challenge. Like most 2E students, he is simultaneously frustrated by the confines of school and ravenous for knowledge." It pains me to think of this conflict he must face every day at school; the pressure, the feeling of being wrong, of being outside the norm, an other, and so thirsty for education at the same time. It breaks my heart. I know it crushes his heart too, because he tends to self deprecate, he bursts out angrily at times, he screams about hating us, hating the world, hating himself. I know this means I must love him more, I must tell him what he means to me, and often.
To understand the kind of opposing forces a 2E kid and his parents contend with, I will share the events of one afternoon that illustrate it beautifully. As a junior in high school, Mason was administered the PSAT along with his entire class. This particular afternoon I received the paper copy of his test scores. Mason scored in the top category of mastery. He achieved a near perfect score on the math portion and was also very strong on the language portions. He nailed it.
This very same afternoon I received an email from Mason's resource support teacher, who assists him due to his learning disability, informing me that Mason's grades had taken a serious downturn due to lack of homework and task completion, and a couple low test scores. He was in jeopardy of not making the grades he would need for credit at semester end, and would have to do some really hard work to get it back on track.
I had, within hours of each other, received fantastic news about Mason's intellectual abilities and equally difficult news about his continuing lack of follow through and achievement at school. I was there in the kitchen feeling paralyzed, frozen in my not knowing. The most painful experience in parenting for me is when I simply do not have a clue what to do. I begged myself the questions, "When he walks in the door from school, how do I handle this? What is the right approach? What is the best thing to focus on, to say?" I would later tell a friend, jokingly, "I didn't know if I should hug him or hit him." (I am not in favor of hitting or spanking, to be clear.) The familiar tug of war came full on, a great pulling in my head, strategies and outcomes erupting in a great confusion.
Then I felt beyond my mind and into my heart. I often return to a conversation I had at a ladies lunch once. I had been describing some of the behaviors I had to contend with in dealing with Mason's ADD, specifically his inattention to tasks, his frequent flat disinterest, the great challenge of getting him to do the things he was expected to do, so that he would not fail his classes. One mom asked outright, "I cannot imagine how you deal with that! How do you handle it?" My response came easily and immediately. "I love him."
Of course I do other things too. I hold him accountable for his choices and actions. I make sure he has support at home, at school, and beyond. I talk to him all the time about how things are going, how he is feeling, I set limits, I instate or illustrate for him the consequences of his choices, good choices as well as the not so good ones. But the most important thing I do, by far, is love him, unconditionally, unfalteringly. I show him that, though I may have to go fierce mama bear on him sometimes, it is always rooted in love. That love is not going anywhere, ever.
So that afternoon, when he walked in the door, I greeted him like I usually do, asked about his day, and then I opened up a calm, conscious conversation with him about the good and bad news I had received. I celebrated the good with him, and helped him decide on some steps he could take to resolve the not so good. We talked about what had gone wrong, how he was feeling about it, we agreed on a path forward, it went really smoothly. It does not always happen that way, but I think on this day, because I had paused to make my connection to my heart, instead of staying fully in my head and the story of the situation, I came to it engaged from that place of love, and he felt it.
We determine, day by day, how to move through the difficulties that ADD and learning challenges present, including the unique qualities of 2E. I am becoming more skilled at it, and so is Mason. The great learning of life happens through experience and awareness, and through mistakes and reconciliations. I am invested in establishing ways to support and assist my son who has particular needs and struggles. It is rich soil for growth.
I know labels like ADD, and new designations like 2E, perhaps even more so, come under fire in regards to their overuse and the perception that they are simply making more and more kids "special cases". I can only say, it is impossible to know what it is like to deal with these kinds of issues, unless you have dealt with them. Collectively we need more empathy and far less judgment. Every kid is thirsty for that, to be known and validated. Every kid is also confronted with the demands of an educational system built of benchmarks and boxes to check. That system does not often take into consideration the need for individuation, critical thinking and creativity, which is what grows minds, hearts and spirits. It is up to us to forge an understanding of how to nurture our children in a way that brings them to their full and unique potential.
I hope sharing my experience here helps foster this in some way. If it helps even one person better understand themselves, or their child, more deeply or with greater consideration and care, it is well worth it.
Parenting Mason is a great joy and privilege. As much as I have taught and guided him, I have equally learned so much about relationship, love and family by being his mother. This ever winding road of discovering him, receiving the gift of my son, has helped me also to discover myself and the depths of my heart, the power of love. He truly is exceptional to me, beyond any labels or expectations.
Perfectly imperfect, just as all of us are. Doing our best, learning and loving all the way.