A story, if you will: When a friend was a young child, she was the one out of all her siblings to spill the milk. Without fail, every meal, she would spill the milk. Without fail, her father would say “Don’t spill the milk.” The next day, she’d spill the milk. In fact, every day, she’d spill the milk. In her 20’s, when she would go home to visit, she would inevitably spill the milk. It was just something she did. At home. But never anywhere else. Until one day, the skies parted and it occurred to her that she had control over this and she didn’t have to spill the milk. And she hasn’t spilled milk since. Weird, huh? I think she always accepted that she was the one in the family who spilled the milk. It was her thing. It irked everyone, but it was expected. This was her role. She kept spilling it through the years because she lived up to her expectation.
Why am I telling you this story? Because La Chica spills her metaphorical milk. Last week I set up meetings with her teachers to discuss her academic skills and performance. I know it’s early in the year for that. But at two weeks into the school year, she was coming home telling me she didn’t understand the homework directions or even the math concepts they were reviewing from the year before. She was making a lot of simple spelling and grammatical mistakes in all of her writing homework.
So I met with her teachers to see what their impression of her was academically. She was doing wonderfully, they tell me. They see no problems–she is working to potential, she participates actively, she understands directions and concepts, she’s getting A’s on her assignments.
So then I tell them that she’d been tested a few years ago, and demonstrates executive functioning deficits. I tell them how she continues at home to express confusion over concepts and directions, how she makes spelling and grammatical mistakes on all her homework, how she demonstrates a very low frustration tolerance. I tell them how she processes things a bit differently so she mixes up the order of letters and words, how she can’t remember two-step directions, how she’s very concrete and has difficulty with abstract concepts. They tell me they do not see any of that. At all.
She’s playing the expected role in our family. She was born into a family where her older brother has always been uber-competent and responsible and serious. He’s an academic rock star. She’s no fool. She can’t compete with that. So she’s making sure there’s no comparison so that she can find her own niche and specialty. And clearly, through the years, she’s managed to overcome or compensate for her executive functioning deficits within the school setting. But continues her role at home. Because it’s expected.
She’s still spilling her milk because we’ve always expected that from her. So she meets our expectations. It’s time to re-set expectations and allow her to find other ways to connect with me. Allow her other ways to get my attention. It’s time to create another role for her in our family story.
I’ve been reading a lot of Donald Miller’s work lately, and his ideas of living life and creating a life as a narrative story is familiar to me. I have tried to live my life by doing and being and making–by creating memories, and thus crafting a life well-lived. But he takes it further, urging us to be more proactive by writing our own stories, overcoming conflict, choosing the roles we want in life.
I’ve realized I need to create a new role for La Chica in our family story so that she can succeed and have the skills to create her own story of a life well-lived when she is older. So that she knows she can create a new role for herself, and still be loved. So that she knows she has the power to overcome conflict. So that she knows she has the ability to be proactive and write her own story. For now, home is where her story begins.