Hallelujah Highway

Celebrating the Journey

Is It Time?~ Kristi

on September 3, 2014

My daughter and I, as her greatest cheerleader and guide, entered third grade three weeks ago with a darling black and white stripped dress, a matching “I Heart Nerds” Hello Kitty lunchbox, and a new pencil box overflowing with mechanical pencils and crayons. We were filled with excitement and anticipation for the challenges of third grade, which is a transitional year for elementary students. The curriculum is moving away from learning to read to reading to learn. Math is complicated by multiplication and division. There is cursive, essays, and projects.

As my daughter skipped off through the front gates of her award winning elementary school, backpack bouncing behind her, I prayed. “Please, God, bless this year. Let this year mold my daughter into who you want and need her to be. Let me be a useful instrument for this transformation as I help her navigate the waters of public school system. Bless her teacher. Bless the support staff. Bless the administration. Most importantly, bless my little girl because her heart is big, her soul is deep, and her energy is high. Amen!” With that, off I went to open my classroom door for the 200+ high school students I would serve this year.

She came home as excited as she always does about school. Since she is a talker, she rambled off things about her day at a rate of about 20 thoughts per minute. I struggled to follow the unpredictable twists and turns of the conversation and answer the random questions that popped up as she reflected upon the events of the day.

My daughter is a good student academically. She is naturally curious, quick to ask questions if she is unclear or wants further knowledge, and can whip through most work with minimal effort. She longs to please people she respects. If given clear expectations for success, my daughter will work very hard at achieving them because she has a heart of gold and wants to do the right thing.

While my daughter’s academics are strong, her behavior is her challenge. She has too much energy for one little body to contain, which leaves her jumping, leaping, flinging, flopping, and fidgeting. Impulse control is more challenging as her brain is moving so fast that there is little to no time to think about a thought or action before it happens. She moves at a pace that exhausts most people, including me, and that leaves little room for sustained periods of focus. She is a natural leader and wants people to follow; therefore, she is in a constant battle for control. She needs to feel heard. If she doesn’t feel heard, she will get louder and repeat herself over and over and over until her opinion is at least acknowledged. 

The traditional school system punishes this type of behavior because classroom control is a top priority. There are too many kids and one teacher. Conforming to “sit down and be good” norms are rewarded with awards and ribbons because instruction is easy when students are sedentary and quiet. Bodies that need to move and be stimulated are punished and shamed because they are disruptive to the educational process.

My daughter has been punished by the school system’s clip charts, recess punishments, and detentions. I reinforce these punishments at school by scolding her, taking away privileges, and by putting her on restriction because that is what a “supportive” mother does. Conversely, I reward improvements through reward charts where she earns special outings or gifts. 

She and I have worked on her behavior since she started preschool, but the improvement is minimal. The root of the problem is still there—she moves too fast, has too much energy, doesn’t think behaviors through, and is unorganized. 

All of these traits are characteristics of Attention Deficit Disorder and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, which research shows that symptoms become more evident in the upper elementary school years.                 

This well-meaning mommy has to get really honest. My daughter might have ADD/ADHD and what I have done up to this point is not working. I cannot punish the behaviors out of her. I have tried all the tools I have in my toolbox.  The reality is medication might have to be an option. 

The war has begun in my head.

On one side is my hippy, granola-side who likes zen, eats organic food, does yoga, meditates, and limits harmful chemicals.  The thought of medication makes me feel like a failure. The pharmaceutical companies’ wallets grow fatter as more and more kids, including mine possibly, are placed on “focus-enhancing” drugs. What are the long-lasting effects of these drugs on the kids’ minds and bodies? Will the alternative therapies like bio feedback and diet restrictions help avoid medication?

The other side hears my daughter internalizing the shame and saying: “I am just a bad kid who can’t do anything right” or “Everyone just blames me for things I really didn’t mean to do.” I hear the chink in the self-esteem armor and that terrifies me. As a high school teacher, I have lost too many students to decisions made out of low self-esteem. I don’t want my daughter to be a statistic and if giving her some medication helps lessen the frequency of these shameful punishments and protect her self-worth, I am on board.

A part of me wants to go into denial where hope and wishful thinking reigns. There, I can hope that this teacher will work with me to get her to a point where her maturity helps her make better decisions and that she can run around at recess enough to burn off the excess energy so focusing is easier for her. I wish with all my might that I can find the magic solution that would lessen these challenges.

So, my daughter and I had a heart-to-heart conversation. I explained that her brain is the type of brain that will make her very, very successful as an adult. She will be able to work on many projects simultaneously because her brain moves so quickly and does so with great accuracy. But, the school system is not designed for brains like hers.  They want brains that are organized, controlled, and easy to conform. The system rewards students who play within the box. 

She looked me straight in the eyes and said, “But, Mom.  I am too big for that box.”

With tears streaming down my cheeks, I said, “Yes, I know you are too big for this box. You have to learn to play in the box though, baby, because you have to go to school. We don’t have any other options.”

A part of me died in that moment.  I told my talented, intelligent, kind baby to play small to fit into an institution I belong to and perpetuate, AND I might have to medicate her to do so. 

A very jagged pill to swallow as I question: is it is time?

The initial appointment with the pediatrician has been set for September 23rd.  

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