Friday, September 4, 2015

I dash dreams now to avoid heartache later.

Most of the time I don’t think about the things Sydney cannot do. Most of the time I am just thankful for the things she can do. As a matter of fact, I do not think Sydney regularly thinks about the things she cannot do either, but is also content about the things she is good at. But sometimes….. Sometimes it becomes quite evident that she is unable to do things her peers easily master and she sees it. She sees it and it hurts her. When it happens there is often nothing I can do or say to make it less painful.  

There was a time when Sydney was in preschool, struggling to learn colors and simple skills her peers had long since mastered. Back then I wondered if she would ever read or be able to do simple math. She has come so very far. I try to be grateful for what she is achieving and not disappointed about what she is not. It’s a fine line I walk though because I do not want to stop challenging Sydney and become complacent. I have to remember she would NOT have learned to read or do simple math had I stopped trying to teach her. And so I try to challenge her without making the goals loftier than she can achieve.

Last year Sydney was in the fourth grade. Fourth graders in our district spend a lot of their music class learning to play the recorder. I am sure using the recorder is beneficial for lots of reasons. The students learned how to read music. They were taught about rhythm and how to count measures. It was a lot of fun for them. The first song they tackled was Hot Cross Buns. And they went on to learn many more. And then there was a concert. They played some of the songs they knew that night. When I say “they” and “them” above I mean all the fourth graders…. EXCEPT Sydney. Sydney had finally mastered the first song Hot Cross Buns in time for the concert but that was all. She just held her recorder and pretended to play the rest of them while her classmates whistled away. And she knew. She knew she was the only one on the stage holding a recorder who could not play the songs. No matter how hard she had tried and how much she wanted it she was unable to memorize the fingerings or the order of the notes. Part of the time, even throughout the song she did know, she was not able to keep the holes completely covered well with her fingers so the recorder made shrill squeaking noises instead of the tones it should. During the time leading up to the concert Sydney would often tell me her classmates asked her why she could not yet play the easy song. They did not understand why the things that came easy to them did not come easy to Sydney. I think it is all about the thing called executive function I've mentioned before. Playing music on an instrument takes planning and reading ahead and remembering what comes next. Those things do not come easy to Sydney. How can I explain that to her classmates? How can I ask them to stop asking Sydney, "Why can't you do this? Everyone else in the class can do it." 

The whole experience with the recorder was pretty humbling for us and I was so glad it was over. But I knew it was not REALLY over. Because the recorder is used to prepare the students for band. In the fifth grade, the kids decide if they want to be in the band and what instrument they will play. This summer I touched on the subject several times. I casually mentioned to Sydney that SOME fifth graders would be in band and some would not. I told her she would be one of the ones who were not in the band. I did not make it sound like she would be missing out on anything great, just doing something different. She did not argue. Then school started. The music teacher began talking about instruments and introducing the students to them and allowing them to touch them. And the excited fifth graders all began chattering about band and instruments and Sydney came home telling me of their excitement. I reminded her she would not be taking band class. I gently reminded her how hard it was for her to learn just one song on the recorder. She remembered. But oh how she wants to try again. This time with a much harder instrument. We’ve had several conversations about it together each time her conceding seeming to understand she will be doing something “different” than band. On the way home from school today she once again got into the car chattering about how great it would be to be in the band. She announced. “I know just what trumpet I want to play in the band! It is the flute!” Of course I smiled at her gaffe but was saddened by her unrealistic expectation. Her sisters immediately jumped in with things like, “Band isn’t that fun!” and “Singing in the choir at school is more fun than band.”

Even if I pacified Sydney by allowing her to join the band and I bought her a flute or a trumpet or even a drum, it would only be a short-lived happiness. As the other kids picked up the notes and fingerings and learned what the band teacher wanted from them, she would fall behind. The other kids would notice. Sydney would notice. So, gently telling her that band is not for her may be painful now it is much easier on everyone involved than setting her up for failure. That is what I have to keep telling myself. I dash dreams now to avoid heartache later. 

Note: Sydney's disability is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. For more about that click here: The F in FAS does not stand for Fun


  1. I understand the feeling. In 6th grade at my school everyone had to take band or choir. I knew band was not for me. My brother taught himself to play the Star Wars theme at age 3 on the piano (though my brother does not have Autism or any other disorder, he's just good at EVERYTHING... I really need to renegotiate that deal) whereas even with his help Winnie the Pooh was out of my range. So I go into choir... only problem is my voice was only capable of Frankie Vallie range singing. Also I could only remember the lyrics to 4 songs at a time. Our concerts featured 8. So I learned half of every song instead of fully remembering ANY of them. Then the bright idea came down from the top. Make the kids learn dance moves too. I spent most days in class trying to choke back tears because I knew if I cried I'd just be bullied on top of being painfully (and rather forcefully) reminded that my brain has short circuits few others have.