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My Daughter Fixes Her Own Problems Now. So Where Does That Leave Me?

When Lee showed signs of growing up, my heart burst with pride and broke with feeling unneeded.

A girl with learning disabilities reads a book.
A girl with learning disabilities reads a book.

I was waiting to pick up Lee at school, and I was imagining lying on a hot, sandy beach in the not-so-distant summer. She opened the door, climbed in, and punched on the radio. I said, “Only five more…”

“Mom, I had a problem in school today, but I fixed it.”

The hot, sandy beach faded to hot parking lot pavement. Maybe, if you had a typical child, “I fixed it” would mean exactly that. With Lee, “a problem” could be an impulsive ADHD moment that could land her in trouble. Or, as was the usually the case, an academic problem that took a bunch of e-mails or calls to the school from me to fix.

[Self-Test: What Does ADHD Look Like in Girls?]

I started to pull out of the lot. “Details… please.”

Lee told me that the substitute for her history teacher had told the students to stay in the class during a school rally, but most of the class had gone already. She was one of the five left behind, probably thanks to having a mom who was a teacher and wouldn’t have been happy to find out about the mass exodus. But then, the sub threatened the five with marking them absent if they left. Lee walked out the door. Threats were her Achilles heel. Perceived or real, they set off anxiety attacks.

This time, instead of crying and calling me to fix things, she went to her counselor and said, “I’ve suffered enough from anxiety this year, and I won’t take it anymore. I cannot be in that substitute’s class.”

I’m pretty sure the counselor must have looked at her, blinked, and wondered, “Who are you and what did you do with Lee?” She told Lee she’d have to discuss it with her case manager, the one Lee had avoided all year because she felt intimidated by him. Lee agreed and marched over to his room. This news alone had me blinking. In the past, the mention of his name had set off anxiety attacks.

[That Moment When Suddenly, It’s All Worthwhile]

“So, Mr. Peters and I worked it out. Since there’s a sub in history all next week, I get to do my work in another room. It’s fixed.”

“Yes!” I said, giving her a high five. But I also felt numb. It was the day I’d been waiting for, the day you know your child, despite her challenges, is growing up. Even though my heart was bursting with pride, there was a little hole in it and starting to grow. If Lee could fix things, where did that leave me?

When I got home, I e-mailed the counselor, who reassured me that Lee had worked everything out with her case manager. That hole in my heart grew a little larger as I realized it was time for me to take that huge step back, to let Lee self-advocate and build confidence in her own abilities to maneuver through high school. I thought, “Well, maybe this isn’t so bad…more time for me next year to write, work out, maybe go to the beach…”

“Mom, can you make me a tuna sandwich? Yours are the best.”

I had to laugh. That little hole in my heart started to fill.