The last year or so I have heard so many people’s secrets. I have been approached on the playground because I am the woman who shares her life freely. I am safe. Not because I am good at keeping a big, dark truth hidden, but because all my demons live on my body. I am the mom who lost her marbles in public view a couple of times last year. Casual acquaintances hear about my problems. I am pretty much without filter. So people know I have a daughter with learning issues. They share their children’s learning issues with me. In private. They ask me not to tell anyone.
What would happen if I told someone?
I know everyone is different. Someone who is not me may not get anything out of telling lots of people about the stuff that keeps them awake at night. But I also hear the fear that traps people. I hear the troubles that weighs them down. If they hold this secret too close to their soul, won’t it eat them alive? Won’t this policy of secrecy get in the way of helping their child?
Maybe I’m wrong. But I have heard so many reasons why people don’t want anyone else to know that their sweet child is struggling with an issue. I don’t want her to be teased. I don’t want other kids to think my kid is different. I don’t want him labeled; the label will follow him forever and people will treat him different.
I get these lines of logic. But here is why I don’t agree. Children are masters of picking out differences. Annie was treated differently by her classmates this year, and it wasn’t because she was wearing a shirt that said: “I don’t know my letters and numbers.” Nope, the kids knew, innately, that she was not exactly like them. By talking about her issues out loud, at home, with her all the time, we dealt with the teasing. She came to us with the taunts and how left out she felt and those lines of communication were already open because I am simply not capable of pretending everything is fine when everything is really not fine.
And where you ever teased? No? Praise the Lord; I am shocked and happy for you. But I am guessing all of us were put down, teased, degraded or made to feel completely crappy by other kids sometime during our childhood. It’s inescapable. It is what we learn to do in the face of bullying or simple taunts that is important.
And labels. I struggle with this one. I get it. Recently I saw another parent react to a label on a child she had never heard before. Previously, she never noticed this child had any issues. Now she was overly concerned about this child. I assured her the said child was fine. She is still her, just like before you knew about her issue.
But I also know labels help people who need to help your child. Would you not want your kid’s teacher to know she had dyslexia or diabetes? Would you not want a few other friends and parents to know about these labels so they could help your child when he really needed help? The principal at our school has encouraged me to have Annie tested further so we know more about how her brain works. If she has dyslexia, what is the nature of her dyslexia? This will help her teachers and tutors work with her in a more effective manner.
The main reason I don’t hold secrets in high esteem? Secrets easily become surrounded by fear, which in turn chokes us from the inside out. Not talking about something is the best way to let it fester and eat you up slowly from the inside out. If you tell your child his learning issue or condition or illness is a secret, what are you teaching your child? That all of them isn’t worthy of openness and love?
I know these ideas of mine aren’t popular. I hold my friends who have secrets in high regard. I understand where they are coming from. But I also hold a vision in my head: a day when people hear words that normally sound scary and these words are no longer scary. Why won’t diabetes, dyslexia, ADHD, Tourette syndrome sound like the bad guys? Because you will know someone with this condition. You already know someone with one of these issues. You probably love them exactly as they are. You may have no idea that she or he has this issue to contend with on a daily basis. If you did, the fear around this word would be diluted by the love you feel for this person, and the fact that you see how truly awesome this person is at her or his very core. This issue? It is part of what makes them wonderful and unique and human. Why not celebrate it a little bit louder? Why not change the negative energy around these words just a tiny bit? This is why I live out loud. That and I just love sticking my foot in my mouth. Toes sure are tasty.
Don’t worry though. Your secret is still safe with me. I understand your fear. The day I realized my shining star of a child has learning issues that make her life more difficult I felt like I had died a bit inside. It’s her light, though, that made me realize there is not reason to hide this difficulty from the world around us. She’s a rock star. A rock star with developmental delays. By speaking out loud about her to everyone around me, I have become a safe person to talk with about your kid’s issue. And I am more than happy to help you slay a bit of the fear and feel a bit more at ease with your difficulty. It’s like a line from a favorite poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver: “Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” We will have a cup of coffee, too. I’m guessing a pastry is in order as well.