The test results rang in my ears. I felt like the truant kid in the principal’s office as the school psychologist shared the news about my daughter: below average. I squirmed in a miniature chair, and the overstuffed bookshelves seemed to be closing in around me. The brightly colored wall posters blurred. My breathing was short and shallow as I tried to focus on her words. “Not my Annie,” I thought to myself.
My 9-year-old daughter needed to be academically tested by the local school to become eligible for a federal program that helped our family with the cost of her hearing aids. From the age of three, Annie endured six ear surgeries over a six-year period due to a condition where cholesteatomas in her middle ear had to be continually removed. Otherwise, tumorous skin growth would eventually invade her brain. These surgeries left my sweet Annie moderately deaf in one ear and profoundly deaf in the other.
Homeschooling from the beginning, we continued on. Her indigo-blue hearing aids made a remarkable difference for her and the family. She could hear again, and our home became quieter. Fights about the television volume ceased. I no longer needed to ask her younger sister to always fetch Annie for dinner. We did not have to put our mouths up to Annie’s ears to speak to her.
Unfortunately, the psychologist’s words wore me down. I, now, treated Annie differently. I wasn’t as picky with her work when I corrected her math answers. I told her to slow down but overlooked carelessness. I didn’t always correct all of her history answers. She was doing a sloppy job, but that was all she was capable of, I told myself. Apparently, the test results were right.
A few years went by and one evening, Annie said, “Mom, I want you to read something I wrote last night.” I read the story twice and was amazed. Her spelling was poor and there were some incomplete sentences, but the story about a magical watch was beyond her years. “How did you come up with such a story?” I whispered. As she shrugged her shoulders, she told me that she had picked up an old watch that didn’t work, and she made up a story.
The two rumpled sheets of paper stopped me cold. I gazed at her face, and her gentle grin told me she loved her new story. Leaning against the wall, my embarrassment nearly knocked the wind out of me. I suddenly realized what I had been doing to my daughter for the past few years. I had labeled her based on her below-average test results. The label only described a slice of her life, and I had used it to define her entire life.
Annie was gregarious with her friends, and athletic, too. Hats that protected her hearing aids in wet weather had become her fashion statement. Each year, she showed off her flashy new ear molds to her softball teammates. The word “disability” was never in her vocabulary. Yet, I had let that one little word overshadow all my daughter’s other exceptional abilities.
A while ago Annie handed me scissors and asked me to cut off the label on a new shirt. It was bugging her. As I took the scissors, I told her, “Baby, I’d be happy to.” She did not need that label, or any others.
Jan Udlock is a homeschooling mom of five and a freelance writer. She loves both jobs most of the time.