A Sense of Belonging

“Giving rights to one group doesn’t take away from the people that have the rights already. Everyone can be a part of our world.”

~#2’s commentary during the marriage equality debate

Rally in Rotunda

Yesterday #2 and I biked to the capitol (Phy. Ed….check) to see and participate in the rally for marriage equality.  We talk a lot about civil rights and social justice at home, so seeing this historic moment was a good fit.

#2 has always had a deep sense of fairness.  Sometimes this is a wonderful trait, like when he expresses and will work for his deep sense of social justice and civil rights…but sometimes his deep sense of fairness is not helpful, such as when he is dealing with his siblings!

I have always wondered where this burning desire for social justice comes from.  Because of his dyslexia, he is incredibly sensitive to the world around him visually, auditorily, and emotionally.  His brain takes everything in and he has a very difficult time filtering things out.  He is normally the first to react when he senses something is not right.

I just started the book Reading David: A Mother and Son’s Journey through the labyrinth of Dyslexia by Lissa Weinstein, Ph.D.  She is describing the process she went through to have her son diagnosed and it’s strikingly similar to my journey.  The interesting part is that her son has written part of the book and talks about how he always knew he was different from people around him.  I asked #2 if he always knew he was different, and he said he did, with tears in his eyes.  I can’t help but wonder if he has known how different his brain worked from others because of how sensitive he is.

Yesterday #2 was able to see our democracy in action.  He saw people of all walks of life participating in a historic day.  It was a great lesson in civics.  He noticed that just because your have a clerical collar on, that does not define what side of the issue you are on (yesterday, more times than not it meant you were there to support marriage equality).  He witnessed many people holding signs expressing their joy of finally belonging to part of our society, the institution of marriage.  It was striking how many people were there that, by appearance only, many times don’t fit into the norm of our society.  We saw many same sex couples showing affection to each other, other people with fluorescent hair, people holding signs expressing their bisexuality, etc.  How long have some of these people felt like they had to hide their identity?

A main theme of the debate yesterday was a sense of belonging.  People in same sex relationships were asking to belong.  They were asking for a tolerance of differences.  They want to openly be themselves and able to express their love in the same way that opposite sex couples do, through a publicly recognized marriage.  They want society to accept their identity and who they are.  This debate took a lot of courage from people who have been labeled as “different” their entire lives and told they don’t belong.  Everyone wanted to be included in something that for to long has been for “us” and not “them.”

Yesterday, everyone belonged to society.  People from all walks of life came together in a sign of unity and acceptance.  #2 was amazed at all the people and loved being surrounded by the acceptance, hugs, music, love and joy.  As I watched him beam I realized that a sense of belonging is what he has asked for his entire life too.  He’s always known he was different, and it was pointed out to him continuously throughout his time in public school.  While the class was reading and writing he was told, in so many words, “this is not for you” and put in front of a computer to play a game. He was taught that his dyslexia was a barrier for his life and a reason he would never belong, instead of the gift that it is.  He was even taught that the thing that makes his life so difficult at times, dyslexia, is something that the school district denies is real and refuses to discuss.

He wants to belong.  He wants to be accepted for his differences.  He wants to be praised for his creativity, ability to care for animals and deep compassion for other people, not ashamed of his low standardized test scores.  I can only hope that someday he will feel this acceptance when he re-enters a public school.

I am filled with gratitude towards the MN legislators who voted for acceptance, tolerance, social justice, fairness and love.  What a wonderful thing that our children will grow up in a world where people of different sexual orientations can all experience the joy of a marriage.  Yesterday we honored the golden rule….may that continue into other areas of our society.

Complicating Factors

It was too hot.

It was too cold

I didn’t sleep enough.

I dressed too warm.

I started too cold.

I didn’t eat enough.

I ate too much.

I should have had a gel.

I definitely SHOULD NOT have had that gel.

The coarse was too hilly.

The coarse was too flat.

It seemed like we ran uphill, against the wind THE ENTIRE TIME.

There weren’t enough water stations.

I trained too much.

I didn’t train enough.

It’s the wrong time of the month.

I’m still slightly injured.

I injured myself 1/2 way through and gutted out the rest.

There are a lot of complicating factors to running races.  Conditions never seem to be perfect and a runner needs to adjust to the physical conditions around them.  Last spring my goal was to run a 1/2 marathon in 1:40 in order to get into corral 1 for the Twin Cities Marathon.  It didn’t happen.  There was always a complicating factor.  When I finally thought everything was working in my favor and I was going to run a very fast course I had run before….I injured myself.  It’s always something.

While #2 was being reassessed by the school district I had a complicating factor which caused me to not pay enough attention to the process.  My dad was going through a health crisis.  He was diagnosed with end stage heart failure that winter and had an LVAD implanted about a month later.  I was overwhelmed and felt pulled in two different directions.

The reason I share this information is not to gain sympathy, but to illustrate that there is always a complicating factor for families.  On paper I was the perfect parent to navigate the convoluted system of special education and get the best services for my child.  I did my college psychology research on learning disabilities, I worked in Special Ed., I was a 1st grade teacher, I felt comfortable with education jargon, I had a close and trusting relationship with the classroom teacher, I was a stay at home parent with flexibility to attend meetings, we had the ability to get an evaluation by a private professional, I had a strong support system of family and friends, etc.  However, I was also dealing with another stressful situation and that lead me to drop the ball on #2 for a couple months and trust that the school was doing their job.

It makes me sick to my stomach to think that other families are going through the same assessments and IEP meetings every day….well, the “lucky” children who’s learning disability is alarming enough.  Other children are just getting pushed aside and allowed to fall between the cracks (this was the tale of #1 before we moved him to a new school).  What about the children who don’t have parents as well versed in dyslexia?  What about the parents who are working 2-3 jobs to get food on the table?  What about the parents who don’t speak English?  Can’t afford an outside assessment?  Do not have a strong social support network? Have never heard the word dyslexia? Had a negative educational experience themselves so accepts when their child fails as normal?

This weekend the New York Times had a Piece “No Rich Child Left Behind.” While reading it I couldn’t help wondering what role dyslexia plays in the equation of the middle and lower class not performing as well in school as the upper class.  It is estimated that 5-10% of the population is dyslexic.  Many people believe 20% of the population is dyslexic. It does not affect 5-10% of affluent children who are able to afford outside tutoring and private schools, but 5-10% of the entire population.  Up to 10% of any classroom could be children with dyslexia, and our school district doesn’t recognize it and is not equipped to teach these children in the most efficient and effective way we know.  If a child requires a special method to learn, such as the Wilson Reading System, in my district you are told to figure that out yourself, even if your child qualifies for an IEP.  My district has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country.  Dyslexia is not the main reason for our achievement gap, but I do believe it is a complicating factor.  How many children out there are suffering with a learning disability and our schools are not equipped to help them?

My kids are fortunate.  They were born into a family with resources.  I have the knowledge, skill and financial ability (because of my husband’s job) to homeschool and tutor them individually with curriculum designed for children with dyslexia.  This is not most people’s reality.  Our situation is still difficult and we are stretched very thin at times, just like many families.  We are not an affluent family, but we are definitely not poor.  We have material and non-material resources and I was still unable to muster the energy to navigate through the educational system and figure out how to get help for #1 and #2 so they could learn and have the confidence to face dyslexia.

Our society needs to start recognizing dyslexia and do a better job of teaching these children.  We can do something about this.  It will always be a complicating factor, but it shouldn’t be the reason children fail.

For children with dyslexia, it’s time to

slow down,

get better form,

rethink the goals,


become stronger,

believe in yourself,

and get back on track…..

Monster Dash 2011

just like injured runner.

Imagine the possibilities if we could help children with dyslexia before they failed.

All children deserve the chance to soar.