Do you remember Pixar’s Wreck-It Ralph? The innovative film that introduced us to the characters that live inside the video games we have all loved? It’s pretty inventive, but what was held out for me, intentionally or no, was the character of Vanellope von Schweetz otherwise known as “The Glitch.” Vanellope is a mistake. She will wreck every game.
Her official biography reads, “Vanellope is a pixelating programming mistake in the candy-coated cart-racing game Sugar Rush. With a racer's spirit embedded in her coding, Vanellope is determined to earn her place in the starting lineup amongst the other racers. The only problem: the other racers don't want her or her glitching in the game. Years of rejection have left Vanellope with a wicked sense of humor and a razor-sharp tongue. However, somewhere beneath that hard shell is a sweet center just waiting to be revealed.” While the real story is that Vanellope is actually the game’s Princess and lead driver, her power has been taken away by the Candy King. The lies he has told make everyone fear that her glitch will lead to the game being unplugged. Her mistake, her existence then, ends their world.Pretty dire for a glitch, right? A glitch then can be threatening to others. It can make you see something in yourself that you would rather not see. But glitches are just errors not ends, and they can be overcome. My son, Sam, has a glitch. It has impeded his learning, and he is struggling with material that he simply doesn’t understand. It is taking time away from everything. The glitch is overrunning his belief in himself. That can be debilitating. It can be the start of a tumble of bad that has nothing grounded in the reality that Sam is an amazing, kind, funny, hardworking, interesting, compassionate child, and an excellent friend. I have stood as a mediator between Sam and his school life, explaining, reassuring, and encouraging but the issues have only become broader and the disconnect more pronounced. It was time to seek help for Sam before he began to believe the lie about the glitch.
“Does that make sense to you?” Eyebrow raised, I swallow my irritation at the condescension in the question from the school psychologist. In that moment, I knew that it didn’t matter what I said or showed. This committee of school professionals was not going to take my prepared statement into account. In fact, they were typing up their final report denying Sam any educational psychological testing before I even started speaking. Working from year-old data from a test Sam had taken while in Florida, I was told no less than 4 different times that Sam was “average.” His results were “average.” Perhaps, said the social worker, I needed “to praise him more rather than focus on results.”
“He’s performing fine within the low scale of what we consider to be ‘average’ for the fourth grade.”
“There needs to be a real need to pull him from the general education classroom. And, you know, your heart goes out to him for his struggle, but there’s nothing really here that justifies testing for any real disability.”
“You should have him go outside more. At least 20 minutes a day,” said his teacher to me.
“Maybe get him involved in a sports team so he can locate what he’s good at,” the special education resources teacher said.
“You should take him to your pediatrician to be checked for anxiety so he’s happy and well,” the school psychologist reported.
“Our reading specialist spent two 20 minute sessions with him. He’s able to perform in these parameters within the average to low average range” the testing scion told me.
I am seething. I am rigid. I had come to this meeting with hopes of an answer for Sam’s continued struggles in school. And I felt I was being berated as a mother who wanted the school to “fix” my son.
“Does that make sense to you?”
No. It doesn’t make sense. Because this child is struggling daily to achieve the marker set as average, and he is anything but average. He is fantastic. And we are exhausted.
“Does that make sense to you?”
No. It does not make sense that a child needs to repeatedly fail in order to garner your attention and help. It doesn’t make sense to me that everyone in that room had decided that Sam was “good enough.” Even though his struggles with auditory and visual memory and phonological processing were readily evident in his school work.
“All I want,” I said willing myself to remain civil, “is the chance to give Sam the tools he needs to feel successful in the classroom without struggle—”
“Well, it’d be nice if he had an easy carefree time at school,” the psychologist interrupted….and my vision blurred. I saw red. I had come into this dark room to face this 8-person panel, and dressed as well as I could, and I had thanked them all for coming to help Sam. No one responded, not the Assistant Principal who I’ve met on no less than a dozen occasions and still has no clue of my name or those of my children, the psychologist who had never met Sam and was working off of a year-old report, or the school counselor who had insisted I initiate these proceedings rather than go to an outside educational psychologist to get the testing Sam needed done.
No one said anything, but for me there were so many invisibly loud fear inducing words vibrating in that dim and heavy room:
“You’re wasting our time.”
“Why can’t you be satisfied with your average son?”
“Here’s another hysterical parent wanting perfection.”
“You haven’t done your homework.”
“All he needs is more attention.”
“You are not a good mother.”
I am willing to take just about anything as a parent. I am more than willing to be insulted, condescended to, handled with rudeness and incivility; I am willing to maintain my dignity in the face of all of that because I tell my children all the time, it is how we act and the compassion we show that says who we are. How we respond means something.
When I was driving home after gathering my papers, the report printed for me that I had to sign, and thanking them for their time in the face of their judgmental silence, I thought of the children who had no advocate, whose home life was so unstable that their deficits were extraordinarily large.
I thought of that panel, that they weren’t bad people, but exhausted from meetings where they might be fighting a guardian or parent to get help for a child that the teacher saw was desperately needed. I thought of the mountains of paperwork that followed each of these, that they saw my request as minimal in the broad range of suffering they experienced each day.
All this is true, but there was no need for such disregard. According to these professionals, Sam needs: 20 minutes or more of time outside, to play on a sports team, and to be praised to have his learning issues right themselves.
It made me think immediately of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper—which if you haven’t read it, details the effects of the ‘rest cure’ for postpartum depression. The young woman is locked in a room and is forced to take complete rest to get over her illness. She finds in her psychosis that the wallpaper begins to move and speak to her. Her husband and doctor find her at the story’s end, crawling around trying to enter the wallpaper.
How many times are deep seated hurts or needs or absences are felt and pushed away because they are “inconvenient,” and do not measure highly enough in the scale of suffering? You have them don’t you? Haven’t they played a part in your life?
Something you couldn’t understand but were too embarrassed to ask about?
Being told that you wouldn’t understand anyway?
Settling for something more “suitable” to who you appeared to be?
There are so many fundamental challenges to our maturity and they occur at so many pivotal moments as we age and bend and try to reach towards the sun. It’s just that for some of us, the bough breaks instead of bending. And the resulting wound is assuaged by self-harming strategies of addiction or self-neglect.
In this age of social media, the bully on the playground is unidentifiable and the resulting hurts are even more searing. It’s not stick and stones anymore—the words are far more hurtful and burn on your brain long after they’ve been set there.
My friend and I were talking one morning about a high school initiative to allow students to take two classes online so that the children could get much needed sleep. She thought it wonderful, as did I. The other parents though? For some reason, the desire to get children rest is seen as a porthole to laziness.
They should suffer. Suffering is good. It makes them stronger. Let them take every advanced class offered even if it grinds them into pulp before the age of 18. “Well it’d be nice if he had an easy carefree time at school….”
What is happening here? What are we doing? And it isn’t the teachers, my goodness, no. They are the unsung heroes in this tale. They are the first ones shaking their head as they receive curriculum instruction and cringe at what the State Board of Education has decided is appropriate for a 9-year-old to grasp.
My eldest son came to the 6th grade with a deficit in math—because now as a 6th grader he is doing 7th grade math. Next year he will do 8th grade math as a 12-year-old, and by his 8th grade year he will do Algebra the resultant grade will follow him to high school. So he had to teach himself (with his language arts mother in tow) 2 years of math in one. He did it, and he can do it. But did he have to?
When did an “easy carefree time at school” become a bad thing?
When did learning effectively also mean pain and hardship?
When did effort become synonymous with anguish?
When did being happy become so very underrated?
I’ll throw this out there: I think it’s more important to be happy than anything else.
Because happiness will ensure success.
The aches and pains that we had—and I know we all had them, these posts have illustrated so many of my own over the past few years, we do not need to revisit them on our children to guarantee that they are successful. Look at our world now. Look at the pain here, the misunderstandings, the violence, the rage. We cannot allow another generation to inherit the same parameters that produce it. The cycle needs to stop.
Let’s address the hurts as they come, let’s show each other compassion and begin to listen, let’s rethink “average.” And let’s begin the enterprise of exceptional.
After I talked to both my husband and another good friend who shares my dismay at what all of this has come to, I sat and wondered. I went outside to work and feel the sun. I considered. Sam is working hard at average—too hard. So we will go with our original plan and get Sam the help he needs to fix the “glitch” that is holding him back to love learning, yes, with ease. Because he deserves it. He deserves the chance to open a book and be carried away by a tale so gorgeous he sees possibilities hanging like stars above his head.
He deserves to be able to look at an assignment and understand what is being asked of him and rejoice in the knowledge that he can fulfill that task without worry. He deserves to be happy. And that, is anything but average.
The glitch should not spell doom. There should be an escape from the game for every player. It can be overcome to find the incredible that is hiding just beneath it. And yes, because of having to deal with it for so long, you understand amazingly how others suffer and you swell with compassion for it. You have an innate capacity for loving everyone despite their own glitch. But it doesn’t have to define you.
“I’m sorry Sam.” I turn to face him and put down my gloves.
“Well,” I swallow and take his hand sitting on the steps to the kitchen, “I failed today. I didn’t get you the testing.”
“Oh Mommy, that’s okay.”
Sam shakes his head, “Yeah, it’s okay. Because they don’t know me, so they can’t see me. But it’s okay, because you do. Okay?”
He hugs me, and you know he’s 9 so I don’t know how many more of these I’m going to get, so I hold on just a bit more. I’m always the last one to pull away. “I’m happy Mommy. It’s going to be fine.”