Today was the day for Adrienne’s test.
We should have had her tested a year or two ago, but first the COVID pandemic threw everything into chaos, and then her pediatrician kept insisting she couldn’t be neuroatypical. He really seemed to think that if she was verbal and didn’t flap her hands in front of her face, she was typical and I just worried too much. I finally found out that public schools had psychologists who were legally required to test anyone in the district for free– that was about the same time that Adrienne said she’d like to try a real school instead of homeschooling. She’s been alone for months now. We all have. We never had a social life to begin with, and losing Serendipity smothered it completely. The middle school is walking distance. She could see people her age and join afterschool activities, with or without a car. First, though, we had to solve a few mysteries.
We drove in that borrowed car, with brakes as loud as a freight train and warm air coming out of the air conditioner, windows rolled way down, anxious.
The school was prettier than I thought an elementary school could be. Someone had decorated all the hallways with crepe paper art, life-sized trees and other plants, a jungle indoors. It was worlds more beautiful than the two Catholic schools I’d attended in the nineties, before we began homeschooling. The psychologist was young and surprisingly friendly. I opened up to her about how frustrated Adrienne was that she couldn’t spell or write even though she’s brilliant. I told her how creative and sharp she is. I told her I felt responsible that she couldn’t write an essay even though we’d been patiently drilling and re-drilling in the same phonics and spelling books for years. I told her about Adrienne’s love of audiobooks and nature documentaries and how talented she is at Minecraft. I mentioned that I had gone to Catholic schools that encouraged bullying and punished by humiliation, and I was afraid to send my child to school after that, but I was willing to change my mind. Then I left her at the school for two hours.
I drove to the public library, because I didn’t dare take the borrowed car more than a mile with those brakes. I am desperate to go back to hikes in the woods and trips to the pool and to Pittsburgh’s museums, but the borrowed car can’t get me there.
I sat in the reference section of the library, worrying. Then I stood and paced in the fiction section, worrying. I browsed the children’s picture books and flashed back to every single time I took refuge in the library when Adrienne was little. There we were: I, so anxious I was nearly dissociating; she, so happy to be at a library, so full of the love of colorful books, so eager to be read to, so unable to distinguish one letter from another. She would memorize books the second or third time I read them to her, and give them back to me verbatim. She was so quick to memorize books that I couldn’t find a reader she would actually have to pick through, instead of reciting the text.
I felt anxiety coming over me again and again in cold drenching waves. I felt, as I have so often lately, that I’ve failed the whole world. I’ve lost something I can’t get back and it’s all my fault.
I felt that old familiar despair that I could never, ever be happy. And I felt a new surge of fierce determination that Adrienne should be happy, no matter what it cost. And then the helplessness that she might not be. Maybe I’d ruined her life.
I walked four blocks from the library to the coffee shop because it was too hot to drive that car anywhere I didn’t have to. As I finished my coffee, Adrienne called. I took the sweltering drive back up the hill to the elementary school.
The psychologist had several charts open on her computer. She confirmed what I’ve always known to be true. I’m telling you the diagnosis with Adrienne’s permission: Adrienne is brilliant in her auditory comprehension and her verbal communication skills. One of those percentile numbers was 129, and the other was well over 100. As the psychologist put it, “she could mask her way out of anything.” Adrienne also has dyslexia and dysgraphia. She reads below grade level and can barely spell or write. The words that come out of her mouth impress the whole world, and the words that flow from her fingers are not legible. Her ears take in everything and understand it perfectly, and her eyes don’t process the symbols as well. She is also probably autistic like me, but the psychologist still needs to tabulate those survey answers.
The psychologist told me another thing I’ve longed to hear for years and years: that this isn’t my fault at all, it’s just how her brain works and I couldn’t have done any better. And then she told me an even more wonderful truth: Adrienne is going to be a mainstream student in the middle school with her peers. She can use her excellent listening and speech skills in the classroom. She will have an IEP, an “individualized education plan,” with a scribe to take dictation for her for homework and tests. We will meet personally with the teachers in August to form a detailed strategy. The state of Ohio owed me that for free. They don’t punish children by humiliating or bullying; they treat neurodivergence like neurodivergence, and make accommodations.
“You were already giving her an IEP by homeschooling,” said the psychologist. “Now we’ll give her one.”
I’m not a failure.
My daughter can be happy.
We went home for lunch in that noisy oven of a car.
I had barely sat down before Jimmy came by. He apologized that the throttle position sensor for Serendipity hadn’t come in on the day he expected: it had been stranded in a California post office for days, delayed by the long weekend, and was now en route. It was sure to come in on June First. He clarified for me what I’d had trouble hearing when I was so upset last week: when he put in the sensor, he would also use a torque strap on the motor mounts, so we wouldn’t need new ones for a year. He was absolutely certain that after that, Serendipity would run. She would run well enough for a one-mile trip to the auto parts store to use their code reader to see if anything else was wrong. It could be she’ll be all fixed after that. It’s likely to be that the alternator he used is not working, and we’ll have to order a new one with two-day shipping and he’ll install it easily. It could be that the code reader picks up another problem, which he will fix. But I will have a car in June. We will be able to go to the lake and to the museum and to Columbus, to all the places we’ve been without for five and a half months.
Jimmy had one more gift: two packages of squash seeds, which he’d picked up for us at the dollar store since his son is so enthralled by my garden.
I took them, enraptured.
Nothing is lost. It’s just different.
It’s not going to look anything like the life I planned for myself or my daughter, but somehow, it’s going to be all right.
It’s going to be all right.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy