I was eight years old the first time she visited my daydreams. I gave her a name that day in my little yellow bedroom, a name which means ‘tower of strength.’ I dreamt of her again in my twenties. She reached out her arms to me, across the darkness, across the stillness, across the middle of the night.
When the doctor told us we might never have children, I hung on to the vision. I had seen her. I had named her and she was going to be mine. One beautiful August day she was. Within moments of her birth, I could hear the delivery room nurses saying, “Huh, I’ve never seen a baby do that before.” With practically her first breath she proclaimed that she was different.
I had it all planned out. She would stay home with me until she started public kindergarten. Then I would be a room mother and bake cupcakes and plan parties. I might even be president of the PTA. By the time she was two, I realized that my plan was going to need a little revision. She wasn’t natural and comfortable in her interactions with other children. I decided that she might benefit from Mother’s Day Out two days a week.
I found a wonderful program where I could keep her new little brother in his sling while I taught next door to her classroom. She had a chance to learn new things from new people but I was right around the corner if she needed me. Seeing her in a class full of two-year-olds made it even more clear how different she was. By this age, she was reading over fifty words and yet she had difficulty with some of the simplest classroom routines. I decided that she needed a program more tailored to her special needs, so I started my own preschool.
I was both headmistress and lead teacher. My church donated the building and the utilities. My husband donated our supplies and materials. Without those expenses, I was able to keep a ratio of five children for every teacher. We were also able to provide scholarship slots for children living in low-income housing. It proved to be an ideal environment for my daughter. Even though she continued to lose control in certain situations, I still planned for her to start public kindergarten right on schedule. I still saw PTA President in my future.
That summer, we moved to another state that is not known for its public school system. Fortunately, we found the private school of my dreams. Every child in this school was in two plays each year. Every child learned to swim and how to ride a horse. The third graders each had a garden plot. The teachers truly valued diversity. The curriculum was a year advanced in each grade level. Every student, including incoming Kindergarteners, had to pass an entrance exam. Despite her August birthday, she passed with flying colors. In fact, they later told me that she was able to read the teacher’s manual. She thrived in such a challenging but supportive environment.
Unfortunately, when she was halfway through first grade, we were transferred back to Texas. I met with the principal of our award winning local school. Based on test scores, my daughter was immediately put into the gifted program. She had problems from the very first day. She was different. For six years, she had been taught that its okay to be different. No, it is actually pretty awesome to be different. She was in a situation where she was expected to conform and to crank out a vast quantity of mediocre work. She absolutely would not comply with those expectations. I don’t blame the school. I don’t blame the teacher. In a classroom setting, how could anyone meet the needs of a kid who was years above the program academically, but years behind in maturity?
I began to understand that I would never become president of the PTA. I’d be up at the school every day instead, advocating for my daughter’s needs. If her education was going to be my new full time job, I might as well teach her at home and give the poor public school a break. We tried out homeschooling over spring break. After that one week, she was hooked. This kid was made to homeschool. She loved every minute of it. Once, a relative teased that she was going to be so mad when she found out that she had never had a summer vacation. She replied, “That’s just stupid, who would ever want to go months without learning?”
There were days I wondered if I was failing her. There were days that I wondered if I was going insane, and days when I felt ready to give up. I didn’t give up because my love for her has always been stronger than my plan of living a tidy, ordered life. I came to homeschooling so reluctantly. I was driven to it by a child who was absolutely, fundamentally not going to to succeed in public school, but I survived and I do not regret one moment of the journey.
She is an adult now, a thriving college student, a small business owner, a devoted sister, a loyal friend, a happy, happy human being…and my tower of strength.