I’ve been counting the days to this moment. I find myself seated uncomfortably in a temporary classroom next to the school cafeteria; the hum of the air conditioning unit drowns out the jubilant shouts of children at play just beyond the door. The folding chair is hard, the cushion worn thin, but the cool air is a welcomed relief from the hot, muggy conditions we’ve had all week.
Next to me at the fold-out table, my youngest daughter’s teacher sits, legs crossed, eyes facing down into her notes. She’s a kind woman, but definitely the strictest teacher my little one has had in her three years of elementary school. Across from me are the smiling faces of two women I have seen around campus for many years, but have not yet had the privilege of officially knowing. Today, however, I have a reason to meet them and learn their first names. Today we’ve come together to talk about my daughter and how we can best meet her educational needs.
To be honest, I cried right before coming here. I always knew my daughter was different. I mean, aren’t all children different? I sit confused, while my heart and my mind are in total conflict. I’ve set out to raise my children to embrace the uniqueness of others and to be pleased and content that they are who God created them to be. But right here, as I sit in this room, I realize that I’m here because my child is different—she doesn’t learn like the other kids. As I try to find out why, I feel my soul tearing in two. I want her to be her own person, yet part of me wants her to bend to the ways of society and to be able to succeed under their rules. I feel like a horrible mom if I move one way or the other, but today I have to make a choice. I have to choose whether or not to pursue an educational evaluation. I have to choose whether or not there will be documentation saying she needs accommodations – documentation saying she doesn’t fit the “norm.”
I cry because I know the beautiful and brilliant girl she is, and sometimes the world just can’t see it. I cry because she has never fit in a box, and yet I feel like I’m trying to shove her in one because her life would be so much easier. I cry because what if the results tell me that she can never fit in that box. I know that she’s not like the others in some ways. I know I will love her unconditionally with all my heart and soul, but I’m scared for her. I’m scared for the labels to be put on her. The labels that could help her or hurt her. I worry how the others will look at her and judge her because she is different. I wonder if the label she receives will hold her back, or if she will even hold herself back knowing what others say about her. I’m scared that her world will change once we know.
But for now, I can only wonder because I’m stuck here… between now and knowing. The knowing comes in 60 days when the evaluations and interviews are completed. When we reconvene. When we find out just what makes her different from the others.
The woman across from me explains to me things I’ve already discussed with her teacher just a week and a half ago. My daughter’s test scores are low. She has been getting remedial help with her reading for over a year now. Her writing samples show letter reversals and minimal input in the allotted time. She falls just below standards in math. I already know she’s like me and doesn’t test well. My mind begins to wander, much like my daughter’s does apparently. The words “accommodations” and “special education” snap me back to the chilled room, and my heart rate quickens. Did I break my daughter? The thought looms as the women continue to talk, and I continue to mechanically nod my head, trying to comprehend the words directed towards me, but my mind drifts again. I flash back to the radiology department when health issues required me to get abdominal x-rays…twice. I recall laying on the cold, steel table staring at the signs as I held my breath for each image: Tell the technician if you are, or suspect you are pregnant. At six months, I was so obviously pregnant and fought back tears as I prayed protection over my unborn child, unable to look the technicians in the eyes for fear of their judgment. Now as this miraculous child marches on towards her eighth birthday, I can’t help but wonder: Is this all my fault?
They ask if I want to pursue the educational evaluation. I already know my decision, but how will I feel when I finally know? Will I let a label change the way I look at my child? The way I feel about my child? No, I tell myself. It may change a few things here and there, but it will never change how I feel about her. Just as the labels this world puts on me will never change the way God feels about me. I take a breath, refusing to acknowledge the tears stirring just below the surface, and sign the permission form to allow them to go ahead with it, allowing the process to be set in motion, allowing myself to get one step closer to knowing.
As we conclude our meeting, I thank the team of teachers and administrators for their time and commitment to her well-being, and my little one emerges from a once closed door with a smile so broad, I can’t help but share it with her. In her outstretched hands, she eagerly holds out her drawing journal, revealing a beautiful pencil sketch of a forest she’d been working on during the entire meeting time. The intricate details and careful attention to each creature, plant, and person in the picture take my breath. In that moment, I see those same delicate intricacies in my own daughter: her joy, her playfulness, her curiosity, her pure love—the beautiful pieces of her that had been crafted so meticulously as we lay with the Creator on that cold, steel table. She’s perfect. She is my child. And as I take her hand, I inhale God’s peace. She is His, and she is good.
While this new chapter in her life is so uncertain, and I sit waiting for it to unfold, I am comforted by these solid truths: I have a daughter who I love unconditionally for all eternity, no matter how she compares to the other kids, and I have a Father who loves me unconditionally for all eternity, no matter how I compare to other moms. When the knowing comes, we will face it together. With faith and courage, we will stand strong knowing that we are beautiful, unique daughters of God, created perfectly for the plans He has for us.
Jennifer was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she still lives with her husband and three children. She enjoys exploring her island home whether its a trip to the beach, a hike in the mountains, or browsing the titles at the local library. An avid book reader, car karaoke-ist, and Netflix binger, Jenn also loves to pour into the preteen ministry at her home church. Peppermint Mochas and Chai Lattes are her fuels of choice, but given the opportunity, she’d never pass up a good burger, milkshake, and fries. You can catch up with Jenn on Instagram, her favorite social media channel, or on her website. She loves meeting new people from all over the world!