Rachel would throw her sidewalk chalk in the basket on her bike, hop on, and pedal as hard as she could up our driveway. She was about 7 years old at the time, she would push and push up the steep driveway until she was going so slow that her bike would fall over sideways.
Then she would pick herself up, grab the chalk and draw a long line across the pavement, hop back on the bike and ride down the hill. A few deep breathes and she would do it all over again. Over and over, day after day until she made it all the way up the long steep driveway.
As she accepted her high school diploma, I couldn’t help picturing her at the top of that treacherous hill of a driveway, drawing the last chalk line. Victory!
School has never been easy for Rachel.
Trying to remember letters and sounds eluded her despite hours of practice. It took her years to, “break the code” and read. There may be nothing worse in this world than struggling to read and having your little sister scream out the word you’re stuck on from across the room.
Math might as well have been Greek…in fact, Greek may have been easier. M&Ms, beans, tooth picks, we used an arsenal of subtraction tricks to which Rachel was impervious.
It was struggle after struggle, hour after hour of work. In the meantime, she was drawing constantly at a skill level well beyond her age.
She was constantly creating incredible stories and plays. The children would line up at recess for parts in her dramas and directions.
She was always ready for them, “You are the king. Your evil step mother used to make you scrub the floors of the castle when you were little and now you rule the kingdom and you have to decide whether to have her clean the floors or be kind to her.”
There was a huge contrast, a gap between a clearly great intellect and her constant struggle in school.
We worked so hard with her at home that she was not totally sinking at school. Rachel fell smack dab in the crack we try to keep kids from falling through. When I would suggest something might be wrong, her teachers would tell me she was too well behaved, too nice, and tried too hard to have ADHD.
That same gumption that kept her riding up that driveway kept her trying at school. That fight and drive has proven beneficial in so many ways. No doubt, it will throughout her life.
We had such a limited knowledge of ADHD at the time. But when I would think of Rachel I would think of great friends of ours from our years in Texas whose boys have ADHD. The similarities were striking. Junior high was imminent; fear pushed me to research ADHD and to the doctor.
Mark, my husband, would have me point out that he told me not to go. He didn’t believe in ADHD at the time. Now he takes medication himself. I took Rachel when he was out of town on business. Dr. Rees, our pediatrician and a great friend of Mark’s, put all the pieces of the puzzle together. He explained ADHD, brain chemistry, behaviors, and medication. From all the struggles and great contrasts in our lives, a clear picture came into view.
This changed Rachel’s life -- it changed our whole family.
It was immediate. She went to school the morning she started medication. She had never passed a math benchmark test. She came running, jumping, screaming out of school announcing to the world, “I got a 90% on my math benchmark!”
Medication has never peddled the bike for her, but it sure got her farther up the hill. Each time she could mark her progress, her confidence grew.
Diagnosis of ADHD and the beginning of treatment has in no way been the end of the journey -- it was truly just the beginning. Mark was diagnosed, then Mary and Hunter, then Mariah and finally Jaren.
Shortly after the beginning of high school I found myself in a SST (student study team) meeting. She had not qualified for a 504 in elementary because she was not doing poorly enough. She was not doing poorly enough because we were spending every waking hour making sure she didn’t fail.
I tell parents now - get that 504 or IEP in elementary school because after you leave elementary school it just gets harder and harder to get. The school and I were at odds. I thought modifications were changes in homework, testing, assignments to help Rachel succeed. They thought that modifications were listing the teacher’s office hours.
I went home furious from the meeting and started researching and making a list of modifications that would help Rachel. Ultimately, I looked at my list and thought, “The modification we need most is no distractions, no other students in the classroom and we will be fine.”
She stopped peddling - her bike tipped over and she fell unable to climb the road anymore. The anxiety, the huge campus, huge student population, the academic struggle had overwhelmed her. The little girl who had never met a stranger was having panic attacks in crowds.
We made a radical change when we switched her to an online learning environment. What a remarkable difference. The Cs and Ds turned into mostly As and Bs. She was back on the bike, chalk in the basket, and heading back up the hill.
The struggle became keeping this wonderfully social girl happy when her high school became a one room computer lab with 10 to 15 kids attending at the school site. Most of the students in her charter school never go to the school site they attend from home and are spread over 7 counties.
Even a month before the end of the school year and graduation from high school, she was begging us to move to Sacramento so that she could attend a small charter high school there with more students.
Rachel brags that her greatest accomplishment was walking all the way to the stand, up to get her American Legion award, and to get her diploma with out crutches and with out falling in the big black boot she has been wearing while her ruptured ankle ligaments heal.
I watched her on the stand. I saw a beautiful, intelligent, talented young woman; inside there’s a tough little girl, chalk in hand, ready to tackle mountains, unwilling to give up.
I imagine there is a little chalk dust on her tassel.