Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Letter of Anxiety

I have three children.  Two of those children have graduated and moved on.  Our youngest, Jeremiah, is currently in the 8th grade.  Today in the mail we received what I call the "letter of anxiety".  It is the end of the Trimester grade letter from school.  The letter of anxiety can also be a mid-term grade letter.  So why is it the letter of anxiety?  I'm glad you asked!

I was never a "great" student in school.  I believe part of the reason was that I was not all that motivated to learn.  I just didn't really care all that much!  At least not until High School.  During grade school I was also part of what appeared to be an experiment.  We were allowed to "learn at our own pace".  The problem with this method is that my pace was slow.  Painfully slow.  Like I said earlier, I didn't care.  By the end of 5th grade, I was still in a 4th grade math book. (The math books back then all carried a different design on the cover signifying what grade level the book was.)

For the 6th grade, my parents took me out of the private school I had been attending and sent me to a public school.  The first day of school is typically difficult on a new student.  You don't know the school or where anything is.  You many times don't know anyone so you feel like an outsider.  And for me, I was mortified at the thought of the teacher handing out math books and handing me, a 6th grader, a 4th grade math book.  I can still see myself sitting there when the teacher went over to the math books and started handing them out.  He got to me and gave me a 6th grade math book!  I thought, "Don't they know?"  "Did someone not tell them?"  A great wave of relief fell over me.

During the years of 4th and 5th grade, I knew I wasn't doing well and would get scolded by teachers and would get scolded, spanked and grounded at home for poor school work.  Looking back, I recall the scoldings, but I don't recall getting a lot of praise.  I don't blame my parents.  I think they did the best they knew how.  A lot of parents of my generation raised their kids the way they were raised.  With an iron fist.  Kind of a "the beatings will continue until morale improves" mentality.  I knew they loved me, but I think they sincerely didn't know how until after I was an adult.  Praise was not showered on children.

The toughest years for me in school were the Junior High Years.  I was overweight, had a poor self esteem and not a lot of friends.  I struggled to get passing grades.  I found myself imploding as a person.  I was very self conscious about my looks.  My parents would buy me clothes that were not flattering so I would tend to wear the same clothing over and over.  If I found something that I felt OK in, I would continually wear it.  Nike?  Adidas?  Not for me!  I got the Target brand shoes that hurt 5 minutes after putting them on. Pretty much spelled "DORK".

Combine these issues with my timidity and poor learning skills and it spells disaster.  In comes the dreaded "letter of anxiety".  Knowing when the mid-terms would be sent out, I would make sure I was the first one to get to the mailbox every day, looking for that tell tale envelope from the school.  Inevitably, a letter would be there.  I would open it to see which class or teacher it came from.  I would then hide the letter.  I learned it was best to hide the letter so that it would not get crushed in case the teacher asked for it to be signed and returned.  I found that most teachers either didn't care or forgot about them, but every once in a while, a teacher would ask me about it.  Then came the moment of truth.  To bring the letter to my parents.  The letter that said I was failing, or in danger of failing a class.  It was worst when there was more than one.

It was sad that I was afraid of my parents.  Mostly I guess I was afraid of my dad.  He did rule with an iron fist.  He was pretty no nonsense.  Now that I am older, things make a lot more sense than they did back then.  He had a pretty rough life and wasn't afforded a lot of love.  Like I mentioned earlier, I don't blame him.  Nor do I hold a grudge.

I feel like Bill Cosby here when I say, "I told you that story to tell you this one".  I had forgotten about the letter of anxiety until my son got into middle school.  Now the letter of anxiety comes again.  Only this time, the anxiety is not focused on me but rather, my son.  You see, he was diagnosed with Autism near the end of 3rd grade.  He learns things differently than the average person.  He has difficulty processing information.  It's hard to explain, but I will try.  Take your average word problem in math class.  You would read the problem, reason it out and complete the problem.  Jeremiah would read the problem and it would not make any sense.  Then he would just look at, get frustrated and quit.  However, if someone is there and can reword the same problem, he will get it!  He is a smart kid.  He just learns differently.

The other problem is the emotional side of Autism.  Autistic kids have a difficult time dealing with their emotions.  Things get out of sync and they tend to melt down.  Jeremiah has a terrible problem with this for a number of years.  He has gotten much, much better.  Emotions can be a tough thing for any teenager, but is multiplied for a teenager with Autism.

This year has been pretty good, but as always, there is some struggle.  The struggle this year occurred about mid year with one of his friends.  It seems his friend, who also has Autism, liked to push Jeremiah's buttons.  I guess he thought it was funny.  It got to the point where a teacher called me to discuss a plan to figure out what we could do because it was distracting other students.  Thankfully, it looks like Jeremiah has been able to overcome this issue.

So today I walked down to the mailbox and what was there waiting for me?  The letter.  Staring back at me all the way from the mailbox to the kitchen.  All those fears of my youth come flooding back, only this time, hoping that my son is doing well.  Part of me wants to open it on the walk back and another part of me wishes I would never have to open another one these letters as long as I live.  I get in the kitchen and open the letter.  Sure enough, it was the end of Tri 2.  And Jeremiah is doing AWESOME!

I know as parents we are not to compare our children and Julie and I really do our best at that.  I think so far, we have done pretty well, but I can't help the pride and relief I feel when he does well.  Life can be so hard sometimes and as a parent you want so much for your kids that you will do whatever you can to help them.  I never got choked up over the grades my daughters brought home.  I do now.  I am a very proud father.

I guess the next step for me is to get over this anxiety.  So, how do I do that exactly?

1 comment:

  1. Great story Larry! And I am so happy and proud for you, Julie, & most of all Jeremiah that he is doing so well this year!

    As you so eloquently stated, it hurts so badly to see your children struggle with something.

    I wish I could tell you how to get rid of the anxiety, but I don't think it is possible. Just enjoy the good times and let those memories help you navigate the tough times.

    God bless you and your family my friend!