Sunday, November 26, 2006
The Holly Berries Of No Excuses
Anyway, I hurt all over tonight. I noticed that my father's holly bush had berries, and when I told my mother she decided it had to be de-vined. He had always liked that bush, and he had always been disappointed that it never had berries. Well, now it does.
Since I only managed to extract the peach schnapps bottle from her hands yesterday and since she had surgery on Wednesday, I didn't want her out there. So it was a team effort, and it turned into a big effort, especially since the holly bush is growing on the side of a cliff. I had to take down a dead tree next to it, and I'm still working on getting that out of the ground without tearing up the side of the cliff.
They didn't want to do surgery on my mother, because they were were worried about risks. True, on paper it looks bad, but paper is not reality. Yes, she is a diabetic, but she controls it without medication. And yes, she has Lyme Disease, but that's relatively controlled. And yes, she contracted two different ricksettial diseases this summer (which was what was wrong when she was so sick earlier this year), but just looking at her titers you can tell that there's a lot of residual strength in her immune system. She's popping back well, although it will take a few more days of work to get her blood sugar regulated again. After testing it several times, she refused to test for several days, and only the Dire Daughter of Diabetic Accountability's nagging got her to check this morning - but it wasn't half bad.
Anyway, I had to keep netting her off the cliff today and glaring at her as she climbed the ladder to take down ivy that was getting into the gutters. I'm sure the exercise was good for her, and after a couple of hours she conceded she had had enough, and wandered in to take a nap. Tomorrow I'm accompanying her on the shopping expedition from hell.
My mother was a teacher for decades, and a superb one. I'm sure she derived her level of determination from that. It's a very difficult job, physically, mentally and emotionally, if you do it well, and she sure did. I figure if that didn't kill her not much else will, and given her performance today I'd say that's correct.
To be a good public-school teacher you have to combine realistic optimism with the gentle firmness of a drill sergeant having a particularly bad day with a particularly bad bunch of recruits. My mother has these qualities in abundance, and she and my father raised all of us with the maxim that apparent impossibility requires more effort, not surrender.
To give you an example of my mother in action, I'll describe one of her students only. This was when she was teaching second grade. She had an incoming student who had been diagnosed with extreme dyslexia. Testing over the summer showed that it was very severe. He couldn't, for example, draw a triangle, although he could match two triangles if shown a group of triangles and circles. But that was about it; the neurological pathways that allow a person to distinguish letters and numbers from each other appeared to be just about absent. He was a very bright child, but he literally could not draw a triangle after several years of tutoring. After a complete workup, the professional diagnosis was that he would probably never learn to write or read. He was the son of a teacher, and had already been held back a year. (Early on, you just don't worry about this in boys - it's probably a developmental lag. After seven you get serious.)
I learned about this during that summer, when I became very worried about my mother. She kept spending hours staring into the distance, and often didn't respond when spoken to. My mother is a southerner, and loves heat, so she's usually a blinding blur of activity in the summer. Her behavior was so unusual that I was sure that something was very, very wrong. I thought perhaps she was very ill, or that she and my father might be having marital problems, because I could imagine absolutely nothing else that would produce this sort of behavior.
Finally I confronted her one Saturday morning. She slowly emerged from the fog and told me she was thinking about a student, and then submerged again. A few weeks later, in August, she got busy. She made a set of templates with letters and numbers. When I asked her what she was doing, she fixed me with a stare of utter determination, and announced that she had solved it; she would be able to teach him where ON the template the letters and numbers were, because he could consistently resolve spatial placements, and then he would be able to write the letters and numbers by using the correct place on the template.
While we were cooking for Thanksgiving of that year, I asked her how the boy was doing. Had he been able to learn to use the template? She impaled me with this incredulous, pitying gaze, as if it had just dawned on her that she had given birth to a sadly deficient human being, and responded that the problem was fixed. He no longer needed even the template, and, she confidently announced, he would be above grade level by the end of January.
The kid wound up in the gifted and talented program, because he really was very bright. His dyslexia was cured, completely and absolutely. At that age, children's brains are incredibly flexible.
And that, my friends, is my mother. She accepts no excuses from herself or others; if a thing has to be done it's just a matter of figuring how to do it. Is it any wonder that I came back out of my fog? It never occurred to me that I wouldn't; I just figured it was a matter of finding the way. When you know success is assured, you keep at it. What she taught me, and her students, was that the foundations of success are built in finding and overcoming your weaknesses.
I am not happy about the economic situation, but to me bad news has a different connotation than to many others. First diagnose the problem; then figure out how to craft a solution. Because I am my mother's daughter, I don't believe in glossing over difficulties, instead, I believe in accurately assessing them and then addressing them. Understand the problem, and you are near to a solution.
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