Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Child From Holland, Part 2: Getting Something Out Of It.

I had no intention of making a series of A Child from Holland posts, but Foster Abba asked me an important question- "Then what happened?"- and I realized I had more to say. So here we go. As in other posts, all names that are not mine are pseudonyms.

This is something that's been brewing in the back of my mind for a few days... friendship and love... I went to a small, denominational school until I was 13. There were social pros and cons to that- I had most of the same people in my classes from Kindergarten on up, so they knew me and my walker and my Holland wooden shoes and crazy walking. They knew other things too, though, like how I had bathroom accidents and sometimes got extra "attention" in the classroom from a paraprofessional, which, as we all entered the general insanity of adolescence, just gave the kind of kids who collect ammunition new and different weapons to use against me. I'm not saying I was their only target, I was different, a sickly member of the herd worth turning on, but intellectually I was their peer, and I was supposed to "just" have CP.- Unlike the English Language Learner who was another tortured member of the class I *knew* what they were saying and doing to me, and unlike the student who had the mysterious diagnosis of "Behavioural" I didn't melt down and run from the classroom to escape. (There were days I wished I could.)

All of that is just to say that changing schools at 13 was good for me. I met new people and reinvented myself a little...including buying 5 identical pairs of pants so no one would ever know if I had to change in the middle of the day. And it worked for awhile..until one day, at 14, I was taken aside by my paraprofessional.

"Who walked you to class yesterday, Ashley?"

"Um...Annie." Annie had become a very close friend the year before, and our madcap, giggling dashes to class were commonplace, her pushing my wheelchair through the throng while I balanced a precarious tower of books and binders on my lap- hers and mine, usually 6 or 7 books in total and the corresponding binders. It had seemed a good system- my Individual Student Support Plan (my province's name for an IEP) termed it "Self Directed Peer Support." My paraprofessional was still available, but usually we left her in our wake, planning lunch or the upcoming weekend as I peered for obstacles around the teetering pile of books.

"Well, that won't be happening anymore."

"Why?" I looked around- Annie hadn't arrived in the classroom yet, and, already prone to anxiety, I began to think the worst.

"Her mother called the school yesterday and demanded to know why it was Annie's responsibility to push your chair. I have to do it now, I'm sorry. I'll see you at 9." She slipped out, a nice enough woman who I liked okay, just as Annie found her way in and took the desk next to mine.

"You could've told me!" I burst out.

"I didn't know." Annie promised, looking right at me. "Mom took me to the doctor yesterday and he asked about my screwy thumb." Annie's thumb had been broken years before and had healed strangely. It didn't hurt her, but the doctors were trying some strange things with bracing that made no sense to either of us. "He said it still isn't straightening, and asked me if there was anything strenuous I was doing. I said no, but Mom started freaking out about my pushing your chair. The doctor said it probably made no difference, but she told me today she'd called the school, I'm so sorry."


Little did I know this was essentially the end of Annie and me. Her mother had decided, plain and simple, that I was a burden. That her daughter wasn't "getting anything" out of our friendship and was being taken advantage of. As a result, Annie was no longer allowed to visit my home on the weekends or to talk on the phone. She kept assuring me- and I believe she meant it- that I had done nothing wrong, but no teenage girls' friendship can flourish without girls nights and telephone conversations...and our days of giggling in the madness of the halls were over- Once again I was picked up by my adult parapro 5 minutes before each class ended and deposited in the next one. Annie tried to accompany us, but it wasn't allowed. I was "the different one" again...

My first love's mother also had this problem. We were fine for awhile, but then it didn't matter what either of us said, there was "inequality" and "deserving better" and we drifted apart.

Now, I have Immodest-Lady...and her mother has been the most blatant of all...but gifted with maturity and romantic love, she's fought back, refusing to believe it, reassuring her mother (and me) of all the wonderful things I do for her and for our household, even though they might not be as visible as her helping me with some caregiving tasks...

But all of this leaves me wondering- Do the mothers of neurotypical "Italian" children view all friendships with such scrutiny? Do they teach their children that friendship isn't a give and take, but is, instead, an opportunity for advancement? I hope not.

I wish I could take the three mothers in the above stories- Annie's Mom, First Love's Mom, and Immodest Mom, and ask them, if they were mothers of Holland children instead, wouldn't they want cross-border friendships for their children? Wouldn't they spend nights begging The Powers that they believe in for just one person to *see* their child?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On Being From Holland

This post is meant to be sort of an expanded version of the comment I left over here at the Final Maze. I am a kid from Holland. I know that my Mom was very young when I was born, and I know that she wanted me very much, but I also know she expected me to be Italian, and there's been a grieving process around that.

See, babies, even brain damaged babies, are little bundles of potential, and the pediatrician who diagnosed me was floored by the fact that at 14 months old I was speaking and interacting, so when Mom asked for pamphlets or books on kids with CP she was told she couldn't have any- "because all of those are going to be about kids way worse than she will be." So Mom was kind of led to believe that though I was born in Holland I'd soon have a passport to Italy. And therapy, at least at first, looked like it was going to be that passport. Early physical and occupational therapy happens 3 times a week, and I had therapists who were well used to sobbing babies and didn't let that stop them from pushing me to do what they wanted me to do.

At three years old I had my first surgery, a muscle release to unbend my knobby knees and loosen my heelcords to stop my toe walking, and voila! All of a sudden my ticket to Italy seemed to be within reach: All I had to do was learn to walk! (One of the joys of being from Holland is being old enough to remember your mother's jubilant sobbing as you take your first steps)
But...maybe it was the wooden shoes... I still swayed like a ship in a gale and still fell. Often. It seemed to be enough for the people around me, though, and if I had never gone to school I might have lived my whole life in happy, funny-walking Holland.

I did turn five, though, and I did go to school, and I realised for the first time that most other people were from Italy. They didn’t know the words that were so commonplace in my world like “physio” and “walker” and “gait training” and what was more, they had *done* things that we did not do in Holland like cross the street alone and climb snowbanks and make it to the bathroom on time *all* the time. Italy started to look like a *very* cool place. Still, I comforted myself that there were cool things about Holland too, horseback riding lessons and games of Critter in the Candy among them, and...I hadn’t seen any *adults* in Holland, so surely we all must move to Italy at some magical age. I remember thinking that that age was eleven the summer I couldn’t get enough of the Full House tie in books. Stephanie Tanner could take a shower and mow the lawn. I didn’t have a lawn to mow, and didn’t care to, but a shower...

I turned eleven, and twelve, and sixteen, and still walked in a wild, crazy swaying pattern and crashed to the floor on a regular basis, and more and more I looked over the border into Italy and saw the kids I went to school with doing all their Italian things. It was hard to stare for too long, though, so I’d look around Holland... but most people I knew there didn’t venture to the border. I felt like I was in exile, not a citizen of either Italy or Holland.