Saturday, November 29, 2008
Once upon a time
There was a little girl; she was known as Pinky for the longest time, because .. well, she had pink hair. When she was 3 she began school in the Lycee Louis Pasteur in Calgary. She picked up a working knowledge of the french language quite quickly, though she never really spoke it in my presence. She was shy...
Mostly because of financial reasons, and partly because she was entitled; at 5, she was moved to the Francophone school system in Calgary. For those years of my life I became extremely adept at Babel Fish... as an Anglophone I wasn't very welcome by some teachers and staff members so you learn to help yourself under the circumstances.
The little girl's first grade teacher was particularly difficult, and almost immediately she was labeled by the teacher as a low achiever. I didn't believe it initially, but in time it became clear that something was amiss. We were fully launched into the world of testing.. by the school, by the Developmental Program at the Alberta Children's Hospital, and eventually by the Calgary Catholic School Board. It all came out the same... she was learning disabled with a low average IQ.
It also became clear to me that we could no longer struggle with the Francophone system; we were not welcome there, it was too hard to fight for what she needed, and also somewhat unfair to expect her to translate in and out of french (since it was not our first language at home, and I didn't speak it at all)... So we arrived at the door of St. Angela school for the first day of grade three, and prayed that they would take her. Grade three.. doesn't sound like much, does it? By that time she'd been in school full time for 5 years. Struggling.
They accepted her.
It was bumpy at first... The Francophone school had no record of her attending grade 2. Somehow it appeared that she had been held back and repeated grade 1. Untrue. Without the help of a specific teacher at St. Angela I would never have known that I had rights as a parent. She told me how to navigate the system, and I did so. Thank God, they placed her in grade 3 with her peers. My mom had just survived cancer, my son had just died; somehow we couldn't face her being outside of norm for even one more second. My ideas of success had changed.. I wanted her to be happy at school. I wanted her to read. I wanted her to play. I didn't really care what language she did it in.
She spent grades 3 through 6 at St. Angela, and while there she was loved and supported by a number of strong, capable women (and one really great janitor who created a dream of her growing up to be a nurse). To be honest, I don't know what we would have done without them. They always went above and beyond the call of duty.
The girl wasn't so little any more, and in time she moved on to St. Alphonsus to attend Junior High. The safety net isn't as wide, and I was so, so afraid that she'd fall through the cracks. How to get this child through high school successfully? How?
Advocate. Same as always.
During the first year of high school, she won the awards for math and health. I was shocked to my very core that I'd been invited to the ceremony... I figured she must have won Miss Congeniality, or something in the realm. While the Principal was discussing the math award I noticed that she was talking to.. me. Facing me. Could it be possible? This child cannot tell time. Cannot count money. Doesn't, in high school, understand the most basic facts. Could she be getting the math award?
She did. She earned it based purely on effort and improvement.
I cried for 3 days. I thought my heart might explode from pride. It was her most outstanding moment, and I thought.. gosh, if we ever have another moment like that it would be so lovely.. yet unlikely. I didn't dream high enough.
Yesterday that same girl came into my work with her report card, and in it was an invitation for her and I to attend the Honour Roll Breakfast Buffet together to celebrate her success in all areas of her classwork. I have one friend who attends these regularly with her daughter, and it has become .. well, normal. I never, not for one split second, thought I'd get tickets to that dance.
When, lately, the girl talked to me about being on the honour roll, I tried to explain to her that it was highly unlikely (under the circumstances, you understand) and that she shouldn't get her hopes up.
Fundamental error on my part. Good Lord, how could I make a mistake of that magnitude?
So next week we go together.. her and I.. and we're going to celebrate her success on a major scale. And I'm going to cry... because I don't believe I've ever been prouder of her efforts and her commitment. I am so lucky to have this child.. not because she wins awards, but because she is a really, really nice person who works hard and reaches for success (amoung so many other good qualities).
Congratulations Mug. We sure do love you.
I am so. so. so. happy. I cannot even imagine how you're going to surprise me next, but I have total confidence that you will.
xoxoxo (times 1 million)