Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sydney, Age Six

Once in a while something triggers an old memory that I had all but forgotten, something I would have blogged about back then if I had been blogging at the time. Tonight a comment from a Facebook friend triggered one of those memories. I will always associate this Facebook friend with this particular event.... It was the last day of first grade for Sydney, which coincided with the closing of our small community’s school. It had been quite a year for everyone involved in the education of Sydney as we all tried to manage her behaviors that come with having Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Sydney’s first grade teacher was extremely talented and had taught much of the year with Sydney wrapped around her legs, literally. Sydney’s teacher and I had asked many times for increased services for Sydney without the results we hoped for. Through no fault of her own Sydney was not able to behave herself. There was no keeping her in her seat. She spent most of her day wandering the room and pestering the other students. There was no amount of discipline and no incentive program that could help Sydney control her impulses at the age of six and she was not yet on a medication that made a real difference.

That last day of school there was to be an assembly to hand out awards, recognize students and staff, and say goodbye to our small community school. Emotions were running high and tears were flowing. Patrons were both sad and angry because our school was closing. A large crowd gathered in our small school’s gymnasium. Teachers were seated in chairs at the front of the crowded building, while approximately eighty students from grades one through five were seated on the floor. Parents and community members sat in rows of chairs or stood, and the speeches and awards began. Almost immediately Sydney began to wiggle and I began to sweat. What were they thinking sitting her in the midst of all those children without an adult? Sydney’s wiggles turned to bouncing and swaying back and forth. Next, she was putting her hands on the children close to her and trying to engage them in a regular game of tag as they swatted at her like a gnat that could not be dissuaded. I was sick to my stomach. I could not reach her or get her attention without creating a bigger scene than she was making. The teachers were also unable to get to her easily without moving a lot of students. Then, just when I thought I could not be more embarrassed, Sydney began crawling around, weaving in and out of the children, distracting them and causing them to have to shift and move as she crawled around them and over their laps. The seconds felt like minutes to me and I shifted in my seat unsure of what to do. I was wishing the floor would open up and swallow me. I recall hoping that everyone was remembering that I had six OTHER children that DID know how to sit still and they were not judging my parenting on the behavior of my youngest child. I desperately wished I could whisper to the person sitting next to me, “Remember, Sydney was neglected for the first year of her life and she has many excuses for her behavioral issues. The Smiths are really good people. Pass it on.”

I was hoping that Sydney would eventually crawl over to the edge of that crowd. Maybe an adult would be brave enough to grab her and put her in a headlock until I could get out of the crowded seating where I was confined and take possession of my little angel. But as luck would have it, Sydney wormed her way further and further from me, toward the front of the gym jostling children all along the way. And then she was UNDER the chairs the teachers were sitting in, slipping between the legs of one chair after another, right up front where every eye was focused. If anyone had missed Sydney’s performance amongst the children, they surely were not missing it now. I cannot remember now how many adults tried to coax Sydney out from under their chairs as she squirmed her way down the line. The librarian, Lisa Myers, who had a great relationship with Sydney and genuinely liked her for who she was, lured Sydney out from under the chairs and onto her lap. While I was trying to teleport a message to Lisa that went something like, “Get a vice grip on her or she’ll squirm right out of your arms and escape!” this gentle lady was holding six-year-old Sydney lovingly, cuddling her, whispering softly to her, rubbing her back, smiling down at her with genuine affection, and keeping her calm and quiet. When that assembly was over I couldn’t get to Lisa fast enough. I thanked her and I have thanked her again since that day. Lisa did not just rescue the children that Sydney was distracting that day. She did not just help the adults to refocus on the speaker instead of focusing on the chaos my little girl was causing. Lisa showed me an example that I will never forget. She picked up a child that many of the adults in the room (myself included) probably wanted to take out and paddle. And instead of frowning at her, sternly talking to her, or telling her how disappointed she was in her behavior, Lisa lavished Sydney with affection and smiles.

There are two morals to this story…

The first being: The adults in Sydney’s life have often expected more of her than she can give. That day we sat her in the middle of a crowd of children, without an adult to directly supervise, or medication, and expected her to behave like her peers. When Sydney was unable to behave as her peers, I became embarrassed and I was ready to punish her, or at the very least lecture her. Sydney was doing the best that Sydney could do that day. Lisa recognized that. I love the quote by Albert Einstein, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

And the second: Lisa did not know how deeply her kindness toward Sydney would touch me. We can be sure we have influence on the people around us. Whether it is good influence or bad influence is for each of us to determine. When we leave our homes each day we do not know what kind of lesson we might teach someone. You never know who is watching and what impact your example will have on them. The ripples in the water sometimes go far. It takes only minutes to create a great long-lasting memory. It also only takes a minute to wreck someone's whole day or worse. 

So there you have it. The old memory was triggered yesterday when Lisa told me that my kids reflect my hard work on their behalf and that I am a great mom. What she did not know is this: Once in a while when I am ready to throw my hands up in the air, jump up and down, and holler at my little ADHD princess, I think of Lisa and how gentle she was with Sydney that day and instead of the jumping and hollering I am able to pick her up and hug her instead.

For more about Sydney, read Teaching Sydney (Or Trying To)

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  1. I love this story and how Lisa's reaction affected you. I think I will carry a little of this story with me as I try to remember the same thing with regards to my ASD children.

  2. What an awesome lesson to learn! Bethany and I have found ourselves in the same situation as you and Sydney did that day! I've made a lot of mistakes trying to control Bethany's behavior. I've learned the hard way that gentle, positive, non-violent discipline is the kindest and best way to go!

  3. Bless them both, and you, all wonderful humans. I read something really interesting about ADHD the other day that posited that moving about is an attempt to concentrate - there's a bit of the brain in ADHD that needs constant stimulation or it drives the kids crazy, it can be done with medication or by literally moving about. I haven't read all your blog entries, but I hope you find (found?) something that works xx

    1. We have found a combination of two medications that have literally changed our lives. On those two medications Sydney is able to concentrate and learn. I believe you are right about the need to move. I have heard that as well. Thanks for the interest in my blog!!