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“You Can Do This, Girl!”

As my daughter found her confidence in self-advocacy, I lost a piece of me that would never be found.

“Mom…help, help, help!  I can’t find my Post-its for the meeting!”

“Lee, deep breath. Think back to where you last saw them.”

She dug through her backpack.  “Got ‘em!”

Lee was amped up for action and deep breaths were far and few between. I knew why, of course, and felt my own heart racing a little too fast as we got into the car. Since she’d started high school, Lee had been too shy to self-advocate, but this time she pulled a 180. She went straight to her case manager and demanded that they meet with her history teacher. Without me.

Throughout her childhood, she clung and I advocated, a momma tiger fighting for my daughter’s rights. But, in middle school, I was left growling outside the gate. No one taught Lee how to self-advocate, but she was expected to speak up for herself if she had a problem in a class. Parents were welcome only after the child failed to work out a solution with the teacher.

This could work if you had a child who was comfortable speaking up about her disabilities. Lee, like many children with ADHD, was terrified to make a peep. Experts say that self-knowledge leads to self-advocacy, which leads to self-responsibility. But how many children in middle school know themselves, and how they learn, well enough to advocate? Without coaching from teachers or counselors on how to speak up, little problems, like not turning in homework, were pushed under the rug. The next thing I’d know, Lee was failing a class.

Lee’s tutor and I started coaching her at home, but, when she started high school, there were even more challenges. Along with ADHD, Lee struggled with anxiety. She insisted that I be at all the school meetings for support. I always sat a few rows back from her in the classroom to give her the chance to self-advocate. When Lee’s anxiety mounted, her words failed her, and the teacher looked over to me for help.

This week, she’d been frustrated with another history project that she couldn’t take home. “Why,” she fumed, “couldn’t the teacher understand that having ADHD and dyslexia slowed down the time needed to process and complete her work in class?” That lack of regard she felt for her disabilities was the straw that broke the camel’s back. As alien as it was to stand aside, I knew she was ready to fight this battle on her own.

Her tutor and I helped her make notes on Post-its and rehearse her points. Hearing her sweet voice fill with conviction was just as fulfilling as I imagined a parent must feel listening to her child give the coveted commencement speech. In my eyes, which quickly filled with tears, Lee deserved a medal.

When we got to school, I said, “You can do this!” She walked away, a little shaky, but determined. As I drove home, my thoughts lingered on my little girl, who had clung to my waist.  As much as I wanted Lee to be independent, it was like a piece of me was missing and would never be found.

This was the way it would be from now on, I thought. One step forward for her, one step back for me, until the space stretches out between us, and she is gone.

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