Learned mindlessness

One of the things we're doing for our trip around the world, is to draw the flag of each country we are visiting in our journals. This seemed like the perfect activity to leave the younger children doing while I ran to pick P. up from her college class. (We are still working on getting her a driver's license, and I cannot wait!) I try to encourage R. to do as much as she can with everyone else, though sometimes it is admittedly difficult to find an appropriate version of the activity that she can do. The flag-thing seemed like a perfect thing, though. I drew the flag, I colored the outline of each third with the correct color, and her job was to fill in each rectangle. Everyone else was happily drawing their flags, and were even making game attempts at drawing the eagle sitting on a cactus, holding a snake which appears in the center of the Mexcian flag.

I retrieve P. and arrive back home. Everyone is happily showing me their flags, which they had done a great job on. R. then shows me hers. I'll show you a picture, but just look at the top flag for right now.

Now, I work with this child every single day. I know without any doubt what she is capable of. She is more than capable of matching colors; she actually does it quite easily, though just don't ask her to name any of them. She is also capable of careful coloring. So this top flag? Really it's not even close to her best work, or even mediocre work. It is thoughtless work. The result of years and years and years of being trained to be thoughtless, because everyone assumed she couldn't do more. Poor, poor dear, let's pat you on the head and send you on your way.

We don't do much of the poor, poor dear-thing around here. Actually we don't do it at all. We acknowledge that it can kind of stink when our bodies or our brains do not cooperate with us the way we would like, and then we try to figure out how to help our children live a full life anyway. This continues to be new information for R... the fact that we don't feel pity for her, or let that get in the way of our expectations of her.

I pointed out to her that she didn't quite follow my instructions, and that she could do a much better job. She was not happy with me at all when I drew a second flag and again traced the outline of each color. I didn't help her at all, other than to repeat the same instructions I had given her the first time, but I was sitting there and keeping an eye on things. Because she knew I was watching, she decided to pay attention, and the second flag is the result. And yes, I praised her heartily for her much more thoughtful work. (Ignore the eagle in the middle. That is my quick sketch so that her flag would have all its components. I'm pretty sure some of the other people drew much better eagles.)

Many days it feels like building a sky scraper. Before you can even start to build the actual building, you have to lay the foundation. And before you can lay the foundation, you first have to clear everything that is not needed in the actual construction out of the way. I feel as though was have spent the past year and a half, carting out the rubble that is in her head. Just when we think we have got it all, we find another little pile here or there that needs to be dealt with. Figuring out the seizures and working on weaning off medicine is part of that demolition work. Then we can begin to start over with a strong foundation, and in the end have a strong and stable building.

Learning that she can and should pay attention to what she is doing, how her body moves, what her hands are grabbing, where her feet are walking, what her brain is (or isn't) thinking, is the beginning. And slowly, oh so slowly, maybe we will start to see the real child emerge.


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