I had some specific hopes about Dylan’s 5th grade experience that unfortunately did not come to be. It’s been a pretty tough year in many ways, a lot of negative feedback from a teacher who does not understand that Dylan is not forgetful or inattentive or easily distracted on purpose. He definitely needs to work on putting forth his best effort, but it’s become clear that he’s facing a bit of an uphill battle when it comes to a standard class environment.

I now know how difficult it is to go from “Hmm, I think there’s an issue here” to “And now we have a diagnosis.” The process began back in November with a pediatrician appointment and stretched on until April, when the long wait for an evaluation came to be.

This is one of those topics that is not entirely mine to talk about and I’m simply unsure what the boundaries are, but in general terms Dylan is wired differently than some kids and that makes certain things a challenge. He is gifted with a staggering memory for details when it comes to things he’s interested in — I mean, he can tell you the final score for just about any basketball game that has ever occured, or the exact outfit he wore during a special dinner on our first family trip to Hawaii — but give him a list of three things to do and he’s got the last one wrong while the first two are long forgotten.

His executive functioning was described by a doctor as an inability (or at least a major difficulty) to categorize things in his brain in what’s typically thought of as an efficient way. It’s an exhaustive process for him to access and assemble information towards problem solving because he’s not grouping things together or applying certain logic like this + that = this.

To his teacher’s eyes, he’s not trying, but his brain is actually having to work extra hard for what appears to be minimum effect.

At this point, my goal for 5th grade is survival with as much self esteem protected as possible. Dylan’s greatest challenge is not believing in himself, a situation that has been exponentially worsened by a year of feeling like a failure at school.

Looking ahead to middle school, he’ll have a 504 in place and hopefully a chance to really sit down and get his teachers aligned with making sure he has what he needs to navigate 6th grade. Keeping materials organized, keeping track of assignments, staying on task — it’s all going to be difficult. We’ll help as much as we can, of course, but it’s largely a giant question mark in my head right now. Does he need accomodations? Tutoring? Counseling? All of the above, none of the above?

Academic success for Dylan is likely going to look different than what it looks like for Riley, and that’s a tough place for Dylan to be too. He constantly compares himself to Riley’s straight-A report cards and it breaks my heart. How can I continue to lift Riley up for all the things he’s great at, while helping Dylan understand that he has his own unique traits and they are no less valuable?

I want Dylan to realize what an incredibly special, sweet, funny, smart, and interesting kid he is. I want him to know it doesn’t matter what kind of grades he gets, as long as he’s trying hard. I want him to feel more confidence and more curiosity about his fascinating capabilities.

Most of all, I want him to know he’s not defined by a diagnosis, or one teacher’s close-minded and frankly crappy assessment of who he is as a person. He is so many things, a great complex assortment of wondrous thoughts and characteristics. He deserves much better than he got this year, and once again, I find myself hoping for a better set of circumstances next time.

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There are so many oddball things about getting older. Ever-deepening ridges in my previously-smooth fingernails. A widening midsection no amount of boat poses, planks, or crunches can whittle. The need to peer at nearly everything now: the days of an un-narrowed gaze seem to be behind me (not that I can see them). An increasing fondness, which some might call an obsession but what do THEY know I am only here trying to SPARK SOME DAMN JOY, for cats. And, not going to lie, certain cat-themed clothing items.

Time seems to be both speeding up and stretching like one of Dali’s melting clocks. When I anticipate things, like upcoming vacations, it’s with the bittersweet knowledge that in the blink of an eye it will be over and done, another memory added to what now seems to be a staggering collection. I was a child, a teenager, a young adult, and now I am square in the midst of my forties; I have already lived a long and good life, it seems almost incomprehensible that there may be — if I am lucky — many more years yet to come, and then there will be so many memories, and plenty of them, eventually all, will simply be lost. It feels impossible and miraculous and tragic, all at once.

You know that Mary Oliver poem, right? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? I think about that a lot these days. I sometimes have this fear that I’m not doing enough, I’m not making my mark in any sort of culturally-celebrated way — I’m not earning a lot of money, I’m not climbing the corporate ladder, I’m not running a business or topping a bestseller list or even stirring up small online controversies over whether or not waffles are snacks.

(For the record: OF COURSE THEY ARE. What sort of food Grinch considers an Eggo a full meal, is what I’d like to know.)

That fear comes from somewhere other than my true heart of hearts, though. It’s the slippery thinking that comes from comparing myself to others and forever coming up short, that toxic sinkhole I can’t seem to avoid stepping into, over and over and over.

If I have not yet learned how to avoid it, I at least see it for what it is, here in my middle age. It’s less about the scrabbling, exhausting labor of trying to climb out and more about changing my perspective: Ah, it turns out I wasn’t in a REAL sinkhole at all! Maybe that is a bit of the wisdom I was told eventually arrives along with the lip wrinkles.

I think what largely defines this season of life for me, even more than the ongoing vanity crisis of visible decay, is an internal call for meaning. What is truly rewarding, what brings me joy, what makes me feel most myself? Oh, I have spent so much time worshipping false idols.

The very first hospice patient I saw was alert but somewhat unmoored in time, she repeated certain memories. Something that clearly stood out in her mind was seeing a flock of cardinals on a snow-covered tree, she told me about that during many visits. “How beautiful they were,” she would say, her eyes far away. “Those red birds, in all that white.”

She has never left me but I always remember those specific words when I’m engaged in one of my very favorite activities: lying in my backyard, with my face tilted to the sun (more wrinkles!) and all the small active noises of the world happening around me. Lawnmowers, birdsong, the rustle of wind in the birch leaves. A cat curled by my side, the tiny dot of a plane overhead.

It’ll never make for a thrilling obituary (“She could really put a lawn chair to good use!”) but those moments of rest and meditation have such meaning. I try, these days, to be aware of the good things life has to offer, and never mind whether they seem important to anyone but me.

In the end, maybe all we have are the birds in the trees. They are enough. They are, maybe, the entire point.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

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