“Children like Ester don’t typically succeed in regular school settings,” the doctor advised me. “Most don’t function well in social settings at all.”
I tried to visualize the alternative. “What are you suggesting?”
“Montessori, perhaps, or home-schooling. She may not be very successful in school.”
I shook my head. I’d been seeking answers to Ester’s problems for two years, but this wasn’t the solution I was looking for.
“Thank you, Doctor,” I shook his hand. “Where do we go next?”
The doctor prescribed medication which would retrain Ester’s brain, allowing her to sleep. The poor child had not slept more than an hour and a half at a time since her birth three years earlier. She and I were both exhausted, and equally distraught. This specialist was the first to offer a diagnosis. I suffered from toxemia during my pregnancy and he explained that toxins seeped into Ester’s brain causing this disorder. In layman’s terms, he called it “short-fuse syndrome”. Apparently, whenever Ester reached the stage of sleep where deep relaxation occurs, her brain would release the wrong message, causing her muscles to tighten up, waking her up in pain. Ester woke up screaming frequently during the night, so the diagnosis made sense to me. She was also “short-fused” as he described it, giving up easily and given to fits of temper. Could this really hinder her social development?
From the moment Ester was born she started to scream, and I often tease her that she didn’t stop screaming for three years. In the beginning, I just thought she was colicky, but when it continued, I suspected something else was happening. When her baby brother was born, and sleeping through the night, I knew there was a problem. Ester’s screams and temper tantrums interfered with her development of speech. Although she was physically advanced, she hadn’t spoken her first word at eighteen months, whereas her sister was forming sentences at a year. Discipline was futile and heartbreaking. It just didn’t seem fair to punish a child who was in a constant state of anguish.
In our search for answers, we were shuffled from doctor to doctor, and given advice from everyone we met, whether solicited or not. Well-meaning relatives told us we were overindulgent, strangers also suggested it was our parenting skills that were lacking. No one, not even Ester’s father, offered to give me respite. She was too hard to handle.
“She is not bad,” the doctor explained. “She is reacting to her physical discomfort and the stress she is experiencing due to lack of sleep. Just as you and I would. Unfortunately, these are the formative years. Ester’s condition will effect her self-confidence and esteem. Children like her are not risk-takers and will not respond well to change.”
The diagnosis I could accept. The prognosis, I could not. Ester and I had our work cut out for us.
It took six months of drug therapy before Ester started to sleep through the night and the screaming fits diminished. What was left was a highly anxious, impatient child, who clung to me. By the time she went to nursery school, I was ready for a break.
And I was nervous. What if what the doctor said was true? What if Ester couldn’t adapt to school? I wouldn’t allow myself to go there.
Nursery school was great. Ester received lots of one on one attention and the reports back were always glowing. Things changed when she started school full-time.
“Ester cries all day, Mom.” her older sister informed me a week after school started. “I go by her classroom everyday and she is always crying.”
I was furious. Why hadn’t her teacher called me? Turns out her teacher didn’t notice. Quiet, shy, Ester, was weeping silently, afraid of getting in trouble. I went back to the doctor. He gave me the name of a play therapist.
Ester spent the rest of the year in therapy, and she and I worked out strategies to help her cope. We practiced breathing and visualization and set achievable goals. I soothed her through endless stomach aches and more sleepless nights. By grade five, I convinced her to set a goal of raising her hand once a day to answer a question. At the end of grade eight, she and two friends sang at their graduation. Ester survived public school.
High school brought new challenges and greater stress. Ester, who always feels the pressure more than others, could not relax into the teenage social scene and chose to be a loner. She spent long hours in her room, pouring over her homework, never willing to give up. She became a perfectionist about herself and her grades and the tension grew. Her self-esteem plummeted, and she withdrew into herself. But she never gave up.
When Ester graduated from college, I could not have been more proud. As she walked across the stage to receive her diploma, I remembered the words the doctor had spoken on that day so many years before, and thanked God I hadn’t listened.
Yesterday, just minutes before she walked down the aisle to take her wedding vows, Ester and I spent a moment, hands clasped together, eyes locked. There was so much we wanted to say, and no words to express it. Then I pulled her to me and we embraced.
I hope she heard the admiration in my voice as I told her I love her. I hope she felt the absolute pride and respect I have for the woman that she has become.
I don’t know anyone who has worked harder to get to where she is in life.
That is diligence.