Monday, October 27, 2014

Do You See My Child?

To the teachers of my sons,

In about a week, we will be sitting down for our first, and perhaps our only, parent-teacher conference of the year. I will be listening intently to everything you tell me, but there is really only one question I need you to answer:

Do you see my child?

Everything else hinges one this one simple question.

Do you see him?

What have you learned about him beyond his grammar skills or the grades on his math tests? Have you watched his body language when he talks? Have you observed him interact with friends on the playground? Have you looked at the details in his artwork? Have you read between the lines of his poetry?

Do you see that my oldest is easily frustrated and quick to anger or tears? Do you notice how his eyes light up when you say there will be an experiment during today’s science lesson or how he talks a mile a minute when he’s excited about a new theory he’s been noodling? Do you see how vulnerable he makes himself when he shares his intensely personal fears and goals?

Do you see that my middle son has expectations of himself that border on too high? Do you feel the pride in his sweet smile when you compliment him on a job well done? Do you see how hard he works to be “good”? Do you hear the beautiful inflection in his voice when he reads aloud?

I know that what you see in school and what I see at home won’t line up perfectly and that you can’t provide a comprehensive description of my child. I’m not looking for that. I’m just listening for a little nugget that tells me that you’re watching and listening and that you’ve dug just a little deeper. You’ll probably tell me what I’m listening for without even trying. It might be a profound insight into my child, but more likely, you’ll just let slip a little something you don’t even know will resonate with me. But it will. Because it’s something only someone who’s truly paying attention will notice.

Last year, my oldest’s teacher laughed with me about his bizarre obsession with road kill, and my middle son’s teacher mentioned in passing that he sits just a little taller when she notices a job well done.  I knew then that my children were seen, and I relaxed because I knew everything else would fall into place.

Because when you truly see my child, when you take the time to notice his strengths and weaknesses and quirks, I instantly know two things:

I know you love your job. You’re not burned out or disillusioned or tired (as I know it is so easy to become in your profession). At least not most days. You still have a passion for teaching. And you almost certainly don’t see just my child. You see all of them.

And when you see my child, our children, and when you love your job, you will give them exactly what they need. You may do it consciously or subconsciously, but you will do it.

You will teach my oldest that future engineers and scientists must learn math. You will create space for him to share his ideas. You will take a step back when he’s upset and let him come to you when he’s ready. You will smile when he asks you for extra-challenging science work. You will make sure he runs hard enough at recess that he can sit still in social studies.

You will tousle my middle son’s hair or sneak up behind him and playfully cover his eyes because you sense he needs a little extra love in that moment. You will proudly display the picture he painstakingly drew just for you. You will celebrate his attempts, even when he fails. Especially when he fails. You will be the safe space he needs at school.

And, in turn, I will talk less during the precious thirty minutes we have because I won’t be struggling desperately to make sure you know my child. Because I will know you do. And I will hear all the other things you tell me about my children – that this one needs to practice his multiplication tables at home or that one is confusing the letters b and d – because you’ve already told me the most important thing you could.

You see my child.

A Mother

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Life in Transition

When I was in the process of deciding on a name and tag line for my blog, one of the phrases that popped into my mind was “a life in transition.” Ultimately, I decided against it, in large part because it seemed a little too, well, dramatic, I guess. In fact, my life would certainly appear quite stable to anyone looking in, and in many (big, important) ways, it is stable. Still, there are days that the shift occurring inside the confines of my home and my heart feels downright seismic. My fortieth birthday is days away, and this milestone has shaken me in ways I never would have predicted even just two months ago. I have three children in school this year. Granted, Monkey is just in preschool three mornings per week, but in two short years, all of my boys will be full-time students. Bubba’s tenth birthday is next month, and I’ve become a reluctant witness to the slow transition between childhood and the teen years. And his growing up is causing a huge shift in the dynamic between the boys. But, perhaps, the area currently undergoing the greatest change involves deciphering what my next big calling in life will be.

For almost ten years, I had a career as a certified genetic counselor. For all but two of those years, I coordinated NIH grants to learn more about genetic causes of hearing loss. Although my day-to-day responsibilities primarily involved contact with our research participants and our lab, I, also, regularly presented for various local and national audiences and was an author on over a dozen, peer-reviewed journal articles, in addition to co-authoring two book chapters.

After Froggy was born, I made the difficult, though obvious (for me) decision to step away from my career for a while.  The longer I stayed at home, the more fully I realized I was just where I needed and wanted to be. And then one day, it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t going back, and I made the (again, difficult but obvious) choice to let my genetic counseling certification lapse.

It was around this time that a book arrived in the mail. It was an author’s copy of what is widely considered to be the go-to reference for genetics and deafness. I had co-authored a chapter a couple of years before, not long after leaving my job and when I still thought I would return to genetic counseling. The book was slow getting published, so my copy was just arriving.

I opened the box, pulled out the tome, cracked it open, and peered into a world that was, at once, comfortingly familiar and oddly foreign. These authors were my people, and this was the language I spoke for so many years. But here I was, standing in my home, listening to the boys playing upstairs, wondering what I should cook for dinner, and I didn’t know what to do with the book. Should I show the boys? Should I share the news with my friends? I felt so disconnected from my work, from this writing. I remember being so excited when my former supervisor contacted me to say that, even though it had been a couple of years since I left work, she wanted to write this with me. Where did this accomplishment fit, if anywhere, in my current world of preschool and diapers and school lunches and homework and first steps and doctor’s appointments?

Was I still the same person who co-authored this book chapter?

Since that day, I have slowly begun to see that I am not formerly that person; I am that person. Still.

I may not be able to call myself a genetic counselor anymore because I’m no longer certified and no longer doing the work of a genetic counselor. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was I who earned a masters degree. It was I who passed the board certification exam. It was I who routinely threw around terms like GJB2, heterochromia, compound heterozygosity, and assortative mating. It was I who co-authored book chapters, contributed to journal articles, counseled clients in American Sign Language, and helped hundreds of people understand why they are deaf.

So I’ve made the deliberate choice to no longer look on my former career with a longing that suggests that I was more worthy then. That my value was determined by having a paycheck, being booked for speaking engagements, or actively publishing. That I’m wasting my degree. That I’ve turned my back on something at which I excelled and could again. Because that’s simply untrue. Because all of the skills and lessons I learned as a genetic counselor are beautifully and inextricably woven into the fabric of who I am today.

I am the mother who answers her children’s questions about nature and medicine and our bodies and our world. I am the friend people turn to when they have questions about prenatal testing or when they get an abnormal test result. I am the mother who easily says no to morning cartoons but has a hard time limiting access to the Discovery Channel. I am the patient who has mastered the art of providing a thirty-second history, so the doctor and I can immediately get to addressing my concerns. I am the author who channeled the skills learned from a decade of scientific writing into a blog. I am the woman whose ears perk up whenever a medical story airs on NPR. I am the person who delighted in helping families understand why they were deaf and now delights in serving families in myriad other ways.

I am the sum of my past and my present – my jobs, relationships, mistakes, experiences, and accomplishments. I embrace all of me, as who I was once is who I am still.


This week, I’ll be sharing some exciting news about what’s coming next
for me and for an organization that I love.
Stay tuned!